Renault Sport Spider (1998 - 1999) review

BY JONATHAN CROUCH

Introduction

By the mid-Nineties roadster buyers knew pretty much what to expect from an open-topped sportscar. But then along came Renault's Sport Spider, challenging convention and changing everything....

Models

Models Covered: Two Door Roadster: Sport Spider

History

The car was mainly sold on the Continent and was only belatedly launched in the UK when the importers decided they needed an image-maker. Only 200 were sold here at £25,950 each. That was a fair bit more than they cost in Europe but at least right hand drive buyers got as standard the full-sized windscreen that Renault UK insisted was created for the more conservative British market. Yes, you read that right. French-spec Spiders never had a windscreen, necessitating the use of a helmet. Which was a tad restrictive when it came to conversation and extremely inconvenient if all you wanted to do was to nip down to the shops.

What You Get

There's no point in judging this car by conventional standards. It's like moaning about the makeshift hood (which according to Renault, isn't guaranteed to stay on at speeds above 40mph!). From Renault's point of view, you don't buy one of these as an everyday car, so why need it be designed using everyday criteria? The styling of course is anything but everyday. People don't just turn their heads when you drive by - they stop and gawp. From the fared-in headlamps to the enormous side air intakes (need they really be that big for a Renault Clio engine?), this car is outrageous.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Since the Sport Spider is based on simple Clio Williams hardware, not much goes wrong - and if it ever does, it shouldn't cost too much to fix. Obviously, since most cars will have been thrashed (or even raced), beware of accident damage and bodged repairs. Since the Renault Sport Spider one make race series has been replaced by a Clio-based Series, more ex-race cars are finding their way back onto the road. Look closely for signs of theft.

Replacement Parts

(approx) A clutch assembly will be around £80. Front and rear brake pads are about £190. An exchange alternator is about £175 and an exhaust system assembly should be close to £110. A headlamp should cost around £65, a starter motor about £272 and a radiator no more than £260.

On the Road

Powering the Sport Spider is the 150bhp 16v four cylinder engine which, as already mentioned, was first seen in the Renault Clio Williams and also used in the original Megane Coupe 16v. Given the relatively light weight of this car, that's enough to make it very fast indeed; rest to 60 takes just 6.9s on the way to a maximum of 134mph. Take a seat behind the wheel and you instantly know that this car means business; quite simply it's more race car than road car, a single aluminium bar dominating the dashboard. There are only three dials set into a central pod on top of the dash - and they don't include a speedometer. Instead, you've a rev counter, with oil and water pressure gauges. Speed is monitored by a digital readout just above, as are distance and fuel. To complete the sports car feel, there are body-hugging Recaro bucket seats and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. The windows meanwhile, pivot up to open - arguably practical - certainly distinctive. And the doors? Well, they open vertically. Of course... Safety won't be at the forefront of the minds of most buyers, but Renault claim to have thoroughly covered it anyway. The car is constructed from aluminium - which has an energy absorption capacity one and a half times that of steel. Plus there's a stout rollover bar for visible reassurance. The road is one place where the Renault feels slightly wasted. With the growth of airfield and track days in the UK, a used Sport Spider makes an excellent weekend 'toy'. With more ex-racing cars entering the market, it represents a stylish way to go racing on a reasonable budget.

Overall

This car makes a statement that says a great deal about Renault. Whether it's unique depends upon your definition. After all, it's probably true to say that most major manufacturers have had something like this on the drawing board somewhere in their design studios. The difference is that only the Sport Spider made it into the metal - or the aluminium to be precise. Audacity then, in more ways than one.