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Road tests

New Renault 5 Turbo 3E concept review

The one-off drift machine marks 50 years of the Renault 5 and 40 years of the R5 Turbo 2

Verdict

We all know that Renault is planning to revive the 5 as a £25k electric supermini in 2024. It already looks cool – and if the 3E is any guide to the joie de vivre that could be rolled into how it behaves on the road, we can hardly wait.

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Anglo-French relations were at their peak back in the eighties. We lapped up the booze cruises; we loved Juliette Binoche and that waitress in ’Allo, ’Allo!; we sang “Je ne sais pas pourquoi” along with Kylie.

But best of all, the French gave us some cracking cars. We’re thinking Peugeot 205 GTi, Citroen AX GT, Renault 11 Turbo and the Renault Espace. And then there was the original hot-hatch hooligan, the Renault 5 Turbo. One of the Group B rally gods, the 5 Turbo had loads of power in a car that weighed little more than your jacket.

To celebrate 50 years of the Supercinq and 40 years of the rocket-heeled R5 Turbo 2, Renault created the spectacular Turbo 3E. It has classic Turbo 2 looks but remixed for today’s world, plus two electric motors, a glitch-art paint job, GoPro cameras galore, and pink windows. It stunned the public at last autumn’s Paris Motor Show, making it arguably the coolest concept car of 2022.

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But whereas a lot of brands build a funky-looking shell and power it with a rudimentary motor to get it on to a show stand, Renault put some serious engineering into this one. Because it actually works. As in, properly works. And we’re here to drive it at the former home of the French GP, Magny-Cours.

Turbo 3E is a 380bhp, rear-drive electric drift machine that’ll do fast-moving 360-degree spins and donuts as elegantly as Torvill and Dean (there’s another eighties reference for you), just with a bit more smoke. It’s basically half show car, half stunt car – and within 200 metres of driving it, you know you can push on.

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It’s a mega bit of kit: fast, darty, super-sensitive to every input, and a lot of fun. The front wheels turn 50 degrees – but you’d only need that for slow manoeuvres in town; at speed, you turn in and steer it on the throttle. It’s rapid off the line – as are all twin-motor EVs – but straight-line speed on a race track is not what this car is about.

Instead, the 3E was born to chase its tail like an excited puppy. So that’s what it does – for about 20 minutes. Because then it needs to rest and recharge for two hours.

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Which gives us plenty of time to have a good poke around it, eat patisserie, and speak to the team behind the car.

The Turbo 3E has a Ligier tubular chassis with an FIA-spec safety cage, two high-performance Brusa e-motors, each moving a wheel, and a bespoke 42kWh lithium-ion battery positioned low in the floor. It rolls on 19-inch wheels at the front, 20 inch at the back. The brakes are from a Megane RS, while the carbon-fibre body is two metres wide – 25cm more than the original Turbo 2 – and four metres long. That monster wing is off a Ligier JS 51 race car. The car itself is a bantamweight 980kg, but batteries aren’t light, and they add another 520kg.

Like the original, the Turbo 3E is a tiny two-seater, and it certainly feels cramped inside the cabin. The race seats, belts and quick-release steering wheel come from Sabelt. There are 10 (yes, really) small screens on the dashboard, a modern twist on the 10 analogue dials that faced a Turbo 2 driver back in the day. The retro tartan trim blends nicely with more glitch art on Renault’s diamond logo.

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The pièce de résistance is the upright hydraulic handbrake – the magic wand for skids in many competition cars. Except this one is even better, because it has a little button on top to squirt water on to the rear tyres. Our French friends were originally concerned that the 3E wouldn’t slide very easily. But it does. So much so, in fact, that the water is now used to cool the tyres.

Look closely at the pink rear-left window and you’ll see the words “La vie en rose”, which roughly translates as “to look on the brighter side of life”. Sandeep Bhambra, chief designer for Renault concept cars, tells us: “People are scared there will be a lot of boring cars coming because they are electric. But no. We wanted to show electric can be really fun.

“There is a good side to electric,” he goes on. “That’s why we made this car. Even though it is an electric vehicle, it doesn’t lose its soul. It’s still as much fun, or maybe even more fun somehow.”

So how about history repeating itself and Renault making a return to top-flight rallying with an electric car? Bhambra replies: “The boss Luca de Meo did talk about that at the Paris Motor Show. He said that if the World Rally Championship goes electric, then we are interested.”

Model:Renault 5 Turbo 3E
Powertrain:2x e-motor, 42kWh battery
Power/torque:380bhp/700Nm
Transmission:Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
0-62mph3.5 seconds
Play time:20 minutes
Charging:2 hours
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