Renault 5 to return:1980s icon is reborn as an electric car

Renault has wowed motoring fans this morning with the unveiling of an electric car it plans to launch in four years’ time – and it both sports a famous badge and looks exceptionally familiar.

A new Renault 5 Prototype, which has an uncanny likeness to the French firm’s legendary 5 Turbo Group B rally cars from the 1980s, has been announced. But instead of a fire-spitting 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine mounted behind the front seats, the reimagined vehicle will be powered by batteries and electric motors.

Renault said the 5’s return is ‘the rebirth of a cult car, more modern than ever’ and part of its plans ‘to reconnect with its past’ and ‘draw inspiration to find the spirit of those glorious times’ – and we should see it on sale before 2025.

The Renault 5 Prototype’s styling cues are very much in the ilk of the compact French supermini that superseded the Clio. 

A rally icon reborn: Renault has unveiled a Renault 5 Prototype it plans to release before 2025. While it will be styled to look like the 5 Turbo hot hatch of the 1980s, it will be an electric-only supermini

A rally icon reborn: Renault has unveiled a Renault 5 Prototype it plans to release before 2025. While it will be styled to look like the 5 Turbo hot hatch of the 1980s, it will be an electric-only supermini 

Production of the Renault 5 ran from 1972 to 1985, but it’s the legendary competition rally cars and subsequent hot hatches that most petrolheads will hold fondly in the memory. 

The 5 Turbo is one of the adored cars of the fearsome Group B generation, alongside the likes of the Audi Quattro, Lancia 037 and Delta S4, Peugeot 205 T16, Metro 6R4 and Ford RS200. 

In order to meet regulations to race, 200 versions of a road-going version of the same vehicle had to be produced over a 12-month period.

For Renault, this saw the arrival of the 5 Turbo, of which 4,987 were built in total and are today highly sought-after collectible models, some pristine examples selling at auction for as much as £80,000 in recent years. 

The Renault 5 Protoype was shown for the first time on Thursday as part of a strategy announcement by the French maker

The Renault 5 Protoype was shown for the first time on Thursday as part of a strategy announcement by the French maker

The huge wheel arches, boxy features and compact dimensions strike a strong likeness to the 1980s Renault 'R5' rally carts used in the 1980s
A 1982 Renault 5 Turbo racing car rally
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The huge wheel arches, boxy features and compact dimensions strike a strong likeness to the 1980s Renault 5 Turbo rally cars used in the 1980s

The Renault 5 EV will be one of 14 new cars launched by the brand between now and 2025, of which 7 of them will be electric

The Renault 5 EV will be one of 14 new cars launched by the brand between now and 2025, of which 7 of them will be electric

Bosses at the manufacturer said a new zero-emission version of the Renault 5 will be one of 14 new models it will launch by 2025 – half of them fully-electric cars.  

Renault 5: A brief history of France’s best-selling hatch for over a decade

An early Renault 5 Gordini, which was on sale in the UK from 1979

An early Renault 5 Gordini, which was on sale in the UK from 1979

The Renault 5 was launched in 1972 and sold as a three- or five-door supermini.

The compact hatchback was front-engined and front-wheel drive and sold over two generations.

Production of the mk1 car ended in 1985, including the Turbo performance version, while the mk2 – which became better know as the Super 5, or ‘Supercinq’ – was built between 1984 and 1996. It was replaced by the Clio.  

The Renault 5 was the best-selling car in France from 1972 to 1986, with total production exceeding 5.5 million over the 14-year period.

And it won’t only be the 5 making a comeback, with a new battery-only version of the Renault 4 supermini due for the brand’s future range.

Gilles Vidal, design director at Renault, said: ‘The design of the Renault 5 Prototype is based on the R5, a cult model of our heritage. This prototype simply embodies modernity, a vehicle relevant to its time: urban, electric, attractive.’  

The jaw-dropping concept car was revealed on Thursday morning as part of the brand’s new ‘Renaulution’ strategy, which has been devised by new boss, Luca de Meo, which will see production output lowered but profits increased by reducing the number of platforms available across its line-up. 

Another facet of the project is for 30 per cent of all Renault product sales to be fully electric vehicles by 2025. 

Dacia, which is owned by Renault, will also launch three new models by 2025, including a mid-sized SUV. 

It will also reduce platform availability to just one: the architecture currently used for the Sandero supermini – Britain’s most affordable new car, priced from £7,995. 

Mr De Meo, who spearheaded the recent revival of the retro Fiat 500 in his former role at the Italian marque, said: ‘I know from experience that reinventing a cult products lights a fire under the whole brand. 

‘This is a cult vehicle at a price many can afford. 

‘And this is only the beginning for the whole Renault brand.’ 

When pressed on the car’s due date, he told reporters it will ”come earlier’ than 2025.

When it does eventually arrive, the Renault 5 will be an electric-only model, with no option for a petrol engine. 

But while the powertrains will be entirely different, many of the iconic styling cues of both the original Reanult 5 and its ultra-aggressive rally machine incarnation will be retained, including the flared wheelarches.

The 5 Protoype has a rally-style bonnet air intake, though it has been redesigned to hide the charging socket. Front fog lamps act as daytime running lights

The 5 Protoype has a rally-style bonnet air intake, though it has been redesigned to hide the charging socket. Front fog lamps act as daytime running lights

The Renault 5 Turbo is still considered a rally icon. Here, French driver Paul Chieusse and his co-driver Fabienne Brunet de Bainne are seen competing in the Legend Boucles a Bastogne in Belgium in February 2016

The Renault 5 Turbo is still considered a rally icon. Here, French driver Paul Chieusse and his co-driver Fabienne Brunet de Bainne are seen competing in the Legend Boucles a Bastogne in Belgium in February 2016

The Renault 5 Turbo - or 'R5' - is one of the adored cars of the fearsome Group B generation, alongside the likes of the Audi Quattro, Lancia 037 and Delta S4, Peugeot 205 T16, Metro 6R4 and Ford RS200

The Renault 5 Turbo – or ‘R5’ – is one of the adored cars of the fearsome Group B generation, alongside the likes of the Audi Quattro, Lancia 037 and Delta S4, Peugeot 205 T16, Metro 6R4 and Ford RS200

And some of the features of the original 5 Turbo will be reworked for the benefit of the EV. 

This includes a bonnet air intake which has been redesigned to hide the charging socket, tower-stacked rear lights that incorporate aero flaps to improve the streamlining of the car for better range efficiency and front fog lamps that act as daytime running lights.

The front bumper also has an LED display, which displays the Renault logo as it was in the ’80s.   

The front LED bumper and bonnet showcase Renault's 1980s logos, while tower-stacked rear lights incorporate aero flaps to improve the streamlining of the car for better range efficiency

The front LED bumper and bonnet showcase Renault’s 1980s logos, while tower-stacked rear lights incorporate aero flaps to improve the streamlining of the car for better range efficiency

Unlike the front-engined standard Renault 5 road car, the R5 rally version had a fire-spitting 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine mounted behind the front seats for best weight distribution and handling

Unlike the front-engined standard Renault 5 road car, the R5 rally version had a fire-spitting 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine mounted behind the front seats for best weight distribution and handling

Who said electric cars couldn't be exciting? While Renault has teased motoring fanatics by showcasing the prototype, it has yet to reveal any performance figures for the forthcoming plug-in supermini

Who said electric cars couldn’t be exciting? While Renault has teased motoring fanatics by showcasing the prototype, it has yet to reveal any performance figures for the forthcoming plug-in supermini

As for details of the specification, battery capacity, charge times, range or a release date, the French brand has remained tight-lipped. That means we’ll need to eagerly wait for updates about when the prototype will become reality.

It might be that the car seen today represents a high-performance variant of a standard reborn 5 EV, which could replace the Zoe that’s currently on sale.

Why does the Group B rally era have legendary status?  

A Lancia Delta S4, piloted by Massimo 'Miki' Biasion, getting airborne during a stage in the Group B rally era

A Lancia Delta S4, piloted by Massimo ‘Miki’ Biasion, getting airborne during a stage in the Group B rally era

Group B was a set of regulations for introduced in 1982 for rallying that fostered some of the fastest, most powerful, sophisticated and ferociously fast competition cars ever built.

The class was fiercely contested, with the Audi Quattro, Lancia O37 and Peugeot 205 T16 winning the WRC titles during the Group B era. 

While it didn’t win any championships, the Renault 5 Turbo did take victory in four races in total: the Monte-Carlo Rally in 1981, the French Tour de Corse in 1982 and 1985 and the Portuguese rally in 1986. 

Group B is commonly referred to as the golden era of rallying, when fans would flock in their thousands to events, sitting as close to the action as possible and often spilling onto the stages themselves. 

Group B was discontinued in 1986 over fears of the cars becoming too powerful and fans getting too close to the action

Group B was discontinued in 1986 over fears of the cars becoming too powerful and fans getting too close to the action

The combination of extreme power and crowds forming in the road or track ultimately resulted in a series of major accidents, some of them fatal. 

And after the death of three-time race winner Henri Toivonen and co-driver Sergio Cresto in the 1986 Tour de Corse, the FIA disestablished the class.

The incredible sights and sounds from that early-80s era of rallying – despite being relatively short-lived – has acquired legendary status among motorsport fans and petrolheads in general.

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