Road impressions - The Renault 20TL

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The very spacious Renault 20TL, that I used as my tender-car on last year’s Brighton Veteran Car Run was well-liked by those who encountered it and although the brief week for which I had it was all too short a period in.which to fully assess this important new model from the famous French nationalised company, it certainly deserves some comment.

This 20TL gave an air of unostentatious quality and although driven by an engine of only 1.6-litres, it rates as quite a big car, and one so commodious that although we were five-up for the very wet journey along the M4 to London and so could not fold the back seat of this 5-door saloon, there remained ample luggage space, and the back-seat occupants did not look too cramped. The 20TL slots in between the new V6 Renault 30TS and the well-known 16TX and is being produced at the rate of over 300 every day. It has clean external lines but I did not always recognise it as a Renault in crowded car parks. It runs fairly quietly at 70 m.p.h., or 4,000 r.p.m., on a Motorway, with just a whistle of wind round the tops of the doors. I would have liked a bit more power in the middle speed ranges from this Automatic version, to avoid using the rather fierce surge of acceleration on kick-down. The Type 140.10 3-speed, electronically-controlled gearbox functions well, decisively rather than smoothly, and has “hold-1” and “hold-2” positions on its neatly-illuminated central quadrant. The light-alloy, wet-liner engine with the ingenious push-rod valve-gear dates back to 1965 but now pokes out 90 b.h.p. at 5,750 r.pm., aided by a twin-choke Weber. The great improvement is in the suspension department, for while the traditional Renault comfort over “impossible” roads is largely unimpaired, roll on corners, which also used to characterise a Renault, has been firmly subdued. This is achieved with all-round independent suspension using front and rear anti-roll bars, and a coil-spring, 3-articulated-bar system at the back, giving a spring-rate of 38 mm.-per-100 kg. Helical springs are used at the front, giving a 40-mm.-per-100 kg. rate. Front-wheel-drive, which makes the manual rack-and-pinion steering somewhat heavy under power, additionally aids the sure Michelin-X-treaded fast cornering.

The servo disc/drum brakes are excellent; almost over-servo-ed in fact. Having just got very used to a Chrysler Alpine-S I found myself comparing the two cars. The Renault is much more refined but costs £580 more, in basic manual-transmission form. The 20TL has those superbly-comfortable, large seats one expects in a Renault; the Alpine’s are rather less comfortable. The Alpine is notably more economical and although the 20TL demists very well once the heater-controls are understood, the Alpine was outstanding in this respect. Both cars have rotatable lamps-stalks, with which I am not enamoured. The Renault soon lost its o/s side-lamps, causing me to join the dazzlers who will insist on using dipped headlamps in well-lit town streets. (The Renault Gordini I tested last year also developed electrical faults.) Like the Alpine, the 20TL otherwise has good lamps, with a reasonable cut-off.

The Renault has an unpleasant-sounding-heater fan, controlled by an inset knob. The four “holes” in the facia before the driver contain a multi-dial indicating fuel contents, battery condition and engine heat, a speedometer, a tachometer, and a grouped warning-lights circle, the last-named sensibly subdued. Fuel consumption was rather disappointing, at 28.0 m.p.g., and the vague fuel gauge is difficult to read at a glance. It “makes” fuel as you Stamp on the brake pedal. But no oil was put in during the week’s hard driving, of 1,155 miles. The steering wheel is well cut-away, to show the instruments but is of large diameter, so that with the driving seat well back, as I like it, and to give a rear-seat passenger some foot-space, its rim raised a bruise on my right thigh. The fifth door opens easily, to provide unobstructed loading, and I liked the locks and keys. An irritating aspect was the proximity of the I.h. wipers stalk to the ignition-key, so that as one switched off, the wipers would wave furiously –hut full marks for the fact that these, and the horn, operate with the ignition off, whereas this applies only to the horn on the Alpine. The wiper blades were, however, noisy in action and not very efficient. The Renault has no clock; the Alpine has but it lost 15 minutes in a week.

Altogether this new Renault is an impressive addition to a great range of family cars. It is interesting that, in an age when knocking one’s rivals is no longer regarded as in poor taste, Renault (UK) Ltd. bring to the notice of the Press that, compared with ten other cars in its class, the 20TL is shorter than all save the Lancia Beta 2000E, Saab 99GL, Peugeot 504GL, and Princess 2200HLS, turns tighter than anything except a Volvo 244DL, shares ventilated disc brakes only with the Citroen CX2000, and has more luggage space and is the only car with a fifth door out of the aforenamed plus the Audi 100LS, Ford Granada 2000GL, Rover 2200SC, and Triumph 2500TC. The 20TL alone offers optional electro-magnetic door locks and only it, and the Beta, have an internal lamps’ adjustment system. The 20TL also retains the well-known Renault 7-position seating, and it has many safety factors induced by the £1-million Renault Basic Research Vehicle (only one million, this time!). Its fuel tank holds 13 gallons, so that, like the Chrysler Alpine, the 20TL has a most commendable range, the tachometer goes “into the red” at 5,600 r.p.m., there are various oddments stowages, and a driver’s door well, but the underfacia drop-bin is awkward to shut, because its knob has to be re-set to make its catch function. The front-seat backrests are controlled by big knobs and all the expected amenities are present. The Renault 20TL is, indeed, a very good family car, which costs £3,627 in basic Automatic form.

The Renault depot at Acton is being extensively expanded again, a display of Common Market optimism in direct contrast to the pessimism prevailing in Britain. But when I wanted to double-check the 20TL’s fuel consumption the person who unlocks the petrol pump wasn’t there and when it was found that the Chrysler Alpine had a soggy tyre, no mechanics were available—nearly everything shuts down at 16.30 hours! Going back to the Alpine, its brakes felt terrible, but it certainly has a much more sporting performance than the 20TL and is therefore more fun to drive. Neither car is any use in winter, because their screen washers, once frozen, remain useless, being unwarmed by engine heat.—W.B.

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