Anthony ffrench-Constant on fast Renaults

Published: 22 February 2011

Sorry, S-J, but, in the context of CAR Magazine's Renault Wind long-termer, I’m afraid most men will, indeed, continue to find flatulence funny until the day it kills them. Nonetheless, perhaps a brief explanation will finally put such scatological musings to the sword…

In France, being dans le vent means being hip, trendy, cool… Much like Plastic Bertrand until they discovered that someone else actually sang Ca Plane Pour Moi on his behalf. So Wind - even, bizarrely, in a home country where strenuous efforts to outlaw the Anglicisation of the language have met with about as much success as Proctologist Barbie - it is, then.

Renault Wind: food or foe?

Following a recent re-acquaintance, however, I can’t help feeling that Renault’s diminutive coupe-roadster errs stylistically rather more towards the vol au vent; the accidental inclusion of self-raising rather than plain flour in the mix resulting in a disproportionately large case with a relatively tiny, removable top.

When Francis Bacon opined that ‘there is no beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion’ I suspect that he was thinking more along the lines of Cindy Crawford’s mole than, erm, all of the Wind. Viewed in 16:9 format on a telly broadcasting in 4:3 (as most people inadvertently did with the advent of widescreen), it would appear more appropriately svelte. As things squat, I’m reminded of a wasp trying to make good its escape after you’ve trodden on the back end…

Inside the Renault Wind

Style is, of course, subjective. What isn’t, is that the Wind’s interior is a cramped, visual and ergonomic unhappiness and that, somewhat surprisingly given that it’s accredited to the company’s much-vaunted Renaultsport division, the driving experience is not entirely the anticipated pleasure.

Briefly; the prominent centre console necessary to create the his ‘n’ hers cocoons essential to roadster driving is in absentia. Even with my gently simian arms, I can’t reach window switches buried behind the base of the gearlever without pulling myself out of the seat to the extent that my upper back loses contact. The driver’s instruments are deeply cowled, but unlit, thus illegible by day… I could continue.

Nor do the car’s Renaultsport Twingo 133 underpinnings do it any favours. Ride quality is surprisingly poor for relatively little dynamic payback, and it gangs up with over-pronounced road noise to quickly challenge the radio for supremacy and make any journey deeply uncomfortable after only half an hour or so. Missus (the best I can manage on the passenger Popsy front these days) not happy. Now I know why Renault launched the Wind on ultra-smooth French tarmac; the whiff of a bump and it all goes 50 pence piece-shaped.

Okay, so you're not sure about the Wind. What about the Clio Gordinin? 

The Clio Gordini 200 I’m driving today is, by contrast, more fun than a tornado in a trailer park and, if gently cacophonous brother and sister two-piece bands are your bag, certainly looks the part from every angle.

Granted, the dashboard does little to assuage a burgeoning belief that Renault interiors are in desperate need of a major overhaul. But the ergonomics are fine and, encouragingly, no matter how praying mantis your driving posture, you can’t see the bonnet at all. It feels like helming a rapid, over-amorous armchair across the Tarmac, adding a wonderful sense of immediacy to proceedings.

Renaultsport: the masters of engines

The engine has clearly been pored over by a selection of the finest lunatics and, once all the windows open at about the point most powerplants demand a fresh gear, delivers thrust entirely appropriate to the din. Better yet, the ride is a revelation; astonishingly supple and pliant for a car with a propensity for pinging about like a rubber bullet fired into a squash court.

This, according to the plaque by the handbrake, is car number 001, with a limited run of 500 promised. Shades of the Williams, then… But they ended up making some 1200 odd, so exclusivity took a bit of a knock. Caveat Emptor

Renaultsport is rightly revered in the UK for the relentless pursuit of relatively affordable hatchback hilarity. And in this context, I can’t help feeling it might have been a marketing mistake to bill the somewhat haphazard Wind with that birthright.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche