The Renault Corporation was founded in 1899 as Société Renault Frères by brothers Louis, Marcel, and Fernand Renault. Louis Renault’s expertise laid firmly in engineering, design, and production, whereas Marcel and Fernand Renault were responsible for the business side, having gleaned considerable expertise from helping to run their father’s textiles business. The first Renault car that Louis Renault designed and built was called the Renault Voiturette 1CV, produced in 1898.
At this early stage, Renault products were luxury items with the price of the smallest vehicles costing the equivalent of 10 years’ salary for the average French worker. Mass-production techniques were introduced in 1905, and Taylorism would be introduced in 1913, increasing efficiency and bringing down prices in the process.
After Marcel Renault died in a motor racing accident in 1903, and Fernand retired due to ill health three years later, Louis Renault took full control of the company until his death in October 1944. Having been incarcerated by the provisional French government following liberation from Nazi occupation, Louis Renault was awaiting trial in prison, accused of cooperating with the Nazis, when he died suddenly in 1944. Following Renault’s death, the Renault company was expropriated by the French government and nationalised.
In 1966, Renault Australia was established in Heidelberg, Melbourne, and the company would produce several models there, including the R8, R10, R12, R16, as well as the R15 and R17 sports coupes and finally the R18 and R20, before the Heidelberg factory’s closure in 1981.
Despite the fact that Renault models were reasonably popular, the company went through further internal turmoil, starting with huge losses that required a significant number of job losses, which culminated in the murder of Renault Chairman George Besse by a communist terror group.
Following this period of turmoil, Renault was returned to private ownership in 1996 and committed to the Nissan-Renault Alliance in 1999. This decreed that each of these two companies would hold non-voting stake in the other, while collaborating on new products to bring down the cost of development.
Moving into the new millennium, Renault would introduce a number of new cars to the market that would cement its reputation for outlandish style and distinctive design.
Two of the most popular of these new models would be the Renault Clio and the Renault Scenic. The Renault Clio is a five-door hatchback in the supermini class launched here in 2001. It featured 4 trim levels. The entry-level model was given the name Expression and was available with 1.4L 16-valve engine, which could be paired with either a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual gearbox. The mid-range Privilege model was available with either the same 1.4L engine or a larger capacity 1.6L engine. The Sport model was available with a 2.0L engine.
Upon introduction, only the base 1.4L engine could be paired with an automatic gearbox, which was an odd marketing decision considering that as a nation we generally prefer automatic gearboxes. The Privilege and Sport models were available with 5-speed manual transmissions, until the release of the Renault Sport 197 in 2008, which came equipped with a new 6-speed gearbox.
The Clio has a smart, modern design that exceeds many of its rivals in the same class. Handling is precise, and it handles corners with panache. Its excellent suspension soaks up the bumps in rough roads with considerable ease, a point compounded by good roadholding. In addition, ABS comes as standard, and they provide excellent stopping power.
Another model that has proven popular on the used market is the Renault Scenic – a five-door wagon/minivan with a chassis based on that of the similarly popular Megane model. It came in the form of two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive (RX4) models in 3 trim levels: Expression, Dynamique, and Privilege.
The Expression comes with a 1.6L engine paired with a manual gearbox, whereas the mid-range Dynamique and top-of-the-range Privilege come with a 2.0L engine that may be paired with either a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual gearbox.
The Scenic is compact for a minivan, yet it is surprisingly spacious. It comes with a comprehensive safety kit, which includes 6 (dual front and 2 front side) airbags, pyrotechnic seatbelt pretensioners and load-limiters, in addition to ABS, EBD, and an engine immobiliser.
For comfort, standard kit includes air-conditioning, remote central locking, power windows and wing mirrors, as well as a trip computer and satellite audio controls attached to the steering wheel.
As in the case of the Clio, the Scenic’s suspension copes brilliantly, soaking up bumps and holes in the road with conviction. Handling is precise and confident.
The Clio’s competition has traditionally come in the form of the Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 306, as well as budget Eastern models, from the likes of Kia and Proton. While the modern Fiesta takes some beating in terms of poise and performance, the Clio is extremely stylish, remarkably economical, and ultimately very useable and dynamic.
The Scenic faced competition from the Holden Zafira which is solidly built and similarly well-priced. That said, the Scenic has a nicer interior and more safety features than the Zafira.