Road impressions: Renault 16TS Auto

—French tourer with flair

A welcome opportunity to escape from the office and its ever-ringing telephone for two weeks for a holiday taking in races at Zandvoort and Monaco gave us an excellent chance to put a road-test car through its paces. The car had to carry three, or perhaps four, people for over 2,000 miles around the Continent and therefore had to be roomy, reasonably economical, a good high-speed tourer and, above all, comfortable and untiring to drive. In fact, these guidelines are very probably the same ones that govern the purchasing of vehicles by Motor Sport readers.

I was pondering about a choice of a vehicle fulfilling these requirements back in the dark days of the postal strike. One of the week’s Press functions was organised by Renault Ltd. and on arrival at the appropriate London hotel I found that the French company was announcing automatic versions of their popular 16 range. In fact, I had never as much as sat in a Renault 16 but had been impressed by the way these somewhat angular f-w-d devices performed on the road. Ten minutes later I had the proposed test of the TS automatic organised with Renault’s efficient public relations staff. I could not have picked a better car for the job and after over 2,500 miles of Continental motoring I had nothing but praise for this fine motor car.

The 16 range is no newcomer; it was introduced some six and a half years ago and at that time was quite a trend-setter with its five-door lay-out—later to be copied by British Leyland on the Maxi. The car’s distinctive lines are deceptively wind-cheating and still modern. The TS version of this car has always used a 1,565-c.c. engine rather than the smaller 1,470-c.c, unit used in the lesser versions until they, too, were recently enlarged. Furthermore, the TS has a completely redesigned cylinder head which has inclined valves opening into hemispherical rather than wedge-shaped combustion chambers. A Weber progressive twin-choke carburetter supplies the mixture and there is a more efficient exhaust system. These engines produce something like 83 b.h.p. in standard form and also have a very good record for longevity.

It was also pleasing to see several cars at the Monaco F3 race using this engine as a basis for the power unit including the works Alpines, while several other French privateers were also using the engines. The Renault racing motors seemed to be the equal of the Ford twin-cam-based units and the works Alpines finished third and fifth.

Other modifications included larger section tyres, larger front discs and power-assisted brakes but otherwise the TS is much the same as the lesser-powered model.

Of course, the Renault 16TS has already been very well chronicled and various motoring scribes have already eulogised over the exceptional ride and comfort offered by this saloon and its amazing ability to convey family loads of people and their luggage with seemingless lack of effort. Our test went to confirm all this but its main aim was to try the new automatic transmission and how it affected the performance of the car. There are still a lot of people who consider that any engine under three litres is too small for automatic transmission. Others, the Editor included, say that automatics are for the old and lazy, a view which I do not share. Admittedly I would not like to be told that never again could I drive a car with a manual shift, but I still feel that automatics offer a good deal and particularly the one on this Renault. [No, I merely say I don’t want to go automatic until I’m 60!—Ed.]

Basically it follows traditional lines with a torque converter driving a fully-epicyclic three-speed box. However, instead of gaining its automatic “ideas” hydraulically from a combination of speeds and throttle opening, the engineers at Billancourt have devised an electric decision-maker, mini-computer if you like, which co-ordinates road speed, engine loading and throttle position to decide upon gear-shifts.

There is a manual override control which, at first, is somewhat notchy and difficult to use, but once one has developed a feel for it then it definitely enhances the use of the automatic. The normal kick-down facility is provided on the throttle pedal, but as this is linked to the computer it acts at virtually any position through its travel. In fact, one can help the computer think with the most subtle changes of pressure on the pedal, particularly with upward shifts. This is one area where this automatic scores heavily over almost any other system. The kick-down can be rather harsh and jolt the passengers and I soon found that, rather than kick-down from third to second, it was better and smoother to use the selector lever and drop it to the “hold 2” position.

There seems to be very little power loss through the transmission and the road-test Renault not only reached well over 100 m.p.h. on the clock but cruised for literally hour after hour at genuine 100 m.p.h. averages on the fine French autoroutes. A little disappointing was the fuel consumption, which at these speeds dropped dramatically to around 20 m.p.g., which made high-speed work in the car a little expensive.

Generally the car behaved exceptionally well during its arduous test with just one lapse, when a nut holding the lead from the battery to the starter motor fell off as we parked for a picnic lunch. Why the car wouldn’t restart after lunch was a mystery which took me quite a time to solve! The nut had disappeared without trace and fallen off a most inaccessible place. Finally, a friendly racing mechanic towing an F3 car to Monaco stopped and fixed it, probably better than any Renault agent could have done and in half the time.

That aside, there is little to complain about apart from idiosyncrasies like not being able to wind the driver’s window up when the handbrake is on because the winder fouls or the fact that the front doors can only be locked by the key from the outside.

But perhaps the best recommendation for the car is that of the passengers who, after all, had to sit in the thing for over two and a half thousand miles in less than two weeks and travel non-stop from Monte Carlo to Paris bar fuel stops. Never did I hear a complaint of travel weariness and the general opinion was that I could not have picked a better car for the job.

At £1,359 the Renault 16TS is undoubtedly good value and if we enter the Common Market then it will be ultra-competitive. The automatic adds an additional £136 on to the price tag, which is well worth considering. This is an excellent automatic gearbox and there is no doubt in my mind that it contributed a great deal to the comfort and ease with which I was able to drive the machine for long periods without need of a rest.

Renault sales in Britain have expanded spectacularly over the past year and the trend will continue if the French firm continues to build such excellent cars and offer such good service. Readers who have possibly owned something like a Cortina 1600E and are looking for a replacement are well advised to put the 16TS on their short list and a test-drive would undoubtedly leave them most pleasantly surprised.—A. R. M.