Prior to the release of the Renault 21, the company had done more than any other manufacturer to extend the range and appeal of forced induction, without actually having a turbo model in the lineup.
The Renault 21 Turbo originally went on sale in France in September 1987, however there was a 9 month wait for right hand drive markets due to need to adapt the standard Teves ABS brake system for right-hand drive application.
At launch the 21 Turbo did not have any clear rivals. Renault themselves suggested that they had their sights on the Mercedes 190E 2.3 16
and the BMW 525i, although few thought the Renault had quite the status cache of the Germans.
1987 was indeed a good year for Renault, the company making a strong comeback from the doldrums, managing to break even after three years of terrible losses. The memory of Georges Besse, so cruelly gunned down in a Paris street in 1986, was revered throughout the company and his successor, Raymond Levy, did not make any significant changes to Besse's master-plan for recovery.
The ailing AMC subsidiary had been sold, gladly, to Chrysler, and the upturn in fortune was undoubtedly product-led. While Peugeot lead the French market sales charts, the 205 was hotly pursued by the Renault 'Supercinq' and by the 21 model.
The 5 was then freshened up, less than three years after its launch, and the 21 range had been usefully extended with the Turbo version. Today French cars have a deservedly good repuation for building great handling cars, although in the 1980's many protagonists disagreed. The myth
was blown apart by the 21 Turbo.
The 21 Turbo was extremely fast, especially in mid-range and high-speed overtaking situations, and succeeded in riding well and handling even better. Its weakness, and most performance cars of the 1980's had one, was the pronounced turbo lag followed by sudden boost, shared to some extent by the 25 Turbo.
At 2000rpm the 21 Turbo was as sedate as an undertaker's hearse, but at 2700 rpm an afterburner had the front wheels scrabbling for adhesion on wet roads - exciting enough for the experienced driver but daunting, perhaps, for novices in winter. To have the 21 Turbo in the right gear at the right time, though, was one of the real pleasures of motoring. The four-cylinder, 2-liter engine was remarkably refined, and noise levels were extremely low.
Water cooling helped the Garrett blower to extract 175 horses from the two liters...
Garrett T3 Water-Cooled Turbocharger
The Garrett T3 water-cooled turbocharger boosted the power to 175bhp at 5200 r.p.m., and helped the all-aluminum engine to produce a prodigious 199 lb. ft of torque at 3000rpm.
These impressive figures enabled the 21 Turbo to accelerate from rest to 100kph (62.5mph) in a claimed 7.4 seconds, and to reach a maximum speed of 141mph. The engine was mounted longitudinally ahead of the front wheels, Audi-style, and drove through the 25 V6 model's five-speed gearbox, with different ratios for more sporty appeal.
Bendix (formerly Renix) engine management included individual cylinder knock control sensors, and the 21 also had four-wheel disc brakes, ventilated at the front, Teves "second generation" ABS as standard, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, and all-independent suspension with MacPherrson struts at the front and torsion bar-suspended trailing arms at the rear. The rear dampers also had coil springs.
Built at Sandouville, near Le Havre, the 21 Turbo came with plenty of kit, and it was good quality at that. Exterior equipment included a full "body kit", featuring an air dam with built-in foglights and air ducts for the brakes, side-skirts, rear apron and a transverse spoiler which stood proud of the boot lid.
Inside, the Turbo version had comfortable sports seats, small-diameter heightable steering wheel, computer-aided instrumentation, an entirely new "black dashboard" with orange numeration, split backrests on the rear seats, and the useful infra-ray central locking system.
It had never been fashionable in France to knock the Regie, even when it was in dire difficulties in 1984-85, and Renault's return to full health was never in any doubt; only the speed at which this resurgence had been achieved. The 21 Turbo was a fine car - and ushered a new era of performance Renaults that we enjoy to this day.