Renault is preparing to take on the Mazda MX-5 with an affordable mid-engined sports car wearing the Alpine badge, and Autocar’s got world exclusive details on it, together with a detailed artists' impression.
The reborn Renault Alpine, which should appear by autumn 2009, is based on a much-modified Clio platform and powered by a family of small-capacity turbocharged engines, including a 110bhp 1.3-litre and a 130bhp 1.6-litre unit.
A fabric-roofed roadster is thought to be a certainty, while a coupé version is still being investigated. It is likely to undercut its only opposition — Mazda’s MX-5 — by being priced from £16,000.
Budget roadster preferred to 350Z-rival
The whole front end of the Clio is being used as a basis for the Alpine. The rear structure is all new. A Clio-derived powertrain will be dropped in between the Alpine’s rear wheels, using a modified version of the Clio’s front subframe as a cradle.
The car’s styling, by a team led by Briton Anthony Grade, uses cues from the classic A110, Alpine’s most successful and well-known model. The car will be built at the original Alpine factory in Dieppe, which is now used as Renaultsport’s base.
Sources say Renault “really really” wants to relaunch the Alpine brand, which hasn’t been used since the A610 supercar was killed off in late 1994. After considering building a more upmarket performance model, possibly based on the Nissan 350Z, Renault’s product planners decided to exploit the experience built up by making the mid-engined Clio V6 and short-lived Renault Spider. Renault bosses have also said they will never produce a sports car that competes with the 350Z.
The planners and designers decided to exploit the memory of Alpine’s original models, which were rear-engined, fibreglass bodied and powered by small-capacity engines. Alpines were also noted for their lightness.
Renault has surmounted one of the biggest hurdles in the way of using the Alpine badge, by securing the UK rights to use the name. The rights previously belonged to Peugeot-Citroen.
Another mid-engined Renault
Renault has a considerable amount of experience in building small mid-engined cars, based on its supermini of the day. In 1980 it launched the Renault 5 Turbo, which was powered by a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine mounted where the rear seats should be. The first few hundred off the production line were designed to meet Group 4 rally regulations and one example won the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally. The follow-up Turbo 2 was cheaper to build, but just as potent.
It took a decade and half for Renault to follow up the wild R5. The 2001 Clio V6 was powered by a 3.0-litre V6 engine, also mounted behind the front seats, but was far more sophisticated than the R5 and much heavier. But it is a relatively short step from the Clio V6 to building a genuine sports car, as Rover showed in the mid-1990s.
The 1995 MGF was developed at a time when Rover was on a shoestring budget. Popular demand for a revival of the MG badge was high, and the success of the Mazda MX-5 made it commercially tempting.
Rover engineers turned to the Metro to provide the budget basis of the car. The frontal structure was more or less carried over. The rear structure from the bulkhead backwards was new.
The Metro’s interlinked Hydragas suspension and subframes were also carried over and the mid-mounted K-series powerpack was, in effect, lifted from the nose of the Metro.
Although the MGF required its own skin, John Towers, then boss of Rover, claimed development costs were so low that they had decided not reveal them.