Renault Sport was a pioneer in turbo technology, celebrating the very first Formula 1 victory with a turbo engine in 1979. In rallying, Renault was quick to convert a compact car into a fire breathing rally monster that only shared a handful of parts and a slight resemblance with the original. Said original was a humble compact car for the masses, but over the years it evolved into rally royalty, adored and worshiped ever since. At its launch in 1972 the Renault 5 was offered with a longitudinally-mounted four-cylinder pushrod engine, taken from the Renault 4 predecessor.
Renault launched the 5 Turbo in 1980 for Group 4 rallying
The smallest available capacity was 782 cc (47.7 ci), but after the 1976 update the largest capacity grew to 1,397 cc (85.3 ci) in the sporty 5 Alpine, delivering 93 PS (68 kW) to the front wheels. In 1982 Renault Sport went one up by adding a Garrett T3 turbocharger to the engine, raising power to 112 PS (82 kW). As enjoyable as these sporty variants were, they had nothing to do with the 5 Turbo that was designed by Bertone’s Marc Deschamps. Renault launched the 5 Turbo in 1980 for Group 4 rallying, showing similarities with the Audi Quattro in that regard. The Quattro also debuted as a Group 4 car and was later converted to Group B regulations.
At least 400 road cars needed to be built for homologation purposes, and all competition cars were based on this first series. Initially the rally cars had 180 PS (132 kW) when competing in Group 4, and Jean Ragnotti won the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally and the 1982 Tour de Corse Rally with this so called Cévennes version. For 1983 Renault Sport adapted the car for the new Group B regulations. These Tour de Corse versions started off with 210 PS and had up to 285 PS at the end of 1984. That year the 5 Turbo made it to third position in the championship. In 1985 Renault went one step further with the 5 Maxi Turbo, delivering 350 PS (257 kW) from an enlarged 1,527 cc engine with an anti turbo-lag system. Ragnotti won the Tour de Corse rally again, proving that the 5 Turbo was especially favorable on curvy paved roads.
Demand for the car was much higher and ultimately 1,820 Turbos rolled out the Dieppe plant
On dry asphalt the rear-wheel drive setup and short wheelbase were not a big disadvantage, but on unpaved roads and in snowy conditions the 5 Turbo desperately needed four-wheel drive. That would never happen though, because Group B was canceled at the end of 1985, terminating the little Renault’s rally career. Although Renault only needed to build 400 examples for homologation of the 5 Turbo, demand for the car was much higher and ultimately 1,820 Turbos rolled out the Dieppe plant. After almost three years of production, the Turbo 2 was launched in 1983 as a less pricey alternative, costing about 25 percent less, yet offering the same performance. The only big differences were a steel roof, doors and hatch, instead of aluminium panels and an interior that looked more like that of the regular models, replacing the funky Bertone styled inside of the first series.
Curvy paved roads are exactly what we are looking for, after we collect the Turbo 2. That gives the Renault time to warm up, and gives me time to get to know it. There are quite a few quirks that could spoil the driving experience for those unfamiliar with classic cars in general and homologations specials in particular. The gearbox spacing is extremely tight, with reverse, second and fourth positioned so closely that choosing the wrong gear when coming down from fourth is a big risk. And shifting is something that needs to be done a lot. The engine has not even near enough torque to propel the less than one ton Turbo when it is off-boost. Visibility is great and the small interior is adequate for two people, as long as they don’t bring any luggage. The steering wheel is tilted a little too far backwards, but also slightly to the left, so with both hands on the wheel your left arm is stretched a little more than your right.
When all systems are finally warmed up after about half an hour, I get a chance to rev the boosted four cylinder to 6,500 rpm. The little Jeager turbo gauge in the center console jumps to the end of the scale, while the tachometer sweeps past 4,000 and the 5 instantly transforms into an angry troublemaker. The acceleration is far more impressive than the numbers suggest. Especially in first and second it almost feels a little violent. Changing gears is lightning quick and the engine hardly loses boost, ready for a next kick in the rear as soon as the clutch pedal comes up. With the front wheels performing only one task, communication is light, direct and perfectly suited to counteract the snappy rear end. A short wheelbase, a moody turbo and a lump of metal in the back are the perfect ingredients for flying off the road backwards, so it is important to have a good set of driving skills.
On the way back, I catch myself looking for opportunities to shift down, burst into full throttle acceleration and quickly get off the throttle again to hear the exhaust crackle and pop with unburnt fuel. It sounds like half a Ferrari F40 at half volume. There is that distinct whine of the turbo and the ‘whoosh’ coming from the wastegate when releasing the throttle at high engine speeds. The 5 Turbo 2 is so wonderfully raw and purposeful, that the price of 85 thousand euro almost seems like a bargain. Where the Peugeot 205 T16 street car feels like a starting point for the rally department, built without any regards for those driving it on public roads, the Renault 5 Turbo 2 feels like a great little bundle of rally technology that made it one of the best hot hatches ever built.