Sports cars bearing the name Alpine Renault have in the past been sold only in Europe, something of a pity as the line has increased in desireability. Now a Renault-designed and developed Alpine model is to go on sale through British dealers-but without the Alpine name. This may be a disappointment to those who remember the raucous A110 rally cars tearing through the forests, but is partly to avoid any confusion with other manufacturers’ past products, and partly to ensure that the new car is seen as a Renault pure and simple.
This gives the company its first production sportscar and a prestige one at that. For the GTA, as it will be known, is aimed directly at Porsche, Lotus, the ever-improving Japanese coupes, and even exotics like the Ferrari 328 and Larnborghini. Unlikely as this may sound, Renault are very confident, and having driven an early RHD car, I can see why. The GTA istorrilic to look at. wonderful fun to drive, and very, very fast.
No doubt there will be some resistance to features of the car — it uses a polyester laminate body on a composite steel and plastic sub-structure, and, like its predecessor the A310, mounts the engine in the tail with the 5-speed transaxle ahead of the rear wheels. But the result is a car with excellent road manners, and one which looks like a mid-engined exotic but has two back seats. True, they are not spacious, but they would be roomier than those in a Porsche 944 if it were not for the rail which touches the back of the headset the rear passengers.
Seeing the cars being assembled Illustrated how clever the layout is, the spare tyre lives alongside the engine, while the gearbox protrudes into the cabin between the rear seats, using otherwise wasted space. A long wheelbase makes for generous cabin room, while the broad front track and compact suspension mean well-placed pedals, often a weak point on rear- or mid-engmed cars. Neatest of all is the very flat position of the radiator under the nose, which exhausts under the car, leaving space above for the fuel tank, over the R25-derived front double-wishbone suspension, and above that again, a luggage compartment. The size of this is restricted by an upward extension of the moulded fuel tank on the left side which carries the filler cap.. Although this means that the front lid has to be raised to refuel, clever rubber seals prevent any spillage.
Two versions will be available, both V6: a 2.85-litre normallyaspirated unit (160 bhp, 146 mph) and the one we drove, which packs the 200 bhp 2.5 V6 turbo from the R25. Virtually instant response and abundant torque endow this one with impressive acceleration, and we registered over 150 mph on a Continental motorway with more to come. Even at these speeds the GTA is very stable, although it is naturally more affected by cross-winds than a front-engined vehicle, and its four ventilated disc brakes dig it squarely into the tarmac when the toll-booths arrive.
Handling gives no clues at all as to the engine’s position: it feels very neutral, with lots of grip and very little roll, and switches direction very promptly as soon as the nicely-weighted unassisted wheel is turned. Traction is not surprisingly superb, the low car squatting a little as it hurls itself at the next bend, and the short stiff gear-linkage gives an excellent change. Floor-mounted pedals are unusual today, but are quite comfortable, allowing convenient heel-and-toe, and the seats are of Renault’s admirable “petale”, type, which support the small of the back with adjustable side-panels, but leave the shoulders unobstructed.
The well-equipped dash is of simple layout, and the elaborate Phillips hi-fi from other prestige Renault models is standard, together with much else, including the wonderful “Plip” remote door-locking device. Ventilation would be good if the nozzles would stay in adjustment, but the heat build-up from the internal coolant pipes was uncomfortable. British buyers will have to wait some time before a RHD air-conditioning installation is sorted out — a pity, as the car needs it.
Much work has gone into making the GTA as smooth as possible, with flush glass sloping nose, and carefully arranged air inlets and outlets, and there no door handles as such — when the button is pushed, the door electrically springs open an inch to afford a grip. Rear passengers have their own mechanical door release. Aerodynamic unloading of the front axle is only 5, at 125 mph, which accounts for the good stability, and the Cd is a very good 0.28, hence our mpg figure, measured on the inbuilt trip computer, of over 25 mpg. Visibility is fine, driving position ideal, finish excellent externally — though some of the mass-produced switches and components look out of place on a car which will sell at £19,040 unblown and £23,635 with the turbo unit.
These prices compare well with Porsche, not quite so well with Lotus: but the GTA is a much more exciting looking vehicle than either I thought it was terrific, and I can’t wait to do a full road-test —G.C.