The Renault 5 (also called the R5) was a supermini produced by the French automaker Renault in two generations between 1972 and 1996. It was sold in many markets, usually as the Renault 5 and in North America as Le Car, from 1976 to 1986. Nearly 5.5 million Renault 5s were built.
First generation (1972-1985)
The Renault 5 was first unveiled on 10 December 1971, being launched at the beginning of 1972.
The Renault 5 was styled by Michel Boué, who died before the car's release, the R5 featured a steeply sloping rear hatchback and front dashboard. Boué had wanted the taillights to go all the way up from the bumper into the C-pillar, in the fashion of the much later Fiat Punto and Volvo 850 Estate / Wagon, but the lights remained at a more conventional level. The 5 narrowly missed out on the 1973 European Car of the Year award, which was instead given to the Audi 80.
The R5 borrowed mechanicals from the Renault 4, using a longitudinally-mounted engine driving the front wheels with torsion bar suspension. OHV engines were borrowed from the Renault 4, Renault 8, and Renault 16, and ranged from 850 to 1400 cc.
Early R5s used a dashboard-mounted gearshift (the gearbox is in front of the engine)—later replaced with a floor mounted shifter. Door handles were formed by a cut-out in the door panel and B-pillar. The R5 was one of the first cars produced with a plastic bumper bar—or fascia—that has become an industry standard.
The R5's engine was set well back in the engine bay, above and half behind the gear box, allowing the stowage of the spare wheel under the bonnet/hood, an arrangement that freed more space for passengers and luggage within the cabin. The passenger compartment "is remarkably spacious" in comparison to other modern, small European cars. The Renault 5 body's drag coefficient was only 0.37 (with most European cars going up to 0.45).
The Renault 5 Alpine was one of the first hot-hatches, launched in 1976. Its launch pre-dated that of the Volkswagen Golf GTI. In the UK, the car was sold as the Renault 5 Gordini because Sunbeam already had the rights to the name "Alpine" and was used on the Talbot Alpine at the time. Use of the name Gordini was from Amédée Gordini, who was a French tuner with strong links with Renault and previous sporting models such as the Renault 8.
The 1.4 L (1397 cc) OHV engine, mated to a five-speed gearbox, was based on the Renault "Sierra" pushrod engine, but having hemispherical combustion chambers and featured a crossflow cylinder head and developed 93 PS (68 kW; 92 hp), twice as much as a standard 1.1 L (1108 cc) Renault 5. The Alpine could be identified by special alloy wheels and front fog lights and was equipped with stiffened suspension, but still retaining the torsion bar all round. The UK car magazine Motor road test figures quoted top speed of 104.7 mph (168.5 km/h) and 0-60 mph in 9.7 seconds.
The Renault 5 Alpine Turbo was launched in 1982 as an upgraded successor to the naturally aspirated Alpine. In Britain, the car was still called Gordini rather than Alpine. Motor magazine undertook a road test of the Turbo in 1982 and while they appreciated the performance (top speed 111.8 mph (179.9 km/h), 0-60 mph 8.7 seconds), they were critical of its high price as it was £2 more than the larger Ford Escort XR3.
The 1.4 L (1397 cc) was the same as the Alpine, but with the addition of a (single Garrett T3 turbocharger) increasing the power output to 110 bhp (82 kW; 112 PS). Sales continued until 1984 when the second generation Renault 5 was launched, and the release of the Renault 5 GT Turbo in 1985.
The Renault 5 Turbo should not be confused with the Alpine Turbo or GT Turbo as it was radically modified by mounting a turbocharged engine behind the driver in what is normally the passenger compartment, creating a mid-engined hot hatch and rally car. The Renault 5 Turbo was made in many guises, eventually culminating with the Renault 5 Maxi Turbo.
The North American Renault 5 debuted in 1976 as the Le Car. American Motors (AMC) marketed it through its 1,300 dealers where it competed in the United States against such front-wheel-drive subcompacts as the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Rabbit. It was described as a "French Rabbit" that "is low on style, but high on personality and practicality".
AMC's ad agency launched the car in the U.S. with a marketing campaign emphasizing that it was Europe's best selling automobile with millions of satisfied owners. It did not achieve such immediate success in the United States market even though the Le Car was praised in road tests comparing "super-economy" cars for its interior room and smooth ride, with an economical, 6.7 L/100 km highway and 8.4 L/100 km city, as well as smooth-running engine.
The U.S. version featured a 1397 cc I4 engine that produced 55 hp (41 kW), and a more conventional floor-mounted shifter was substituted for the dash-mounted unit. In 1977 it dominated the Sports Car Club of America "Showroom Stock Class C" class.
The Le Car was offered in 3-door hatchback form from 1976-80. For the 1980 model year, the front end was updated to include a redesigned bumper and grille, as well as rectangular headlights. A 5-door hatchback body style was added for the 1981 model year. Imports continued through 1983, when the car was replaced by the Kenosha, Wisconsin-built, Renault 11-based Renault Alliance.
In at least one U.S. municipality, the Le Car was used as a law enforcement vehicle, when the La Conner, Washington police department acquired three of the vehicles for its fleet in the late-1970s. Renault advertised Le Car's versatility in a full page ad featuring its use by the department.
Second generation (1985-1986)
The second generation Renault 5, often referred to as the Supercinq or Superfive, appeared in 1985. Although the bodyshell and chassis were completely new (the platform was based on that of the Renault 9/11), familiar 5 styling trademarks were retained; styling was the work of Marcello Gandini. The new body was wider and longer featuring 20 percent more glass area and more interior space, with a lower drag coefficient (0.35), as well as 4.10 L/100 km at 89 km/h in the economy models. The biggest change was the adoption of a transversely-mounted powertrain taken directly from the 9 and 11, plus a less sophisticated suspension design, which used MacPherson struts.
The second-generation R5 also spawned a panel van version, known as the Renault Express. It was commercialized in some European countries as the Renault Extra (UK) or Renault Rapid (mainly German speaking countries). This car was intended to replace the R4 F6 panel van, production of which had ceased in 1986.
Renault decided to use the naturally aspirated 1.7 L from the Renault 9/11, which utilized multipoint fuel injection in addition to the sports orientation 1.4 L turbo. Under the name GTE, it produced 95 PS (70 kW; 94 hp). Although not as fast as the turbo model, it featured the same interior and exterior appearance, as well as identical suspension and brakes. The Baccara and GTX versions also used the 1.7 engine - the former sporting a full leather interior, power steering, electric windows, sunroof, high specification audio equipment and as extras air-conditioning and On-Board Computer. The latter was effectively the same but the leather interior was an option and there were other detail changes.
The model was starting to show its age by 1990, when it was effectively replaced by the Clio, which was a sales success across Europe. Production of the R5 was transferred to the Revoz factory in Slovenia when the Clio was launched, and it remained on sale as a budget choice called the Campus until the car's 24-year production run finally came to an end in 1996. The Campus name was revived in 2005 with the Renault Clio II.
A "hot hatch" version, the GT Turbo, was introduced in 1985. It used a heavily modified four cylinder, eight-valve Cléon 1397 cc engine, a pushrod unit dating back to the 1950s. It was turbocharged with an air-cooled Garrett T2 turbocharger. Weighing a mere 850 kg, and producing 115 PS (85 kW; 113 hp), the GT Turbo had an excellent power-to-weight ratio, permitting it to accelerate from a standstill to 100 km/h in 7.1 seconds. To differentiate it from the standard 5, it came with blocky plastic side skirts. Unfortunately, turbo lag was an issue, along with poor hot starting, and was considered rather difficult to control. The same engine was used, with similar issues, in the Renault 9 and 11 Turbos.
In 1987, the facelifted Phase II was launched. Major changes in the Phase II version included installing watercooling to the turbocharger, aiding the Phase I's oil-cooled setup, which extended the life of the turbo. It also received a new ignition system which permitted it to rev 500 rpm higher. These changes boosted engine output up to over 120 PS (88 kW; 118 hp). Externally, the car was revamped, with changes (including new bumpers and arches) that reduced the car's drag coefficient from 0.36 to 0.35. Giving the Phase II a 0–100 km/h time of 7.5 seconds. In 1989 the GT Turbo received a new interior, and in 1990 the special edition Raider model (available only in metallic blue, with different interior and wheels) was launched. In late 1991 the Renault 5 GT Turbo was discontinued, superseded by the Clio 16v and the Clio Williams.
In 1989, the Belgian company EBS produced convertible versions of the Renault 5 (1,400 in total), almost all of which were left-hand drive. A total of 14 of the 1,400 cars produced were based on the right-hand drive GT Turbo Phase II.