Just nineteen

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Before long, Renault’s Douai factory will be able to turn out a Renault 19 in just 16 hours. That fact underlines the very high level of automation needed for a mid-sized car which hopes to become, as it were, the Escort of the range. Top of the league in France, Renault sees Great Britain as third in its export sights behind Spain and Italy, with a target of some 114,000 cars and vans in the coming year.

Right-hand-drive 19s have taken a while to percolate through, and the sporting 20-valve version will not reach us until the autumn. In the meantime, three engines are available, one of which is an important addition to Renault’s armoury. The new Energy unit is a high-efficiency engine aimed at combining economy with good output, and with 80 bhp from 1390cc it would seem to achieve this. A single belt-driven ohc and integral oil and water pumps combine with lightweight cutaway pistons to reduce drag and noise within the two-valve per cylinder cross-flow design, which is fuelled by a Weber progressive twin-choke carburettor. Alongside this, the existing 1397cc 60 bhp pushrod engine from the R5, 9 and 11 will also be offered as a base choice, while the fastest 19 comes with the F-type block already seen in 11 and 21 amongst others. For 19, there are some modifications: reduced cc for unleaded fuel, compensated for by a hotter cam, an anti-vapour lock device for better hot starting, and electric heating for both carb and inlet manifold, improving cold starts and economy. A Renault first is the “filled for life” gearbox on all 19s.

Front suspension is identical to that on the 21, using MacPherson struts, but there an two types of system aft. Lower power models rely on simple trailing arms with torsion bars, while the 1700 cars have trailing arms linked by a flexible crossmember and four torsion bars acting as springs and anti-roll bars. A disc-and-drum set-up copes with stopping, except on top models where an all-disc ABS option is available. One of Renault’s strongest claims is over the interior space. A long wheelbase allows plenty of knee-room in the rear seats, but headroom there is seriously restricted. A conventional dash, a rather dated steering wheel, and seats a little on the short side are the driver’s lot.

On car launches with a model mix, there is always a rush to grab the faster cars, but the R19 was different. Although the 1.7 has the extra power, especially noticeable in top, the 1.4 proves itself to be particularly smooth and quiet for this class, making it actually more enjoyable to use hard in the higher rev ranges than its big brother. More surprising still is the difference between the rear end feel with the differing suspension schemes: ordinary driving covers it up, but on twisty roads the programmed compliance on the 1.7 gives it a loose feel which I disliked, preferring the predictability of the skinny-tyred 1400.

On the other hand the bigger-engined car seemed more stable at motorway speeds, where the 1.4 was inclined to wander. Both cars possess a rather rubbery gearchange, and the 1.4 suffers from an enormous gap between second and third. To promote the new car Renault will spend around £9-million in Britain this year, concentrating on what it sees as unusually high-value specifications, especially of the middle-range cars. Prices will range from £6520, to £9520 for the well-equipped TXE. GC