The Renault name is rarely associated with exciting cars outside of enthusiast circles. It is best known for affordable and mostly reliable cars that people buy with little interest in driving enthusiasm. However, Renault has also been an iconic figure in motorsport, including its major role in Formula 1. The French marquee is also famous for its creative and inspired concepts like the Trezor and the R.S. 2027 Vision. Renault is out with an all-new concept model inspired by the brand’s rally years – the Renault 5 Prototype.
As the name implies, it’s a futuristic version of the Renault 5, a popular hatchback from the brand’s history. The futuristic prototype debuted at Renault’s announcement about becoming a modern and clean energy brand with seven new full-electric models by 2025. Instead of building another radical new vision for the future of electric and autonomous mobility, Renault went to its roots and chose the R5 to represent its intentions.
A brief history of the Renault 5
The 5 premiered in 1972 and was adored for its quirky yet sporty design with the sloped rear end and vertically-oriented taillamps. The squared wheel arches on this low-riding hatchback looked quite chic too. Originally designed as a three-door, like the old Mini, the R5 had strong appeal with younger buyers as well. In 1976, it became one of the first ever hot hatches with the Gordini badge and a 1.4-litre engine making 92hp, mated to a 5-speed manual. But the true R5 legend was born a few years later as the Renault 5 Turbo.
This was a motorsports exercise for Renault to make a strong impression in rally racing. Of course, those cars had to be based on homologated models leading to a short run of road-legal production cars. So, Renault’s VP at the time, Jean Terramorsi, suggested the idea of an all-new sports version of the R5 Alpine supermini. Apart from the drastic bodywork changes, the R5 Turbo had massive mechanical modifications too. It had a mid-engine layout placing the new turbocharged 1.4-litre engine behind the driver. As standard, this powertrain produced a hearty 158hp and 221Nm of torque, now sent to the rear wheels. While it did not win any world titles, the R5 Turbo had many rally wins to its name during its campaign with factory and customer teams.
There was a second-gen R5 in 1986, but it was not as successful as the original despite retaining many of its endearing qualities. The Renault 5 ended production around 1996 and was replaced by the far more commercially successful Clio.
Bringing it back to the future
The original R5 design was penned by Michael Boué in his free time. The team behind this modern interpretation is led by Renault’s current Design Director Gilles Vidal, and they’ve done a pretty good job of it so far.
The proportions and details are immediately recognisable for their connection to the original R5. The lights, the chunky bumpers, the short overhangs, and that sloped rear profile. But there’s a lot of clever tech too in the smooth modern surfaces. Those ‘bonnet air intakes’ hide the charge port for the all-electric Renault 5 Prototype. The rear lights have aero flaps and the outlines for the front fog lamps act as the DRLs. Like the original, this is a five-door electric supermini that is expected to make it to production by 2024.
With the inevitability of electric mobility in the future, it’s nice to know some brands are still working on characterful designs besides the cash cows of lookalike SUVs. Unlikely to be a commercial success, it will do wonders for the brand’s image. If we’re lucky, there’ll be a sportier Alpine 5 EV as well. The sounds of fun four-pot engines will be missed but a future where you can find electric versions of a Mini Cooper and a Renault 5 on the roads isn’t all that bad.
What do you make of the Renault 5 Prototype? Would you want one of these in the dystopia of electric-only mobility? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe to the Auto Loons for more cool updates from the car world.