Road test - The Renault 30TS

Comfortable, smooth and versatile, but some rough edges

There’s a growing trend amongst motor manufacturers for five and three-door cars in the small and middle ranges, a trend created by demands for increased functionality by the general public. Now Renault have taken the five-door theme into new, large luxury-car territory with their V6-engined, four-wheel-drive 30TS, first marketed in France last spring and on sale in Britain for the last few months.

Though less estate-car-like in looks than the smaller, precedent-setting Renault 16, the “hatchback” 30 has similar luggage and seating arrangements. Used as a five-seater saloon, it has a deep, 14 cu. ft. boot underneath a counter-balanced tailgate which lifts in turn a hinged and removable parcel shelf. Like the 16, the 30 has rear seats offering seven variations of arrangement, including, in conjunction with,the reclining front seats, a “twinbed” arrangement for would-be campers or a “large object” position, offering 34 cu. ft. of luggage space. The 30 interior takes on almost pantechnicon proportions when the rear seats are removed completely to produce 50 cu. ft. of space upon an almost flat floor. A spare wheel hidden beneath the floor, from where it is wound down in its cradle with the aid of the wheelbrace (and where it is unprotected against road dirt), and an underfloor 141-gallon fuel tank are space-saving features, but the steeply-raked tailgate and high tail panel are no help towards loading high objects. Beyond its setting of a new trend in large-car design, the 30 is most interesting for its utilisation of the Franco-Swedish, allaluminium, 2,664-c.c., 90-deg. V6 engine, produced at Douvrin in France for the consortium of Renault, Peugeot and Volvo. Unlike Volvo and Peugeot, whose share of engines goes into conventional rear-wheeldrive saloons, the 264 and 604 respectively, Renault chose to stick to their front-wheel drive guns and their V6 drives through either

Above and below: The Renault 307’S is splendidly spacious without taking up too much road room. Those driven front wheels lack traction in the wet. Some of the detail execution is unworthy of a 44,000 car.

a new four-speed manual gearbox or the Renault-designed-and-built Type 141, three-speed automatic transmission with electronic selection. Our test car had the manual gearbox. The sealed-cooling-system V6 engine is over-square, with a bore of 88 mm. and stroke of 73 mm. within the removable wet liners. Each alloy cylinder head carries a single, chaindrive, overhead camshaft operating two angled valves per hemispherical combustion chamber by rocker arms. A relatively low 8.65-to-1 compression ratio is used. In common with Peugeot, Renault have adopted a most unusual Solex twin-carburetter arrangement for the V6: the first instrument has just one, mechanically-operated, 34-mm. choke; a second, twin-choke carburetter is brought into play automatically by engine vacuum. Volvo, on the other hand, endow their engine with Bosch K-Jetronic fuel-injection, which gains them almost 10 b.h.p. and a little more torque. A glance under the bonnet reveals

two ignition coils, signifying an independent ignition system for each bank, twin contactbreakers being contained misleadingly under one distributor cap on the offside bank. Should such complications become too much for the average mechanic he can plug (if he works for a Renault dealer, that is) his diagnostic equipment into a six-point plug.

In this Renault application the V6 produces a modest 131 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., suggestive that the engine is well under-stressed. Likewise its torque output of 148.3 lb. ft. is not impressive in proportion to swept volume; what does count is that this peak figure occurs at a mere 2,500 r.p.m., equal to a little under 50 m.p.h. in top gear on the manual gearbox car’s 3.89-to-1 final-drive ratio. The ratios of the all-synchromesh, all-indirect gearbox are: 1st, 3.36 to 1; 2nd, 2.06 to 1; 3rd, 1.32 to 1; top, 0.93 to 1; reverse, 3.18 to 1. These transmit the power to the front wheels via a 9.25-in, clutch and constant-velocity jointed drive-shafts.

In usual Renault fashion the 30TS is fitted with wishbone, coil-spring, independent suspension all round. The front has double-arm bottom wishbones, single top arms, an ant-roll bar and anti-dive links. The coilspring/damper units are mounted on the top wishbones. At the rear, bottom wishbones are located by twin trailing links. Dampers are turret-mounted, separate from the coilsprings, and an anti-roll bar is fitted.

Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is a standard feature of the 30TS. The rack is mounted quite high up behind the engine and assistance comes from a pump driven by the rear of the nearside camshaft.

Befitting the need to stop 2,910 lb. from a potential maximum speed of 115 m.p.h., servo-assisted disc brakes are fitted all round, the 9.92-in, diameter front discs being ventilated, the rears not. Twin-piston calipers are fitted, each worked by a separate hydraulic circuit. A clever load-sensitive valve operated by articulated arms from the rear suspension wishbones controls pressure to the rear calipers to prevent rear-wheel locking. The hand-brake operates mechanically on the rear wheels. Of two brake-warning lights on the facia, one warns of hydraulic pressure drop and the other indicates excessive front pad wear.

Renault designed the 30TS in parallel with their experimental, safety Basic Research Vehicle. So the new model features many of the lessons learned in the BRV, including progressive resistance front and rear sections, a cross-member under the scuttle to prevent wheel intrusion, reinforcing members in the doors, strengthened front and centre pillars for roll-over protection, hinges designed to prevent doors bursting open on impact, and numerous strengthening members in the main shell. Fortunately the 30TS looks much more attractive than the BRV, elegant in a Gallic way, with a considerable glass area and low waistline giving generally good visibility, though the thick front pillars are occasionally obstructive. The bonnet slopes down to a wide grille containing four Cibie biode headlamps, adjustable hydraulically by a knob on the steering column to compensate for load. Those of the test car gave an extremely poor dipped beam, while the powerful main beam couldn’t be elevated sufficiently to be of much use. Rubbing streaks are fitted along the waistline, but the flared wheel arches protrude beyond these. The nearside door handles are practically impossible to use with the right hand, almost as annoying an arrangement as that of the 15 and 17 Renault ranges. An anti-surge trap in the mouth of the non-lockable fuel filler behind the offside rear door makes it difficult to insert a nozzle.

This Renault costs £1,952, not cheap by any standards. At any price the fit of the doors on the test car could have been considered appalling; at its actual price it was disgraceful, particularly that of the nearside rear, which made practically no attempt to follow the body contours along its lower rearward edge and left room for fingers to be inserted. If Renault intend to become a serious challenge in this expensive market sector I hope for their sakes that the test car’s body was unrepresentative. However, things do get better in the 30TS. Aspiring Mercedes and Jaguar owners can get a sample of what to expect from more expensively bought luxury with this lamest Renault’s centralised locking system, electro-magnetically controlled in this instance, as in the 16TX. Jaguar-like, it does not rake care of the boot lid, but an-jaguar-like this can only be opened with the key. I found the system a boon, not a gimmick. The front windows are electrically operated, which would be fine except that the controls are on the left-centre of the dashboard, a considerable stretch for the driver, and matched, to their right, by switches for hazard warning and heated rear screen, all far too easily confused in darkness. Hazard warning lights are not very good for demisting rear windows. The rear door windows are manually operated.

The sumptuous-looking, cloth-trimmed (for an extra £35), reclining seats do not belie their appearance. Thickly-padded, curvaceous and expansive, they cushion the body in luxury, but the material had begun to scuff and “pill” after 8,000 miles of driver’s seat use. Front seat head-rests are standard, as is the nuisance they create for rear-seat passengers, not a problem unique to Renault. A broad armrest separates the rear seats, while an arm-rest between the front seats camouflages a deep and useful stowage locker. Unfortunately this item does make operation of the central handbrake, which sprouts from its base, a little difficult and the left-hand wall of the well in which the hand-brake lies is a natural knucklescraper. The very plasticity, safety-conscious facia is something of a Plain Jane, but well-stocked by Jaeger: a 140-m.p.h. speedometer, 8,000r.p.m. tachometer without a red-line (and no handbook with the car to tell me what I could rev it to), a matching circular dial containing fuel, battery condition and water-temperature gauges (but no oil-pressure gauge—perhaps I should have taught them a lesson by overrevving the engine), and a matching clock doubling up as a receptacle for warning lights. I did not like the wiper arrangement, controlled by the left-hand steering-column stalk. The fast speed is adequate and continuous, but there is no “slow” speed as such, just a variable speed intermittent facility, the fastest speed of which acts as “slow”. In this position the wiping efficiency is all right, but the movement is annoyingly jerky and accompanied by frustrating continual clicking from the “makeand-break” system. The four-jet washers are excellent, however. The lighting system I can only describe as stupid. A master switch and blue warning light are on the right of the facia: the first “on” position selects either sidelights or, if the self-centring stalk on the right-hand side of the steering column is pulled back, dipped headlights, but there is no indication of which lights are on. Obviously, at night you can tell whether the dipped lights are illuminated, but when lights are required in daytime conditions it is usually impossible to tell one way or the other. To select main beam the facia switch must be moved to the second “on” position, when the column switch will work as a normal dipswitch. , The really bad feature of this system could have dire consequences: when motoring along on dipped beam at night it is all too easy to forget whether the facia switch is in the first ox second position; should the driver try to select main beam, having forgotten the two-position facia switch, which happens to be in the first position, he will be reduced to sidelights abruptly. At speed this could put him off the road before he’d gathered together his thoughts.

My immediate impressions of the driving position were not good, however comfortable the seat: the steering column is high and nonadjustable (the deceptive lever in the lower half of the shroud releases the forwardhinged bonnet, not the column 1); for my legs to be comfortably placed for the pedals I was forced to have the seat back-rest too upright. I confess I became more content as the miles went by, but there was none of that “this is just right” feel of the BMW 320 driving position I had vacated a week earlier. The inertia-reel seat belts disappear neatly into the centre pillars.

Cold starting was poor, numerous churns required before the engine would fire. Perhaps the automatic choke on the Solex was playing up ? Once running this Renault could be driven smoothly immediately.

The torque of the 2.7-litre engine passed through the front wheels makes power steering an essential part of the design. A sensiblysized, padded, thick-rim steering wheel needs 3.5 turns lock-to-lock, which gives a turning circle between kerbs of 33 ft. 2 in. There is a vague hiss from the rack’s hydraulic assistance when lock is applied. This steering is excellent: there is no play whatsoever, assistance is progressive depending upon the amount of lock and the force required to apply it, so in a straight line there is practically no assistance at all. At no time does it become overlight and feel remains good. It is not quite so impressive as the power steering of the Lancia Beta Coupe 2000, but together they prove that front-wheel-drive cars can gain more benefit from power steering than conventional models.

Apart from traction, of which more anon, the road manners of the 30TS are practically impeccable. When introducing the model to Motor Sport readers in our May issue, after trying the model in the South of France, “J.W.” spoke of, “. . . a fantastic ride for French conditions but likely to be over-soft for Britain.” After British experience I don’t agree: the suspension felt pleasantly taut by non-German big saloon standards, certainly much stiffer, and better damped, than that of the Granada. True, it rolls, but not in classic Gallic door-handling fashion. Really spirited driving round tight bends is needed to provoke extremes of roll, in which circumstances I’m told by observers that the inside rear wheel can be made to come off the deck. It is a very stable car for fast, winding main-road work, the handling well-balanced and the steering precise. Roadholding on the 175 x 14 in. Michelin XASs is excellent in the dry and I have little doubt that very few large saloons below the Jaguar, Mercedes and BMW level could hold this Renault on a twisty main road. There is a noticeable lack of excessive understeer, but I must confess to not having felt proportionately the same confidence in the 30T’S in the wet as I did in the dry.

Such splendid manners are spoiled by a disheartening lack of traction in damp conditions. Any semblance of a quick getaway, say from a road junction, is accompanied by prodigious wheelspin and side-to-side snaking of the front end, for which torque reaction the power steering is a very necessary palliative. I’m not talking about deliberately lunatic, maximum revolutions, tyre-burning sprints, simply the sort of quick start any of us might want to make to swoop into a traffic gap. Such antics were fun in Cooper Ss, but not in a luxury saloon. It suggests that, Toronados, Citroen SMs and the like notwithstanding, the torque of this V6 is about the limit manufacturers will want to install in a European front-wheel-drive saloon.

No criticism can be levelled at the all-disc brakes, which are superb in feel and reaction. Braking stability and resistance to locking in wet or dry conditions were impressive and, with the help of cadence braking, they served me very well on a network of very icy roads, too.

In this application the consortium’s engine sets new standards of smoothness and quietness for a mass-production V6. It doesn’t make the 30TS an exceptionally quick performer, but the consistency of its torque output gives the car an essentially long-legged feeling to augment the comfort of the seats and the ride. There is little need to rev the engine hard, for the higher gears can usually cope with most situations. Top-gear acceleration from 60 m.p.h. is smoothly impressive. Thirty miles per hour feels to be top gear’s absolute minimum, with a hint that it is about to protest, yet given a chance the engine will display extraordinary flexibility by keeping the car mobile on a level road at tickover in top gear and accelerating cleanly away without fuss. At the other end of the scale, 100 m.p.h. is a very comfortable, unburstable-feeling cruising speed for the engine and, indeed, for the car as a whole, which remains magnificently stable. The gearbox ratios are good, the change reasonable—certainly much better than in Leyland f.w.d. cars, though the push-down against the reverse gear detent spring was difficult on the test car.

The engine keeps up a quiet hum and never sounds too badly fussed. Perhaps because the V6 is so unobtrusive; wind flutter round the front pillar areas is quite noticeable. Nevertheless) the 30TS is a most soothing, comfortable means of travel. I would give no prizes for the heating system, however: it takes a considerable distance to warm up and even then exudes just a Comfortable warmth on maximum heat. I’d hate to have to rely on the 30TS to thaw me out quickly after jumping in out of a blizzard. There are separate demisting outlets for the side windows. Ventilation from vents in the centre and at the extremities of the facia felt powerful enough, though hardly necessary in mid-winter. For summer this fresh-air intake can be boosted by an optional electric sunshine roof, a £151 extra.

This new large Renault proved exceptionally economical for an almost 3-litre car, managing a best of 27 m.p.g. on a journey which was driven perhaps less leaden-footedly than sometimes, but did include some 90-m.p.h. motorway cruising. Even commuting into London saw 21 m.p.g. sustained and 24-25 m.p.g. should be well within the everyday reach of an average non-city-based 30TS owner. No oil was consumed in over 700 miles.

The adaptability and exceptionally detailed specification of the 3o-rs is unique in its class, but in some respects the execution is not as good as the idea. I felt a little sad that a car with so much going for it in terms of chassis performance and practicality should be marred by detail deficiencies.—C.R.