Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Renault's Wind blows in

Preconceptions can be a wonderful thing. Essex, for example, is actually quite a nice place to live; TVRs don’t have to breakdown (much); and sometimes racing drivers can construct a sentence without even using the phrase ‘for sure’. Wherever we get preconceptions there are inevitably bargains to be had by those capable of seeing through them. And the ‘girlie’ end of the car market is no exception. The Mazda MX5, for example, may attract more than its fair share of hairdresser jibes, but once you’ve seen one slithering around a wet track the idea of dismissing it for its image is a bit like writing off Napoleon because he was 'a bit short'.

Admittedly, the drop top supermini market, frequented by cars like the Vauxhall Tigra and Peugeot 207 CC, hasn’t traditionally been the most promising place to look for a driver’s car, but a closet gem may be about to emerge. Its name is the Renault Wind, and underneath the mildly effeminate exterior lies a chassis honed by Renaultsport. What’s more, the larger of its two engine options – a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre unit producing 133bhp – comes direct from the Renaultsport Twingo. So far, so good.
It’s not actually that girlie to look at either. The roll hoop and flying buttresses at the back have a hint of Lotus Elise about them – at least if we’re being kind – and the somewhat squat proportions almost make it look mid-engined. At the front, the chunky grill with its twin air intakes lends it a meatier stance than cars like the Tigra, although, admittedly that’s not difficult.

The Wind boasts some neat design features too. In an era of increasingly complicated folding hard tops its roof is a model of elegant simplicity. Instead of contorting through some tortuous path and then devouring half the boot space it simply flips – Ferrari Superamerica style – through 180 degrees and comes to rest on the rear deck. The whole process takes just 12 seconds and the boot space – said to be on a par with the Clio hatchback – remains unaffected.
Click on the video below to see the Wind's clever roof in action
Weighing in at a modest 21.8kg the rotating roof mechanism also helps to keep the overall weight down. Starting at 1,131kg for the 1.2 TCe 100 and ranging up to 1,173kg for the 1.6 VVT 133, the Wind isn’t going to frighten any Caterhams, but it is a respectable build for a mainstream modern supermini, which after all is what it is. That’s enough to propel the turbocharged 1.2-litre base model to 60mph in 10.5 seconds, while the 1.6 takes 9.2 seconds (half a second off the equivalent Twingo).

Only time will tell if the Wind’s driving experience lives up to the promise, but the potential definitely exists for it to upstage the supermini-based competition and provide some cheap and cheerful fun. Or at least that’s theory. With prices starting at £15,500 and rising to £18,200 it’s perilously close to the Mazda MX5, and already costs more than many warm tin tops. Given a few years the first examples should depreciate to a very tempting second hand buy though – providing, that is, you can live with the image.

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