THE Renault 5 Gordini Turbo is not to be confused with the Renault 5 Turbo. The former is the smallest, and cheapest, mass produced turbocharged car on the market while the latter is a rod-engined “homologation special” built to enable Renault to be competitive in International Rallying. The 5 Turbo, which is not available in the U.K., is a very purposeful looking two seater, developing some 160 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. and costing the equivalent of £12,000 in its native France. The 5 Gordini Turbo is hardly different, at first glance, from the familiar and popular Renault 5.
Priced at £5,750, compared with the £5,325 of the normally aspirated Gordini which it will be replacing, the Gordini Turbo is by far the most expensive 5 variant, but it undercuts all but the cheapest of the Fuego series, the only other cars in the Renault range, bar the 18 Turbo, which have sporting pretentions. It is over £400 cheaper than the Golf GTi, but identically priced with the Ford XR-3 and £250 more expensive than the Fiat Strada 105TC.
Ins hectic week of motoring all over mainland U.K., during which more than 1,600 miles were covered at an overall average of 34.6 m.p.g., this latest offering from Renault proved itself to be a car which one either loves or hates: it is difficult to be neutral. As a car to be driven hard and fast round country lanes, or through town streets if you are so minded, it is a delight and provides very real competition for the larger GTi, the acknowledged peer in this class. The other side of the coin is a car which is difficult to drive smoothly at more mundane road speeds, is very heavy to steer below 10 m.p.h., is cramped for most drivers over 5 ft. 10 ins., is noisy (something especially noticeable when cruising at high speeds), has an inadequate ventilation system and lacks luggage carrying capacity. In other words, it is a car for the enthusiastic and skilful driver who does not need to carry a great deal of clobber about and who does not have to pander to the comfort of poor, or nervous, passengers. Such a person could hardly fail to enjoy the 5 Gordini Turbo.
Externally, this latest Gordini differs from its predecessor only in the discreet “turbo” badges front and rear, the not to discreet “TURBO” emblazoned across the rear screen (why do manufacturers think that owners of the more rutty machinery wish to advertise in this way?) and the attractive, but difficult to clean, alloy wheels, shod in the case of our test car with 70% profile, 155 x 13 Michelin XVS tyres,
The engine is basically the same 1,397 c.c., push-rod o.h.v, unit as in the Gordini, but equipped with lower compression pistons to suit the Garrett AiRescarch turbocharger installation. The static compression ratio is 8.6:1, compared with 10:1 in normally aspirated guise, and electronic ignition is used. The overall effect is to increase power output from 93 b.h.p. at 6,000 r.p.m. to 110 b.h.p. at the same engine speed, while improving the torque curve considerably, as well as raising the maximum value from 85 lb. ft. 109 lb. ft. at 4,000 r.p.m.
The under bonnet installation was likened by a colleague to a mangrove swamp — roots (in this case tubes) everywhere; but an awful lot is packed in a small space. The turbocharger itself nestles low down at the front nearside of the car and sucks petrol/air mixture through a Weber 32DIR75 carburetter (unlike the Renault 18 Turbo, where the turbocharger blows through the carburetter) and the air/fuel mixture is taken by a long cast alloy duct across the top of the engine to the off-side inlet manifold. No inter-cooler is fitted, and the air is heated over the exhaust manifold in cold weather before being ducted across to the air cleaner on the off-side, thence back to the carburetter.
The suspension is by torsion bars and is independent all round. The diameter of the front longitudinal bars has been increased by one millimeter, as have the diameters of the front and rear anti-roll bars, making for a much stiffer and tauter handling car. Steering is by rack and pinion with 3.7 turns from lock to lock. To cope with the added performance provided by the turbocharged unit, the braking system has been completely revamped, the Gordini Turbo being equipped with disc-brakes all round. The system has tandem circuits and is servo-assisted. A pressure limiting valve is fitted to the rear circuit, and this is load sensitive.
Inside, the car is very nicely trimmed as far as the seats and floors are concerned, but has that typical Renault plastic look about the dash— very functional, but contrasting with the quality of the rest of the interior. The switches and instruments are neatly arranged, although the tachometer markings were very messy and confusing to read, especially at the important end of the scale. A boost pressure gauge is included on the centre console and two vertical columns of warning lights flank the main instrument panel. The switches for the electric front windows (which do not operate unless the ignition is on) are on the floor between the seats. Interior stowage space is limited, and luggage carrying capacity with the rear seats in place is a miserly 5.5 cu. ft.
The front seats are very comfortable and medium stature drivers can easily find a comfortable driving position (although this driver had to use an extra cushion — not because of short stature, but because of a fault in the windscreen of the particular test car located at natural eye level) and the controls, except for the switches for the electric front windows, all come to hand in a satisfying fashion. The steering wheel is leather rimmed, and looks much larger than one would expect in a modern small car, but setting off from a tight parking space soon provides the explanation for this apparent incongruity, since low speed steering is hard work.
First impressions of the 5 Gordini Turbo give the false idea that it is a fussy car. The engine needs choke to start from cold, and this needs careful manipulation during the recommended static warm-up period if the engine is not to run very roughly over the first few hundred yards, after which choke is unnecessary. When the engine is warm, it will not catch unless the throttle is opened a crack, but then has the infuriating habit of stalling as soon as the throttle is closed. I developed the habit of revving the engine to some 3,000 r.p.m (not more, remembering that oil takes a little time to reach the turbocharger spindle bearings) for a moment or two after starting before releasing the throttle, whereupon the car would tick over quite happily.
Driven hard, the car behaves beautifully. The power comes in with a smooth kick (if you see what I mean) at between 3,000 and 3,500 r.p.m. and 60 m.p.h. comes up in rather less than ten seconds, despite the necessity for two gear changes. Under harsh acceleration there is a little steering shake, but nothing to worry about. Cornering on the taut suspension is excellent, the rather narrow Michelins just beginning to lose their grip in the dry earlier than a Golf GTi experienced driver might expect. A wider, 60% profile tyre is offered as an option, but this would require extra care in the wet since even the narrow-tyred front wheels will spin in damp conditions, given injudicious application of power. With truly excellent brakes — the best in their class — and the neater size of the R5 (some 15 inches shorter than a Golf), it is possible to position the car on the road with remarkable precision at ridiculously high speeds, making light of country roads and making it possible to nip in and out of traffic with ease. Driven hard over nearly 100 miles of the Scottish Highlands, the fuel consumption dropped to below 25 m.p.g.
Motorway cruising, on the other hand, was not so delightful. The little car is quite capable of cruising at well over 100 m.p.h. (top speed being in the region of 115 m.p.h.), but the continuous buzz front the front of the car combined with wind noise (exacerbated in hot weather by the necessity of having the windows slightly open) makes cruising at the legal motorway limit rather tiring. Putting such considerations on one side, however, we were able to leave Inverary at 9.00 a.m. on the Saturday of the late May Bank Holiday weekend and arrive in Wedmore, Somerset, at 4.10 p.m., having stopped twice for fuel and once for food. During this high speed journey, petrol consumption worked out at 27.7 m.p.g.
To drive the 5 Gordini Turbo gently is easy enough, but to drive it gently and smoothly is easier said than done. The gearing of the pleasant to use five-speed gearbox is ideal for screaming from corner to corner, but even with the excellent torque characteristics of the turbocharged unit, when pottering along one is either in too low a gear, in which case the engine sounds buzzy (adding to the temptation to use the performance) or too high, in which case everything just goes flat. To add to this, the suspension is aimed very definitely at the driver who uses a “change-down-twice-while-braking, full-power-out cornering technique rather than the lazier “brake, roll round the corner and change down if I have to” method which seems to have found favour with so many the wheel of high performance derivatives. In the latter case, the car becomes difficult to balance in the corner, lurching over when steering lock is applied, unless one is going very slowly indeed. Driven gently, however, the fuel consumption reached a staggering 45.3 m.p.g., even though said gentle driving was through hilly terrain.
So. a car which asks to be driven hard and fast and rewards the driver who does so, but not a car to buy because you want a turbo-badged conveyance in the drive to impress the neighbours, If I had the choice between this and the Golf GTi I would have to think hard about it, but would probably choose the slightly more pedestrian Golf. If I had had that choice five years ago, definitely the Renault. — P.H.J.W.