Essay : Not their finest hour – Renault 21

Once again, we pour hot oil and scorn over some of the motoring misery of days gone by.

This time, it’s the French and the Renault 21. Mike Humble gets the pain and misery out of his system once and for all with his personal hatred for Renault’s answer to the Cavalier, Montego and Sierra…

Vin ordinaire

The Renault 21: acres of room coupled with a heap load of doom.

I make no bones about the fact I adore certain French cars, the Citroën CX for example was and still is, a car which floats by and makes me go weak at the knees owing its swooping and almost surreal body lines. Drive one too and they reward you with a cosseting ride, able road manners with oodles of space and comfort – all wrapped up in a world of lunacy which rather oddly makes perfect sense once acclimatised. Another example is the Peugeot 406 – a decently sized, yet slightly bland looking family hold-all which munches up the miles like no other Eurobox saloon can. A car so smooth and relaxing we owned a brace of diesel LX and a 2.0 petrol version.

Tug with aggression on the chunky steering wheel and the effortless Pug turns into a joy to pilot, with a seemingly limpet like ability to cling to the bends making you feel like Senna at Monaco rather than Stuart the sales rep in Milton Keynes. But rewind your Videostar to the 1980s and you will find something went rather wrong at Renault. Even though the ‘Supercinq‘ (5) was on offer, it was great little car which sadly was launched before its designer could witness the success. Renault lost the main ingredient that made their cars different to the palate – flair.

We first saw this with the 11 range, which seemed to be the French answer to the Strada rather than the Golf.

Using its F1 Turbo motor sport experience, the 21 Turbo was an ultra rapid yet fragile flier.

And if things couldn’t get any worse, someone saw fit to bestow the ultra-awful Renault 9 saloon with the Car of the Year ’82 award back in 1981 – yes that’s right folks, the motoring journals viewed the dumpy Renault as a better design than the J-Type GM Cavalier/Ascona. We laugh and scoff at old school Renaults, but they shifted some serious numbers in both the UK and Europe. Ask a retired cab driver his thoughts on the Renault 18, for example, and he’s bound to recall the soft seats, the relaxing ride and credible leg room – features that have always been synonymous with family sized French saloon cars.

Move forward a few years and the popular Renault 18 was gradually deleted out of the range. The 18 was a huge sales hit, so whatever was to replace this needed to have that Gallic mixture of smooth riding, different styling and keen pricing. Its replacement was the Renault 21 that was launched on the UK scene in 1986, larger in stature to the outgoing 18, it was also considerably bigger to home spun brands from Austin, Ford and Vauxhall. Whereby the old 18 was looking tired and outdated in the face of rivals such as the excellent Cavalier and tour de force Ford Sierra, the 21 aimed to be modern, sleek and like no other Renault design before.

Sadly, things never went to plan with the Renault 21, the fit and finish of this all new car left a great deal to be desired. Interior plastics were brittle to the touch and potential buyers were left feeling the whole car both inside and out was designed with a set square. Even though this new model was blessed with a cosseting ride quality, the steering, especially on the larger power units, felt podgy and suffered from alarming understeer. The best handling standard model was the entry level 1.7 which had a traditional east west engine layout. Due to packaging constraints; larger engines featured installation in an Audi-style north-south layout giving the car an unhealthy front end weight bias.

My own experience with the 21 came in the form of an emergency part collection job some years back. The company Astra van had blown up and its guts were lying on a grubby work bench, the workshop manager was away on holiday but had left his three year old company 21 on the premises. Grabbing the keys, I sped off from Northants in the direction of Lincolnsome 80-odd miles away at midnight. The lingering memory of a gutless engine, clunky gear change and lifeless spongy brakes still make me shudder with both disgust and anger. The car had a flat spot and distant miss fire of such proportions that it could almost make you weep.

The seven-seat 21 Savanna looked better than the saloon, eventually outselling it too.

The huge driver’s seat had support akin to plastic garden patio furniture. So shocked I was at the misery of this big Renault, I almost spun round and took my own steed (a Cortina Crusader I recall) to complete my mission. Nevertheless, I soldiered on towards Lincoln where it started to pour down. It was somewhere on the A46 in driving rain disaster struck and I almost wished that the great Lord would strike me down. As a young mechanic is expected to do, I took a roundabout at a speed you and I would now regard as being optimistic. Any other car, even a Marina on crossply tyres would have took the bend with aplomb, but not the bloody Renault.

With considerable loss of grip, the car slid and clonked the high kerb on the edge of the road thus wrecking the rim and tyre on the nearside front corner. So there I stood dripping wet David Banner style changing the wheel. The rest of the episode went without incident until my lighter ran out of gas on the A1. I noticed the cigar lighter had been used before and the ashtray contained a few nubs so I pressed it in to light up my growler and waited… and waited. Nothing happened for a while, so in the same manner your dad would have sorted the rolling picture on an old TV set, I thumped the console, and yet another disaster took place.

The cigar lighter popped into the air glowing like a bloom furnace and rolled under the driver’s seat duly preceding the melt the carpet. Sliding to a halt somewhere near Spalding, I urgently started to rummage around in the dark for the lighter before it torched the interior only to hear over my shoulder ‘everything okay sir?’ from a Lincolnshire traffic plod. Telling him my plight, he quickly came back with his thermos flask and threw the entire contents under the driver’s seat. Leaving the lay by with his words of ‘be more bloody careful in future son’ the arrival back to Northampton never felt so good.

Shoddy build quality, wonky handling in poor conditions and a nasty interior gave me the conclusion that the Renault 21 was rubbish. Later models addressed some of the quality and reliability issues while the Quadra Turbo models were disturbingly rapid. Sadly, the 21 was always seen as an also ran car when stacked up against the competition.

Later versions also featured more pleasing styling touches and the Savanna estate was almost hearse like in size, but the 21 range was left to limp and stumble on until its replacement in the shape of the Laguna – then the misery started all over again!

Mike Humble


  1. Bit harsh based on your bad experiences.
    Drove a 2.0 hatchback, one of the later 1993 models. Wasn’t a sports car, and I wasn’t intending it to be, it just munched the road up and the engine had a good bit of power.

    Uncle had the 7 seat Savanna, a bit of a less van like experience than MPVs.

    The Laguna mk1 was a good car, have known 2 owners tell me that they’ve had 250k+ miles. Things went downhill a bit with the mk2 which was a good looking car but over complicated electrics. The mk3 looked a bit bland other than the coupe, and they’ve now stopped selling them to us, so UK car buyers can focus on 316is and A4s.

    (To be pedantic, a big French car would be Gallic rather than Gaelic, though they do sell the Fluence diesel in Ireland rather successfully).

  2. Hi Will,

    Fixed that Gallic reference. Not sure why I didn’t spot it.

    I’m fairly indifferent about the Renault 21 myself, having driven one about 15 years ago and not being able to remember a single thing about the experience.

  3. Hmm, I have driven 2 and have no particular memories either – must have been good family cars if they did not even leave a bad memory… Spacious they certainly were. The 21 sold very well here in Germany pre and post facelift, so it cannot have been such a bad car. The remaining ones seem all have gone to serve more duty in Africa.

  4. Was it the Renault 21 that featured in a James Bond film? I recall a car chase around the base of the Eiffel Tower..

    • That was an 11, which got chopped in half horizontally and longitudinally; yet kept going with no connection to the fuel tank. As my wife would say, it’s just a film.

  5. I agree the Ren 21 looked a bit “instantly forgetable” which was a shame as the previous 18 was a good car. I preferred the look of the Saloon & Estate to the hatchback version. One of my friends had two Laguna MK1 company cars (that he liked) followed by a MK2.

    Always thought the Laguna MK1 was a good looking vehicle especially compared to the MK2 & 3. In fact I hardly see many Laguna MK3’s on our roads – unlike the number of MK1’s. The Ren 21 seems to have disappeared altogether.

  6. I’ve still got a slightly mangled recording of a flexidisc premoting the R21.

    In spite of my Dad having an early Renault 18 I never noticed too many others around. The 21’s seemed to sell better even if they weren’t perfect.

    The oddest thing about them was the mixture of engine layoutas as mentioned above.

    Until recently I used to see a Savana around, & there were a few of the early ones in Portugal when I was there 3 years ago.

  7. Funnily enough, I saw a mint lhd uk registered Renault 21 today. Facelift on a J reg towing a trailer. I thought it had aged rather well!.

  8. I had a 21 Turbo for a few months 5 or 6 years ago and I was quite impressed – underneath the cheap plastic interior and French reliability issues – it was a mighty fast comfortable car.

  9. @9 and gave cossies a run for thier money and thats a fact, they was a true Q-car,some 21’s had transverse engines and others longitudal another renault quirk?

  10. An even more quirky fact about the 21 – they had different wheelbases and front wings depending on whether the engines were transverse or longitudonal.

  11. A Renault Savanna was one of the cars I learnt to drive in. The old man bought it new – a top-of-the-range GTX with ‘Family Pack’ seating- and the boot release surround snapped the first time the boot opened.

    Yes it had a myriad problems. It snacked on alternators, the volume control on the stereo was impossible to modulate and the local dealer was terrible.

    So, why did you cut open the rubber boot containing the wiring for the heated screen? ‘We haven’t seen one working before and wondered why…’ Note the past tense.

    Still it was comfy, had a vast boot and was the first car I hit the tonne in – which took some going given the gutless fuel-injected 2-litre.

    And some years later, at the wheel of rental Volvo S40, it all felt strangely familiar.

  12. BSD

    Yes’even in ISRAEL the 21 was never a big seller,and exactly for the same reasons mentioned in the article.

    Add to that the fact that RENAULT’S importer did nothing to accomodate it’s sales,and was known for being somewhat notorious to it’s clients when arriving to the nationwide authorised garages for whatever reason… (nothing changed today,and for the last 10 years he is also Nissan’s importer…).

    I see that it was not a big seller also in other countries,not hard to see why…

    By the way,Mike ends his article by writing “until its replacement in the shape of the Laguna – then the misery started all over again!”.

    Guess what-the LAGUNA suffered the same fate in ISRAEL.

    Today if you want to sell a secondhand LAGUNA-you have to pay the buyer to take the car away…

  13. 406v6 – June 6, 2012
    “An even more quirky fact about the 21 – they had different wheelbases and front wings depending on whether the engines were transverse or longitudonal.”

    It wasn’t just the engines that gave different wheelbases. Saloons and estates differed too. This gave a car that could have one of four different wheelbases. A record! (I can’t remember whether the later hatchback came on a saloon or estate rear floor pan)

    Still Renault had a thing about odd wheelbases. The Renault 4, 6 and 16(?) all came with two different wheelbases. One on the left and one on the right. Full width rear transverse torsion bar suspension was the cause.


  14. For all you R21 haters out there (including Keith) – I am sure you will enjoy this video of one being cubed in the crusher!!! Warning – Peugeot 205 lovers should stop the video after the cubed R21 is removed from the machine…..

  15. Disagree that this was Renaults poorest hour. The 21 was a strong and capable car. Though not as good as 405 in the handle department it was a smooth riding car, and for a Renault it was a well built. Several friends and family had these and none had a prob (compared to the 5, 19 and Scenic). The Turbo was excedingly fast and comfortable motor – on a trip down to the delightful home of Electrolux UK – also known as Slough – it was a great car to travel in. It also formed the Basis for the Renault Alliance which became the Eagle Premier in the US. I know someone who had one of these in the states and had no prob with it.

    • The Eagle Premier then saved Chrysler’ bacon big time by morphing into the LH series – Dodge Intrepid, Chrysler Concorde and Chrysler 300 IIRC. I hired a 300 when staying near Detroit, it was a decent steer.

  16. @21 – agreed! My first car I had was an ’88 R5 ‘Supercinq’ – what a heap (why, oh why did I buy it? I wanted a FIAT Uno…..). La Regie has always made clunkers, and then surprised us (once in a while) with an absolute peach of a car (R4, Mk1 R5, Mk1 Clio, Mk1 Twingo, Scenic (but only if you hate driving)erm…..) – oddly though, the ones I like are the ones generally regarded as a bit naff – R14, R18, Fuego, and my all-time favourite Renault – the R25. Would I have one though – not on your nelly!

  17. Say what you want about these cars,thier flimsyness etc,but the engines were bombproof (ask volvo)no knocking cams (GM)no smoking (Ford cvh) or shagged bottom ends on O series.The R21 turbo was good for high miles as well if oiled and looked after.

  18. Very true Brett, but THE critical thing was they needed tip top care all the time and lacked the drive and forget nature of the Sierra and Cavalier.

    I have driven both turbo & Quadra, equally talented cars but overall, the 21 was dull, brittle and lacked the style and flair so once infamous with French cars.

  19. I’ve never actually driven a R21, but had a friend with a 25TXI, it was quite a good car, considering the engine layout handling was fine mostly, (Audi 80/90/100 weren’t any better hence the Quattro on the most powerful versions)and I imagine that a 21 with 250lbs less to shift must have been quite swift, lower versions may have felt “gutless” esp. 1,7L-76bhp and 1,9d with 65bhp, but so would any family basic or diesel cars at the time without TURBO but not the 120bhp 2L with less than 1100kg to move.
    Reason for the different wheelbases/front wings was that underneath the bonnet there was 2 very different cars!! Due to lack of money, smaller versions had transverse engines(1,7L or 1,9D) and were R9-11 in fact, whereas high end versions had R25 layout, N-S FWD enabling the Quadra variants…All had IRS unlike the 18 or some rivals. It reminds me a bit like the fwd1800-2200 and rwd3Litre Austins part bins two decades before… Do what you can with what you have, it sold fairly well really, more than 2 million sold in 8 years(around 25% of Nevada)
    Not my cup of tea, very bland -upscaled R9 like- whether in or outside but maybe not deserving so much lash out either, facelifted MY’90 versions had better appointed cabins, Turbo Quadra was the fastest in its class.

  20. I have to take issue with your comments about the Mk1 Laguna. Admittedly, when brand new, they didn’t have that much appeal, even compared to a Vecra, of all things. At that time I was employed to break-in (ahem, I meant deliver) hire cars for a well-known hire company, so I got to drive pretty much all of the ‘Class of 96’. I bought a cheap early Laguna 1.8RN (base model) a couple of years ago from a neighbour.

    I always hated that bloody immobiliser- where you have to point the key at the rear-view mirror (intuitive, not!), and even after nearly a year’s ownership, I still would get in, turn the key, the engine would turn over and then die, and then had to take it out again and perform the loony starting ritual. Never failed to annoy.

    That said, it wore its 170,000 miles well, drove decently with no vices and pretty ok handling, was pretty economical, comfy,and only disgraced itself once when a front coil spring broke (they are made from some kind of monkey metal). And it failed to kill me when a rear tyre burst at over 80 MPH- in fact, apart from the noise, there was no drama whatsoever (at least until I pulled over and tried using the toy wheelbrace that Renault and every other car maker includes)Lots of swearing and grinding of teeth…

    It did fail its MOT on too many minor (but expensive) issues so it got weighed in, but before I did so, and in a weak moment, I bidded on a 1984 BMW 5 Series Touring (Turbo-Diesel), and went down to Southampton with the readies- and was shocked by how trashed the interior was. The Beamer had only done about 5000 miles more than the Renault, but it looked like it had been lived in by a herd of goats, and some very bodged repairs to the steering made me leave it in the gutter where it frankly belonged.

    So, on the whole, the Laguna Mk1 was a decent, if unremarkable vehicle- and much more reliable than its successors.

  21. One of the worst cars I have ever had was a P reg Laguna. Complete bland (despite bright yellow paint) dog of a car! In the same slop bucket as the limp mk3 Granada 2.0 GL Auto I had.

  22. The Renault 9/11 series was made in the USA (in an old Rambler plant in Kenosha, Wiscosin) by Renault owned AMC from about 1983 to 1989 (?). Not good. Had a all-made recall for a faulty heater core.

    The Renault 18’s were imported and sold in NA under the Eagle Medallion and 30’s were made in Ontario, Canada as the Eagle Premier as a run off of a deal with Renault when Chrysler bought them and mainly under the Eagle name to give Jeep/ex-AMC dealers something to sell. Also the 30’s/Eagle Premier was sold for a few years as the Dodge Monaco. Once the minimums were reached in the deal, Chrysler ditched them (about 1992)

  23. There still a lot on the roads here in Galicia, so they cannot be all that bad.
    As for the “accident” written about in the article. Maybe it was down to driver error in misinterpreting the road conditions. 😉

  24. Gentlemen, if you please, there were SIX wheelbases – the Quadra’s were 6mm adrift of the others, for some strange Gallic reason.

    Speaking of Renaults, the 14 had not just different wheelbases either side, due to the longitudinally offset transverse torsion bars in the rear suspension, but had a front track narrower than the rear. The front end was pulled in so tight around the engine that you had to remove a wheel and a panel in the inner wing to adjust or replace the fanbelt. The back end was wider, to maximize back seat room, so it all went pear-shaped. Renault being Renault, made this a virtue in their advertising, with th eimmortal strapline, “Une poire, c’est confortable” (a pear is comfortable) Careful how you spell that, boys.

  25. @28, LeonUSA

    Almost – the AMC Renaults were still moderately different to the Euro ones, the most notable Alliance model being the GTA – a 2 door coupé with 2.0 engine.

    But the R25/Premier link – the Premier isn’t a booted R25. The platform is related to the R25, but the body – whilst very similar in style – is different. The doors are different, the front wing/bonnet shape – it’s like they drew an R25 with a boot and federal lights, then chose their own shutlines. The Monaco/Premier ended production before the engine supply deal had been fulfilled and Chrysler had to pay a penalty. The model being ditched in ’92 was purely because the LH platform and Dodge Intrepid were ready – if they’d wanted to carry on the engine deal, then the Monaco would have had to remain on sale much, much longer.

    On the flipside, the Premier’s platform (which used R21 ‘bits’ as well for the rear suspension I think) went on to form the LH plaform – the car that helped save Chrysler (again). The final LH, the 300M, was one of the best handling cars on sale in America in the mid 2000s, and was a pretty good looking thing too (shame the 24V Chrysler V6 needs to be revved like mad, totally at odds with the feel of the car otherwise).

    A car I’d love to feature on here but don’t have enough knowledge to research properly is the Jeep XJ Cherokee. That’s a proper product of the Renault-AMC alliance – a European SUV before SUVs were popular in Europe, a car that could so easily have put Renault at the forefront of a burgeoning market segment, and a fantastic design to boot, the few problems they have are generally attributable to cost cutting and poor maintenance, rather than the inherent flaws of say, presenting the typical British half-assed ‘technician’ with two different mechanical layouts in one body style.

    AMC are a fascinating firm. In the same way that GM – churning out mass-produced mediocrity by the million – is a genuine industry innovator (or was, until very recently), AMC had the balls to put together some truly prescient vehicles like the original Eagle AWD estates.

  26. AMC also released the Renault 5 stateside, as the ‘Le Car’- its normally neat styling was horribly Americanised to suit- which, if anything, accentuated its smallness (not an attribute that appeals to most American buyers), and established a poor reputation for itself- whether fairly or not I don’t know.

  27. AMC came up with the strange pair of the Gremlin & Pacer in the 1970s.

    The Gremlin was build on a cut down Hornet chassis, Sunbeam Style. Some had an Audi 2 litre unit.

    The Gremlin was supposed to used a GM Wankel unit, but had to use their normal engines after the rotary was cancelled.

  28. The Alliance/GTA was quite rightly regarded as a heap of junk – the interiors were bland compared to the European versions, the electronics horrifyingly unreliable, and in salt-states (where most sold, inevitably, being a Wisconsin & Ontario based enterprise) they rusted in a way only a monocoque can in an era where Americans were still accustomed to body-on-frame.

    But for all that, the GTA would have been well-regarded here, I reckon. Particularly if it’d hung on long enough to get the 16v engine.

    And the drop-top. Quite stylish.

  29. Never had trouble with 80s and 90s Renaults, in fact a friend’s ’94 Laguna clocked up 196k miles without incident (everything still worked unlike some of the over rated German rubbish of the time) until an MOT failure pointed to rot on the front valance which made him eventually scrap the car… More modern Renaults however (TBH most modern European car INCLUDING German ones) are less reliable, electrical glitches are common and some even render a car scrap..

  30. “And if things couldn’t get any worse, someone saw fit to bestow the ultra-awful Renault 9 saloon with the Car of the Year ’82 award back in 1981 –”

    Yes, everyone knows that the Austin Maxi should have won the 1981 Car of the Year Award.

  31. I’ve owned 3 Lagunas and they’re a mixed bag to be honest.

    Always liked the Mk1 so bought a 99V plate 1.8 16v Alize in 2006 which had done 107k. Was a lovely car, smooth ride and torquey engine. Unfortunately the gearbox blew at 113k so sold it as spares or repairs. To be fair, I paid 1300 and got 750 back so could have been worse, but that left me not trusting Renault.

    Fast forward to 2011 and we needed to go from one car to two. I did a fair bit of work mileage and so wanted something diesel, comfortable and reasonably punchy. I ended up with a 58 Mk3 Expression DCi 130, the 2 litre one. Paid a ridiculously low amount of money for it thanks to 93k miles and it had stacks of factory options fitted including Carminat SatNav, cruise and automatic lights and wipers. Was incredibly reliable until 129k when I took it in for a whining noise to be looked at and found out that the final drive bearing was worn. Cue recon gearbox, and whilst it was all out I had a clutch, DMF and slave and master cylinders too. Sold it a few months later at 138k and it’s still going fine now.

    Currently on Laguna number three, a Coupe GT DCi 180 which is brilliant. Done 33k in it in just over a year and it’s currently sitting on 83k. It’s quick, economical and looks fantastic. It has the optional DVD SatNav and Bose HiFi which are brilliant and it’s great to drive; it’s not sporty and firm, more of a grand tourer however the four wheel steering means you can corner ridiculously quickly should you be in the mood to hoon it!

  32. I quite like Renaults for their quirky design, up to the point of liking the Vel Satis. It surprises me, then, that these cars as so damn bland.

  33. Renault had an odd time in the 1980s stylewise.

    The 25 came out OK, but the Super 5, 9/11 & 21 looked a bit plainish.

    At least the 21 had a decent facelift, as did the 19, which looked a bit like a vacuum cleaner at the front end.

  34. I’m coming to this rather late. I’ve owned, and still own, a mix of MGR and Renault cars. I’m clearly odd as I loved my 21s. After a long affair with a Renault 11, I had 4 R21s, a 1.7 saloon I owned at 19 as a second car, a 2.0 hatch I took for free due to overheating issue (stuck thermostat). I then bought a 2.0 auto I used as a student for a delivery job and then finally ran a Savanna. I also grew up with one. I still have a soft spot for the douvrin 2.0 engine to this day with the faultless renix injection. It chucked out more torque low down than a comparable Cavalier and unlike contemporary AR cars, didn’t chuck oil out of the back. When I finally bought a mk1 2.0 Laguna, whilst it felt more solid, it was absolutely gutless. The dashboards on the 21 were egg box like, the whole car could have a flimsy feel – but no worse than its contemporary competitors; but the seats and ride were supremely comfortable; not unlike the 75 I used to tool around in. Rather like the VVC engine in my MGF, the 21 was susceptible to overheating but looked after the engines were bulletproof. The 21 was an underdog…. Not unlike many AR cars 😉

  35. Late in replying but I had a 1700 renault 21and it was my best car I sold it after 220000 miles on its original clutch gearbox and engine if I could find another 21 I would buy it one of my biggest regrets was selling this exallent salon car this was not the turbo, I drove it to the south of France often even when I cound not get break down cover because of its age. If anyone has a 21 for sale I would be very interested.

  36. I had an 88 Renault Medallion LX (top series) for four years in the USA. Extremely comfortable, decent performance, lots of interior space. On the other hand, the transmission coolers were junk and I had to replace the engine soon after buying the car as engine coolant was used to cool the transmission fluid. I also had some electronic problem but it was just a faulty connector so a cheap fix. by the time I junked it (no resale value and starting to show some body rust) it had close to 200,000 miles in nine years. I was in the DC area and drove it up and down the east coast from NY to Florida several times plus some inland trips as well.

    I’ve also owned or driven the following Renaults: 4-5-Super 5 Diesel-11 Diesel-19-Clio 2 (2 different, both Diesel). One of my relatives had a 10 and later a 16. My favorite all time Renault models are the original version of the 19 and the facelifted 25.

    Alfa Romeo is my car of choice but my my last one was bought new in 1988. Now I drive an old van in retirement.

  37. I worked in a Renault garage from ’84 till ’96. I remember with much fondness the arrival of the first 25’s, then our brand new 5 extra van!! The 21 was very good in some ways, and trouble in others. What fun we had on the 1.7s wiring in the fuel anti perculation modifications to try to get the first ones to start when hot!The radiator cooling fan was wired through a temperature switch near the manifold, and would run for a good 20 minutes after engine shutdown to blow air over the carb via some dodgy looking air trunking!Later ones were done at the factory, and similar mods were done on 1.7 and GT turbo 5s, and some of the 19’s if I remember correctly….
    The 21 interior was definitely flimsy. One, somewhat ‘portly’ owner had 3, yes 3 seat frames in his drivers seat because he just squashed them! Heater fans were another constant warranty issue, either the motor, rheostat, switch panel, or all 3, or any combination, would need regular attention.
    Nevertheless, I’m not down on the 21, it was a typical 80’s design, and overall no worse, or better than any of it’s competition.

  38. France’s answer to the Montego, only being French it cost more to repair. Don’t forget from this era as well, the ultimate clunker, the Fiat Regata. While it didn’t rust as badly as the Mirafiori, it was a bland looking, badly made and unreliable heap that had terrible resale. A shame as the smaller Fiats like the Uno and the Tipo from this era were actually quite good.

  39. Motorsport gave a much different review when the car was new. Perhaps a little mnore objective, both about the need for different floorplans (at a time the Regie was as equally financially screwed as AR) and the ride, handling and engines. This is some of what they had to say…

    “But unusually, the range not only includes two engines, but two different front suspension layouts (both MacPherson strut) with different wheelbases to suit. The four lower models use a package derived from the Renault 9(11, a 1721cc transverse four of 76 or 95 bhp. The two high-spec versions. though, have a longitudinal 2-litre unit with a different subframe, struts, steering system, and a 24 in shorter wheelbase Renault say this makes good use of existing components and manufacturing facilities and admit frankly that it saved the £90m it would have cost to develop a transverse gearbox for the 2-litre unit. Two types of wing and wheelarch panel are assembled by the same robots, and there is no difference in Interior space.

    Performance with the carburettor 1700 in 90 bhp form (5-speed like all the versions) is good enough (10.7 sec 0-60 mph) and the injected 2-litre feels very willing, taking a second of that time. Both versions are quiet even at motorway speeds, and display impressive ride quality more in line with a luxury car, while handling is crisp and predictable. Interior styling is a pleasantly restrained blend of smart design and practicality; slim door-panels add to the elbow room. Marketing a car in the highly competitive upper-middle saloon bracket mutt be the ad-man’s greatest trial, but Renault have a visible extra to sell in the 21 — its obvious roominess.”


  40. I can remember finding the Renault 20 quite stylish, particularly in metallic gold, and the 25 being a good looking car with good engines and a comfortable ride, but having some costly electrical faults as it got older and being pricey to maintain. However, the 21 was rather bland, reliability was in the Austin Montego category on early cars, and there were vastly better cars from Citroen and Peugeot for people who liked larger French cars. Haven’t seen a 21 since the millenium and early Lagunas seem to have vanished as well.

  41. I’ve also not seen a 21 in the UK for many years, there seemed to be plentiful in Portugal when I visited in 2009. About the last on I used to see locally was a late estate.

    Someone near to me owned an early Laguna estate until a few years ago.

  42. The 21 seemed to be part of an uninspiring range of Renaults in the eighties and a poor replacement for the 18. Also reliability and complex electronics were a big problem with the 21 and sales nosedived.

    • My Dad wasn’t very impressed with his 18, thinking it felt tinny for a car it’s size.

      The parents of one of my school friends briefly had a 21, which managed to break down on a camping holiday. luckily they were in France at the time, but soon exchanged it for a Sierra which was much more reliable.

  43. I’m a Renault fan but yeah I agree the 21 along with the equally lacking in flair 9 and 11 were a low point in Renault’s design department, they were just too bland (something Citroen and Peugeot would be guilty of in subsequent decades) A small point to correct though is the “Supercinq” was designed by Marcello Gandini who very much did live to see it’s success (and is still alive today as far as I know) The original 5 was created by Michel Boué who died a few months after the launch, not before as is often reported.

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