A tale of two Renaults

A tale of two Renaults

TOWARDS the end of February, we had the opportunity to sample two of the most recent offerings available from the French giant producer, Renault. The one, the 18GTX, is the latest in an established theme, and the other, the 9TSE, was one of a completely new range of cars which only became available in the UK at the beginning of March.

Sorting out the different models in the Renault range has always been a problem of almost nightmare proportions — currently, by our count, there are no less than 45 different Renault cars available. The 18 series, now with 13 models to its name, is one of the most popular and the particular car with which we are here concerned is equipped with the 2-litre engine already seen in the Fuego and comes at the top of the range in terms of trim level; only the Turbo version (MOTOR SPORT May 1981), costing £7,200 to the GTX's £6,300, offers more in terms of performance.

Slightly detuned from its Fuego application, the 2-litre o.h.c. engine develops 104 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. and endows the four / five seater saloon with very respectable performance; Renault quote a top speed of 111 m.p.h. and 60 m.p.h. comes up in under 11 seconds if one tries hard.

The especial merits of the 18GTX are its superbly comfortable seats, plenty of room for both front and rear passengers, a large capacity boot and a high level of specification coupled with an excellent ride, vice free handling and the sort of fuel economy which would put many smaller engined cars to shame.

On the road, the GTX behaves in an exemplary manner; Pirelli P6 tyres provide the grip and Renault engineering the quality of the ride and the handling. Power assisted steering is used, making parking and low speed manoeuvres much easier with this model than with the earlier and lesser examples, but it means that a certain amount of feel is lost, even though the steering is higher geared. In cruising conditions, the engine is very happy at speeds up to 90 m.p.h., and will accept up to 100 m.p.h. without too much protest, but puffs a bit on any hills. Geared at nearly 23 m.p.h. per 1,000 r.p.m., the engine is turning over at a relaxed 3,000 r.p.m. at the legal limit.

The gearchange is smooth, although first to second needs to be taken carefully to avoid a slight graunch and reverse was often both difficult to find and stiff to engage. The all important fifth to fourth change is superb and provides the driver with the chance to increase speed from 50 to 70 in 10 seconds for overtaking.

The brakes are exceptionally powerful and require only very light pedal pressure in normal use. Anything more than this makes the car pitch uncomfortably as the driver realises he is stopping far more quickly than intended and releases the brakes. Despite the usual pressure limiting devices, the rear wheels locked very easily in simulated emergency stops.

A cruise control system is included in the package and is controlled by buttons on the steering wheel spokes and a master switch on the console. This was about the worst feature of the test car, for not only was the device complicated to operate, but when set, the resulting cruising pace turned out to be quite erratic, often needing to be over-ridden: we also found it would not cancel itself immediately the brake pedal was touched, as we feel it should have done.

Apart from that, there are few niggles — the fascia treatment is too plasticy for comfort, blending badly with the plush carpet and well upholstered seats, the throttle pedal, in common with other Renaults we have driven, has a ghastly feel to it, having only very limited travel, the boot sill is high for loading heavy luggage and the catch on the test car refused to operate unless the boot was slammed with almost violent force.

All other features of the car performed well, and the central door locking (which does not protect the fuel filler) was a much appreciated bonus. Our fuel consumption worked out at 32.4 m.p.g. for 600 or so miles of varied motoring which had the red light of the standard econometer on rather more than it should have been. The light footed could expect 35 m.p.g., which with the 111/2 gallon tank gives a respectable range of nearly 400 miles.

Acclaimed Car of the Year for 1981, the Renault 9 fills a gap in the Regie's range and is their answer for the man who is looking for an all purpose family car. The range has eight variants, made up from different combinations of three performance levels (on two engine sizes) and five trim equipment levels. Prices range from £4,100 for the basic 9C to £5,688 for the 9TSE.

The 9 is only the second of Renault's many front wheel drive models to employ a transverse engine arrangement. The power units concerned are the 1,108 c.c. motor seen in the Renault 5 and the 1,397 c.c. engine used in the less powerful varieties of the 18. The smaller engine is used in the 9C and 9TC and provides 471/2 b.h.p. at 5,250 r.p.m., giving a top speed of 86 m.p.h. The larger engine comes in two basic guises, although Renault quote three different power outputs — in single-choke carburetter guise, 60 b.h.p. is produced at 5,250 r.p.m., giving the 9TL, 9GL and 9TLE top speeds of 94 m.p.h. and in twin choke carburetter form it develops 68 b.h.p. at 5,250 r.p.m. for the 9 Automatic (to give it the same 94 m.p.h. top speed), and 72 b.h.p. at 5,750 r.p.m. to give the 9GTS and 9TSE 100 m.p.h. performance.

The same four door body shell, computer designed to reduce weight to the minimum level consistent with a structure of acceptable strength and low drag coefficient for the fuel conscious 1980s is used for all models. That Renault's computer functions correctly is obvious from the figures — despite its over 13 ft. length and roomy interior accommodation the basic 9C weighs in at 1,775 lb., and the heaviest in the range, the automatic, is only just over 100 lb. heavier. Combine the low weight, low drag coefficient with carefully designed gear ratios and efficient engines and it is easy to see that Renault are aiming to sell the 9 very much on the basis of outstanding fuel economy.

We sampled a middle-power 9GTL on a short drive along the Corniche between Nice and Monte-Carlo, followed by the longer drive from Nice back to the UK in the top of the range 9TSE. Despite co-driver David Tremayne's unstinting efforts to record the heaviest fuel consumption of all UK journalists present (which honour he achieved), he still could not get the 9GTL below 40 m.p.g. while light footed colleagues were all recording better than 50 m.p.g. in similar cars on the same journey. In such hilly terrain the GTL had to be worked hard to maintain a respectable cruising speed, and was quite breathless on the steeper grades, but to cover over fifty miles of virtually flat out motoring in such terrain for the expenditure of less than 11/4 gallons of fuel must appeal to many.

Things were not that much different with the 9TSE. We drove from Nice to Calais, only stopping for meals, as fast as we reasonably could cruising flat out whenever the opportunity presented; still the fuel consumption was close to the 40 m.p.g. figure. although one re-fill showed below 39 m.p.g.

In twin carburetter guise, the performance is considerably enhanced, even though much use of the gearbox is called for in difficult terrain or when overtaking. The change is smooth but it is necessary to use the full (and long) travel of the clutch to avoid graunches, and there is a big gap between second and third. As with the 18, the down change from fifth to fourth is silky smooth. The engine is quiet and smooth at steady speeds, but becomes harsh under hard acceleration and obviously dislikes being revved hard, shouting for an up-change well before the warning red-line at 5,500 r.p.m. is reached.

The ride of this newcomer from Renault is very much firmer than one would expect from such a French car; it is comfortable for the occupants, yet shows only a limited tendency to roll on corners, making its handling very pleasant. The steering is good and transmits plenty of road feel back to the driver. As with the 18, the brakes are very powerful and require a light touch, and the throttle pedal is nasty, again having only very limited travel.

The interior appointments match the engineering quality of the rest of the car, the TSE being equipped with such items as central locking, remote control mirror adjustment, velour upholstery to the exceedingly comfortable seats (which are adjustable in a rocking mode as well as fore and aft) and electric windows. After 850 miles, we were still perfectly comfortable, although any rear seat passengers would have wished for greater legroom. One of the bonuses of driving a car with good aerodynamics is the lack of wind noise — the 9 is no exception, being a very quiet little car until it is accelerated hard or cruised at above 4,000 r.p.m. when engine noise begins to intrude.

With the 9, Renault have a strong competitor for cars such as the Ford Escort, VW Jetta, Vauxhall Astra and Chevette, Talbot Horizon and so on. — P.H.J .W.