New cars: Renault 21 turbo

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Hit, not myth

Regie Renault did not introduce turbocharging to the mass market, but it has done more than any other manufacturer to extend the range and appeal of forced induction, and the announcement of the 21 Turbo model completes its range of high-performance saloons. That statement clearly excludes the venerable 4, now 26 years of age and resisting all forms of advancement!

The 21 Turbo will go on sale in France in September but will not be available in Britain until next spring, the delay allowing time to adapt the standard Teves ABS brake system for right-hand drive application. It is much too soon to predict a price for the highperforming, 175bhp saloon, but French executives cautiously predict it will be around 20% less expensive than the 25 Turbo, currently pitched at £19,150 in the UK.

At the moment the 21 Turbo appears to lack any clear rivals. Renault people suggest their sights are on the Mercedes 190E 2.3 16 and the BMW 525i, although experience suggests the German products are not only fast and well made, but are status symbols too. Mention is then made of the MG Montego Turbo, but we believe that the niche will in fact be created by Ford with the forthcoming Sierra Sapphire Cosworth RS (or whatever Ford decides to call the saloon, when it appears officially at Frankfurt).

Renault is currently making a strong comeback from the doldrums which Rover Group watchers can only admire and envy, and there is every expectation that the nationalised company will at least break even in 1987, after three years of terrible losses.

The memory of Georges Besse, so cruelly gunned down in a Paris street last year, is revered throughout the company and his successor, Raymond Levy, has made no significant changes to Besse’s master-plan for recovery. The ailing AMC subsidiary has been sold, gladly, to Chrysler, and the upturn in fortune is undoubtedly product-led.

While Peugeot leads the French market sales charts, the 205 is hotly pursued by the Renault `Supercinq’ and by the 21 model. Now the 5 has been freshened up, less than three years after its launch, and the 21 range has been usefully extended with the Turbo version, which is much more likely to appeal to younger, sport-orientated customers than the 25 Turbo. It is not impossible that Renault will soon lead the French sales charts once again, and improve still further its 4% British market share.

British buyers have always regarded French cars, even fast French cars, as idiosyncratic. “Quick in a straight line, but they don’t go round corners” would be a pub summary, a myth which is about to be blown by Renault’s new executive express. The 21 Turbo is extremely fast, especially an mid-range and high-speed overtaking situations, and succeeds in riding well and handling even better. Its weakness, which has to be mentioned, is pronounced turbo lag followed by sudden boost, shared to some extent by the 25 Turbo. At 2000rpm the 21 Turbo is as sedate as an undertaker’s hearse, but at 2700rpm an afterburner has the front wheels scrabbling for adhesion on wet roads — exciting enough for the experienced driver but daunting, perhaps, for novices in winter.

To have the 21 Turbo in the right gear at the right time, though, is one of the real pleasures of motoring. The four-cylinder, 2-litre engine is remarkably refined, and noise levels are extremely low. The Garrett T3 water-cooled turbocharger boosts the power to 175bhp at 5200, and helps the all-aluminium engine to produce a prodigious 1991b ft of torque at 3000rpm . These impressive figures enable the 21 Turbo to accelerate from rest to 100kph (62.5mph) in a claimed 7.4 seconds, and to reach a maximum speed of 141mph.

The engine is mounted longitudinally ahead of the front wheels, Audi-style, and drives through the 25 V6 model’s five-speed gearbox, with different ratios for more sporty appeal. Bendix (formerly Renix) engine management includes individual cylinder knock control sensors, and the 21 also has four-wheel brake discs ventilated at the front, Teves “second generation” ABS as standard, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, and all-independent suspension with MacPherson struts at the front and torsion bar-suspended trailing arms at the rear. The rear dampers also have coil springs, as seen originally on the Nevada (Savanna) estate car.

Built at Sandouville, near Le Havre, the 21 Turbo is finely furnished. Exterior equipment includes a full “body kit”, featuring an air dam with built-in foglights and air ducts for the brakes, side-skirts, rear apron and a transverse spoiler which stands proud of the boot lid.

Inside, the Turbo version has comfortable sports seats, small-diameter height-adjustable steering wheel, computer-aided instrumentation, an entirely new “black dashboard” with orange numeration, split backrests on the rear seats, and the useful infra-ray control which is marvellous for locking and unlocking doors in the dark, or when it is pouring with rain.

Road cars are rarely suitable for racing circuits without special preparation, less still family models from major manufacturers, so it seemed brave of Renault to decant journalists at Nimes airport and have them drive direct to the nearby Ledenon track to try the 21 Turbo, 5 GT and 11 Turbo models at full speed.

All three behaved beautifully on a circuit full of difficult corners and blind brows, but best of all were the delightful 5 GT (in its latest 120bhp form) and the 21 Turbo — complete contrasts in style but almost equally fast around the 2.6km track.

It has never been fashionable in France to knock the Regie, even when it was in dire difficulties in 1984-85, and Renault’s return to full health was never in any doubt; only the speed at which this resurgence has been achieved. If the message has not got through to export markets yet, it soon will. MLC