The GT Turbo, the twelfth variant in Renault’s Supercinq range, packs a 115bhp version of the pushrod four which also appears in 9 and 11 models, using an end-mounted Garrett T2 turbo blowing through a single-choke carburetter. Torque is a very healthy 121 lb ft at 3000 rpm, with a larger clutch to cope, and as usual fifth gear is an overdrive (0.758:1), while the drive-shafts have been strengthened too. Front suspension retains the MacPherson strut of the rest of the 5 range, with stiffer dampers and antiroll bar and a ride-height which drops a full inch and a half, but at the rear the GT Turbo has its own special arrangements. Two trailing arms, connected by a cross-member, operate on a pair of transverse torsion bars, with a subsidiary pair to give roll resistance; together with very flat dampers, this gives an extremely compact layout, and increases the track by 1.2 in over standard. Higher ratio steering with more rigid rack mountings, plus ventilated front brake discs, round off the mechanical changes to this superbaby, but it is hardly a Q-car — apart from the noticeably lower stance, the wheelarch fairings, full-width spoiler grille, and side-skirts all add muscle to the car’s looks.
Inside, a red-on-black dash, sports seats, and sculpted leather wheel are the main extras; certainly the extra side-support of the bolstered seats was welcome because of the astonishing speeds at which the little car would tear through bends, while the elaborate shape of the wheel rim was very satisfying to handle and offered a good hand-hold. The usual boost gauge is inserted into the tachometer, but once the turbo takes over there is no time to look at it; the “plip” remote door locking option is far more useful.
Despite being its direct successor, the new GT Turbo differs very much in character from the previous 5 Gordini Turbo; that was a highly-tuned device with a mild turbo system added, which meant that it could be driven quickly without much gear-changing. The new car, though, haste be kept in the boost band since the turbo-step is more pronounced; once going it accelerates ferociously, but open the throttle at middle revs and there is a noticeable pause before blast-off. If, however, the driver is ready to make rapid use of the long-travel but light action gearchange, the 5 GT Turbo will turn in very rapid times both on standing starts (0-62 mph in 8 sec) and over the important intermediate ranges, and it continues to pull up to some 125 mph.
Coupled with this, the flat cornering, crisp steering, and stable, predictable attitude on bends make this a car which can really be flung through bend after bend with confidence. It understeers if driven half-heartedly, but not a great deal, and shrugs off the potentially upsetting effects of suddenly closing or opening the throttle with minimal changes of line. It is not difficult to imagine it on the track in the R5 Turbo Cup race series, especially with its powerful brakes. An unusual system is used to increase fuel capacity: a 1.5 gallon supplementary tank with pump tops up the main 9.5 gallon one when the level falls to a predetermined point.
For what is a relatively small car, overall comfort is very respectable: rear passengers may grumble about their legroom after a while, but the front pair are far better off than in the old inline-engined 5, with more footroom, and the ride, while harder than that of the Gordini, is ultimately less tiring due to the reduction of roll and pitch. This one feels as taut as any Italian contender in this high profile, high profit market sector.
It makes an appealing and stylish package, though perhaps the fascia design is a bit contrived, but the quality of the internal fittings is disappointing: rocker switches that do not quite fit do not help the smart, sophisticated image that this sort of vehicle aims to project. Also the odd vertical radio position behind the gearlever has been carried over from the old 5 — a less than convenient stretch away, and a positive danger when trying to peer down and tune the thing. A black mark to Phillips here, for their otherwise high quality electronic radio cassette fitted to the test-car: it features a multi-level search system which needs five minutes in a layby with a stopwatch and a notebook to find anything other than commercial music stations.
As a rule I do not like front-wheel-drive turbo cars because of their traction problems, but the Renault 5 GT Turbo seems to have the right balance of grip and power — very little wheelspin and no appreciable torque steer with the 195/55 HR 13 tyres fitted, although like most low-profiles they transmit a lot of thumping. Sadly, the test car developed the habit of suddenly dying away when the throttle was opened, either from rest or in motion; this was not turbo-lag as the car would lose forward impulsion altogether, stalling it pulling away from the lights, a problem which Renault at Western Avenue were unable to trace.
That apart, the GT Turbo provided a lot of excitement and some very fast journeys — at a price of £7695 it saves £1100 over the car I would compare it with, the Lancia Delta HF Turbo. The Italian has the edge on refinement and interior appointments, but the cost difference would buy a lot of petrol. GC