How does Renault’s fiery hot hatch from the 80s stack up today?
The hot hatch really came of age in the 1980s. Today’s heroes such as the Renault Clio RS all have their roots in the groundbreaking originals of yesteryear – and few were more rabid than the monster Renault 5 GT Turbo.
Unlike its contemporary rivals such as the Peugeot 205 GTI, Renault fitted a potent turbocharged engine to the bantamweight little hatch. The result was the birth of a road car legend, one that successfully managed to consumerise the ferocious 1980 Renault 5 Turbo rally car homologation special.
The GT Turbo was launched in 1984, and although 114bhp doesn’t sound all that much today, the 1.4-litre turbo engine’s performance was still pretty electrifying. It was faster than even a 1.9-litre Peugeot 205 GTI, for example, and handled very well through the bends too.
Sensing that there was an opportunity to go a little further, Renault facelifted the GT Turbo in 1987. The so-called Phase 2 cars gained smart body-coloured wheelarches, better seats and an improved cooling system that made them (a bit) easier to start when hot. Power was increased too, thanks to a higher red line for the engine.
Contemporary reports were glowing, with the 5 GT Turbo scooping many a ‘hot hatch of the year’ prize. Its gem-like engine, grippy chassis and perfect interior were all praised, with one title describing it as “the ultimate road-legal go-kart”.
0-62mph took just 7.2 seconds, which is fast even by modern standards: at the time, it must have seemed incredible. Thank the car’s sub-one-tonne kerbweight for this, although you had to work hard for it: turbo lag was a big issue in the 1980s, meaning drivers would initially think the 5 GT Turbo was a lethargic thing until power came in with a rocket-like rush…
It’s something that you soon get used to even today, though. What’s perhaps a bit less impressive to modern drivers is the car’s grip, which seems little better than a conventional car. Where today’s cars can’t hope to match the Renault 5 is in feel and feedback, though: this little Renault rocket genuinely feels alive. Even the ride quality isn’t bad.
However, to buy secondhand, they’re no longer the bargain they once were. You can get a rough, scrappy example for around £3,000, but if you want the very best, you’ll have to fork out upwards of £9000, with many coming in at the £12,000 mark.
Genuine factory-fresh examples with tiny mileages basically cost the same as a modern hot hatch – around £20,000. And no matter what you spend, don’t expect contemporary reliability. The 5 GT Turbo was never the most dependable machine even when new, and will prove to be much more temperamental than a modern car today.
At least it won’t depreciate like a modern car, though: find a good one and you’ll have a solidly-appreciating asset that will also prove thrill-a-minute to drive. Admit it, you’re just a little bit tempted, aren’t you?