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Putting wind in their sales?
Trust Renault to come up with something a little unusual. The French marque is already renowned for fielding arguably the most comprehensive range of vehicles – everything from superminis to 4x4s. There were 16 different ranges at the last count.
Actually, make it 17. Here comes the Wind, a low-cost open-topper which is designed to give the Mazda MX-5 a run for its money.
Renault’s unusual choice was based on wanting an English name, and one that helped to conjure images of being carefree and free spirited.
It’s obviously got something to do with the translation, although there should be no confusion over the car itself. As a two-seat roadster with a modest power output and front-wheel drive, the Wind is pitched at the majority, not a bunch of horsepower-hungry petrolheads.
That said, the car is a product of Renaultsport, a division that’s already been heaped with praise for its high performance Meganes, Clios and the recently-launched Twingo.
With the Wind’s underpinnings based on the latter two aforementioned cars, Renault’s little Roadster aims to deliver an enjoyable and engaging experience. Positioned straight down the middle as neither overtly feminine nor butch in character, the cliché that there’s something for everyone rings true even before you’ve turned the key.
And key to the Wind’s affordable nature is the simple construction and operation of its roof. Operational when the car is stationary, a quick twist of the locking handle allows you to retract it electrically in around 12 seconds. By flipping over and resting flat on top of the car’s boot space, there’s no sacrifice to be made having the roof down. And with a load space only a fraction smaller than a Clio’s, the Wind is practical as well as fun.
The same effortless practicality theme is also present in the car’s cabin. The two-seat layout will be familiar to all roadster fans, and everything you see and touch is familiar Renault kit.
Supportive seats and plenty of elbow room ensure that the Wind can be a place for two adults to travel in comfort. With the roof up there’s never the feeling of being claustrophobic, while roof down motoring is pleasingly civilised. Noise at modest speeds is never an inconvenience and only forces you to raise your voice at large, licence-losing motorway speeds.
With the ‘living with’ box well and truly ticked, thoughts can turn to the car’s character. Appearance is always a subjective thing although Renault appears to have cleverly balanced roguish looks with a sophisticated profile. Make no mistake, this car will turn heads. And although Renault has reigned in its wacky styling policy post the previous generation Megane, the Wind proves that the French firm still has the ability to turn out something adventurous once in a while.
With Mazda’s MX-5 hailed as much for its performance as its looks, for all the fluffy marketing chatter concentrating on who the Wind is aimed at it’s crucial that it also performs on the road.
Adding credibility to the mix, that Renaultsport connection is the real deal. The result is a responsive and engaging car boasting communicative steering, progressive brakes and a balanced, supple ride that rewards enthusiastic driving. That everything gels together nicely is a testament to the talent of the Renaultsport engineers.
And while the car’s performance angle isn’t being heavily pushed, the two petrol engines – 1.2-litre 99bhp turbo and 1.6-litre 131bhp – conjure up two different characters. The latter is straight out of Renault’s Twingo Renaultsport variant and, as such, is something of a rev-happy, racy motor. It sounds great and is clearly the masculine choice if you had to pick one.
Contrast this with the 1.2-litre turbo unit, which is quieter and more suited to general driving duties. Despite its size it proves flexible enough to cope with motorways and the urban crawl, and the manual gearshift on both cars is more polished and precise than anything costing many times more.
There’s no winner here as both engines offer impressive levels of performance – they just do it in different ways. Factor in a good level of standard kit and the asking price looks perfectly acceptable.
Renault’s Wind really does offer a breath of fresh air in market sector with one dominant player. The car’s Renaultsport-developed character is no marketing gimmick, and offers drivers a well-sorted and rewarding driving experience. Living with the car is also a joy; more practical than you’d expect and the roof down experience is hugely enjoyable along with the car’s visually striking appearance.
Renault Wind Dynamique S 1.2 TCe 100
PRICE: from £16,400 on the road.
ENGINE: 1.2-litre turbo petrol unit developing 99bhp via five-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.
PERFORMANCE: Maximum speed 118mph, 0-62mph 10.5 seconds.