A new entrant into a dying breed

 

ROADTEST: RENAULT WIND:HAVING ASSAULTED the market with a variety of “reasonably priced cars” in 2010 there are now more Renault new car customers in Ireland than since 2006.

You might assume with all the advertising and aggressive discounts leading to a serious spike in sales, this is Renault’s greatest ever year in Ireland. But it isn’t.

2010 marks a recovery year for Renault in Ireland and as such, its concerted effort to regain market share has been out of necessity rather than extravagance. In 2000, Renault had 6.15 per cent market share and sold a whopping 14,194 cars in what was a record year for car sales on this little isle. This was followed by strong years in 2001 and 2002.

It wasn’t until 2007 that the wheels on the French firm’s bandwagon started to wobble and Renault sold just 6,446 cars in what was otherwise a strong year for new car sales.

If Renault’s new bosses hadn’t made such an effort in 2010, they might have never recovered their once strong position. A new regime brought with it a willingness to introduce some of Renault’s more interesting models, not just mainstream bargains. We have seen RenaultSport versions of the Clio and Mégane arrive and now the Renault Wind, a two-seater roadster, has come to market after a brief trial by the brand to gauge public opinion.

Let’s deal with the name first. The 12-year old in all of us is likely to stifle a giggle at a car named after an unfortunate after-dinner symptom. Shall we see the Renault Burp next year?

The Wind sitsbetween the Twingo and the Clio and comes with an electronically operated roof, which pivots open in just 12 seconds. The roof panel rests above the boot, which means the boot volume is always 270 litres, whether the roof is up or down.

The Wind is definitely a head-turner – for good or ill. Comments from passers-by varied. Most were positive. One said it looked like a “tic-tac”. But where most of these type of cars made the mistake in the past was that they tried to include back seats and a folding metal roof. The result was often a lumpy metal mess. Cars like the Opel Tigra and Mitsubishi Colt CZC aren’t even offered anymore.

The Wind’s roof design keeps it lightweight, weighing just 21.8kg and built on the same platform as the Clio II RenaultSport; its chassis is well respected as a result.

The interior is pretty standard, feeling like a high quality small car but a low grade sports car. There are some nice touches, such as sports seats with integrated head rests, full instrumentation set in profiled tunnels and a translucent instrument panel cowl designed to be reminiscent of a motorbike. There are also aluminium pedal covers, sports steering wheel and a range of satin-finish chrome details.

Power for the Wind comes from a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine that puts out an impressive 100bhp. You might suspect that despite the worthy horsepower figures, an engine this small may feel tinny and wheezy, but this isn’t the case – it’s actually rather good.

It feels lively if not fast, but the gearing is good and it had a nice blend of ability for both in-town refinement and out of town punch. It isnt that thirsty either and the result is that it still remains in Band C when it comes to road tax. Compared to the other Renault models in the range, the Wind has probably one of the highest CO2 figures, but being honest, I’m glad they resisted putting a 1.5-litre dCi in – it might have been a frugal car too far.

That chassis is a gem and handling is really quite impressive. There is really tight body control and the steering is quick, too, although a little short on feedback. The ride is quite firm, especially with the 17” wheels our test car came with as an option.

For all that, the interior is cramped. At 6’2” I am no giant, but my head was close enough to the hard lining of the roof for the two to meet, hard, while going over a bump. I had to pull in, genuinely dazed.

There are no such problems with the roof tucked away, and doing that is pretty easy. After pulling a handle inside the cabin to release the roof lock, the driver has to press on the electric switch for the roof to pivot round its axis between the quarter panels before quietly coming to rest on top of the boot covered by an additional panel.

We didn’t brave this for too long as there was a risk of frostbite, but we can see that this would be a fun roadster in the right climate.

There has never been much demand for this type of car in Ireland, even in the days of economic excess. Mazda sold just 14 MX5s this year, which remains the car to beat in the segment, and Peugeot sold 32 of the 207CC, despite a higher purchase price.

The Wind sits at a price point between the two but is really generously equipped. Obviously this is a car that only serves a narrow range of purposes and as sales figures show, this type of car doesn’t sell well these days, but if you want a small, worthy roadster with lively handling and a really sweet engine, this is a clever option.

Would we buy it ahead of the MX5? No. The Mazda is still the best in the class – better to drive and timeless in terms of design. It’s well ahead of the Wind in virtually every category. And that is before the imminent arrival of a host of new small convertible models, such as an A1 convertible from Audi and an Alfa Romeo MiTo convertible. Plus, it is also worth considering that an all-new Mazda MX5 isn’t too far away either.

If you are one of the handful of people shopping for this sort of car next year, it’s worth a test drive, but we’re about as likely to spot a Wind on Irish roads as we are to see Anglo’s Sean FitzPatrick elected president.

FACTFILE

Engine1,149cc 100bhp 4-cylinder turbo petrol

Performance0-100km/h in 10.5 seconds; max speed 189km/h

Specificationselectric windows, manual air-con, front fog lights, 16” alloys, rear spoiler, sports style seats. Options - metallic paint €450; 17” alloy wheels €450; Climate control with auto headlights and rain sensors €700; USB connection €250; Full leather /leather type heated seats €1,250; Black roof €500

L/100km (mpg)urban 8.0 (35.3); extra-urban 5.2 (53.3); combined 6.3 (44.8)

CO2 emissions145g/km

TaxVRT 20 per cent; motor tax €302

Price€24,990