Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October 2009 Dream Car of the Month - Renault 5 Turbo / Renault Clio V6 RS

This month I chose two cars as my car of the month because one is really the spiritual successor of the other. Both are pretty cool.

The Renault 5 Turbo is one of the strangest, craziest cars any manufacturer has had the balls to make. All in the pursuit of racing greatness.

Renault 5 Turbo production version

Built in the early 1980s and based on the lowly econobox, the Renault 5, the Turbo was produced with one goal in mind, to win rally races. What resulted was a car radically different from the model it was actually based on. Not much of the original car was used in the first run of Renault 5 Turbos which became known as the Turbo 1. The original Renault 5 was front wheel drive with a puny naturally aspirated 4cyl engine producing around 50HP in the US version, know here as the wonderful Le Car. That, along with the front wheel drive powertain, would not be sufficient for rallying so Renault replaced it with a mid mounted turbocharged 4cyl powering a rear mounted transaxle thus transforming the Renault 5 into something very special. Obviously, the chassis was also modified to accept this new mid/rear drive configuration and it made use of special lightweight alloys to keep weight down and improve performance. Base horsepower of the turbo 4cyl was around 158HP but the racing versions could produce upwards of 350HP. All of the race versions of the 5 Turbo were created from the Turbo 1, of which Renault produced 400 street cars to meet the homlogation rules for Group 4 rallying.

Renault 5 Turbo Rally Car

Following the 400 Turbo 1 cars came the Turbo 2 which were mostly identical to the originals except they used more "off the shelf" Renault 5 components instead of the exotic lightweight parts used in the Turbo 1. Even so, the performance of the Turbo 2 was nearly as good as the Turbo 1 cars.

The Renault 5 Turbo's rallying career was successful but short lived. The car won it's first outing at the Monte Carlo Rally and was very successful in the tarmac rallys but with the advent of the 4wd cars, it was no match on dirt.

Some 20 years later Renault tried the same formula again and created the Renault Clio V6 RS or Renault Sport. Launched in 2001, it is a modern interpretation of the Renault 5 Turbo. Renault again used a small front engine front wheel drive economy car, the Clio, and modified it extensively to turn it into a two seat mid engined rear wheel drive sports car. The difference with the RS was that they shoe horned in a 3.0L V6 instead of a 4cyl turbo motor. Two generations of the V6 RS were produced with the Phase 1 cars developing 227HP and the Phase 2 cars upping that to 252HP. The Phase 1 was manufactured from 2001 to 2003 and was built for Renault by Tom Walkinshaw Racing, the same company that helped Jaguar build the incredible XJ220. The Phase 2 cars were released with the mid model restyling of the Clio in 2003 and they were built by Renault Sport.

Renault Clio V6 Renault Sport Phase 2

The Phase 1 cars were not much faster than the less radical Clio 172 Cup model since the conversion to V6 power and rear wheel drive added over 600lbs to the total weight of the car. That resulted in a 0-60 time of 6.2 seconds while the 172 Cup could hit 60 in 6.7. The Phase 2 cars corrected that somewhat by adding more power to drop the 0-60 sprint to 5.9 seconds. Both versions of the V6 RS were capable of hitting top speeds around 150MPH.

Though it may look like a useful car, the Clio V6 RS is not. Most of the hatch storage space is now taken up by the engine and tranaxle. The turning circle is over 43ft and it struggles to get 25mpg. Handling favors understeer on the Phase 2 cars due to a rework of the suspension because of the Phase 1 cars tendency to oversteer especially in the wet.

Even with those shortcomings, the Clio V6 RS is one hell of a cool car. Actually, both of these crazy French hot hatches are.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

2009 Tokyo Motor Show Highlights

The Tokyo Motor Show is going on this week and the big news is what broke yesterday with the official reveal of the on again/off again Lexus Supercar, the LFA. Here is the info on that one and a couple of other important cars from the show so far.

2011 Lexus LFA

Rumors surrounded this car from day one. It was to go to production, then cancelled. Shown at car shows, then redesigned. Test mules were spotted at the Nurburgring and then finally, yesterday, Toyota surprisingly revealed the production ready model and announced deliveries starting in 2011. Lots of ups and downs for this car but they appear to have been worth it. Specs on the LFA include a 4.8L V10 producing 552HP/354TQ with a 9,000 redline. Weight will be just 3,264LBS which will enable the LFA to hit 60MPH in just 3.7 seconds and achieve a top speed of 202MPH. Pretty sweet. What isn't sweet is the price tag - $375,000 for one of only 500 to be manufactured. The line has probably already started.

2010 Honda CR-Z

Originally revealed as a concept in 2007, the CR-Z has since been given the green light for production. Reminding many of the beloved Honda CRX, it is a highly anticipated car. Utilizing a hybrid drivetrain, it will probably be the most sporty hybrid offered to date when it enters production in 2010. A big key to that sporty character will be the availability of a 6 speed manual, a first for any hybrid. No mileage or performance numbers have been revealed yet but experts feel the look of the car is pretty much set.

Toyota FT-86 Concept

Toyota unveiled the concept version of their joint venture coupe they are working on with Subaru. Currently set for production in 2011, the car will be rear wheel drive with a Subaru engine. Light weight is one of the focuses for the car which is a a spiritual successor to the much loved AE-86 Corolla models. No details have been released on the power output or performance target. If the production model looks like the concept, it will absolutely be the best looking and most exciting Toyota in almost 20 years.