Road test Electric Renault 5

Road test Electric Renault 5

Spending a day ambling through the French countryside is one of life’s great pleasures, and what more suitable tool for the job than a Renault 5? We’re on the verge of seeing a brand new electric R5 at the end of the year, and with 2022 marking the 50th anniversary of the legendary original, the company has invited Octane to its factory in Flins to drive a few examples from the back catalogue.

Electrifying the past Electric Renault 5 by MATTHEW HAYWARD

This delightful bright green 5 is known as the ‘Retrofit’ and, as you might have guessed, it has been converted to electric power. It’s one of a small batch of cars built for Renault to celebrate the occasion. The company responsible for it, which also developed the electric Méhari and 2CV we’ve featured in the past, plans to offer the conversion commercially in the near future, at a price of around €15,000 fitted.

Road test Electric Renault 5

‘I’m open to electric classics and the R5 is a perfect candidate. But driving the original reveals a more lovable personalit

For such a conversion to be legal in France, it has to be homologated and installation must be by an approved dealer. Also, the power of the motor must not exceed that of the original internal combustion engine. As with several of these electric conversions, the Retrofit retains the host car’s original gearbox. It means that the suspension, the drivetrain and most of the mechanicals remain untouched.

Road test Electric Renault 5

Even the standard cooling system is adapted to chill the electric motor. There’s a small electric heater in place of the original water-fed matrix, though, and an electric pump to provide vacuum for the brake servo.

The relatively small 10.7kWh battery pack is mounted in the boot, leaving considerably less usable space, and weighs 90kg. However, the removal of the engine, exhaust and fuel tank make the overall weight gain a negligible 30kg. It’s a technically interesting prospect – and could it be argued that the R5’s engine is far enough from being its defining characteristic that the conversion won’t rob the car of its soul? Only one way to find out.

Road test Electric Renault 5

It takes a minute to get accustomed to the controls. The clutch pedal is needed only to engage a gear (second or third to start) and you set off using the throttle as you would in a normal electric vehicle. There’s instant torque, if not quite the kick of a Tesla. It’s mapped to provide similar performance to the R5 TL’s R4-derived 956cc, 45bhp engine, so it’s not particular speed in second gear, a shift up to third gives it slightly longer legs and you hear the motor’s high-pitched whine switch to a more relaxed hum. Shifting up and down through the ’box doesn’t feel natural, though, requiring an unpleasant amount of force on the original linkages.

Out on the country lanes it feels perfectly happy cruising at 80km/h, with 100km/h about the upper limit. It doesn’t take long to appreciate just how comfortable the R5 is; it shrugs off larger ruts and undulations, and even the worst broken surfaces won’t faze the chassis. Roll it gently into corners and it’ll lean over to a comical degree, yet it remains extremely well tied down and is great fun at very modest speeds. Its compactness is charming, too: this car takes up even less than its fair share of the road.

Fifty years on from its launch, this is still a striking piece of design. I’m open to the idea of an electrified classic, especially if it’s purely a city runaround, and the R5 feels like a perfect candidate. Yet a fly is approaching the ointment: a drive in a beautiful, original-engined R5 TL.

It turns out that much of the car’s character is wrapped up in the sound and smell of the engine, as well as your interaction with it. Within 30 seconds it’s clear that driving the original R5 reveals a wholly different and more lovable personality. It instantly raises more of a smile, and engages you on so many different, more visceral levels. As a means of travelling from A to B, the electric Retrofit makes perfect sense: it’s clean, quiet and has the classic, charming R5 looks. For someone who loves driving, though, the 50-year-old original leaves it in the French countryside’s dust.

Clockwise from above left Electric motor’s cover marks R5’s anniversary; Hayward’s head tries to rule heart but fails; original and beautiful petrol-fuelled R5 is why.

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