Renault 21

Some novel mechanical features distinguish Renault’s new mid-range fwd family car, the 21, which replaces the 18. The earlier car was rather cramped, with its short front doors giving poor access, and barely adequate rear legroom, plus a bulky rear suspension system which gave the estate a very oddly-shaped load platform. Perhaps this is why the Regie has put interior space at the top of its list of criteria for the new car, and the result is an obvious success.

From the roomy front footwells back, the new car does give an extrordinary sensation of space, despite its very normal 14ft 9in length. This is due partly to the “monotrace” front seats. which silos a single central support so that rear passengers can spread their feel either side, and partly simply to clever packaging with the aid of computer design. The new bodyshell weighs 100 lbs less than its predecessor, yet is more rigid and uses up less of the passenger space, while the doors open into the roofline to ease access.

New compact rear suspension, similar to that on the Renault 5GT Turbo, makes for a very low floor to the large boot, which can be stretched by split folding seat-backs.

But unusually, the range not only includes two engines, but two different front suspension layouts (both MacPherson strut) with different wheelbases to suit. The four lower models use a package derived from the Renault 9(11, a 1721cc transverse four of 76 or 95 bhp. The two high-spec versions. though, have a longitudinal 2-litre unit with a different subframe, struts, steering system, and a 24 in shorter wheelbase Renault say this makes good use of existing components and manufacturing facilities and admit frankly that it saved the £90m it would have cost to develop a transverse gearbox for the 2-litre unit. Two types of wing and wheelarch panel are assembled by the same robots, and there is no difference in Interior space.

Performance with the carburettor 1700 in 90 bhp form (5-speed like all the versions) is good enough (10.7 sec 0-60 mph) and the injected 2-litre feels very willing, taking a second of that time. Both versions are quiet even at motorway speeds, and display impressive ride quality more in line with a luxury car, while handling is crisp and predictable. Interior styling is a pleasantly restrained blend of smart design and practicality; slim door-panels add to the elbow room. Marketing a car in the highly competitive upper-middle saloon bracket mutt be the ad-man’s greatest trial, but Renault have a visible extra to sell in the 21 — its obvious roominess.

1.7-litre prices run from £6845 to £8395, and the 2-litre models start at £6685 up to £10,170. — G.C.