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The Renault 16 (known colloquially as the R16) was a forward-looking car. Before the term “hatchback” was coined, the R16 was the first medium-sized front-wheel-drive family car, simply called a “five door”. Early examples of hatchback body configurations are found as far back as the 1930s, but the Merriam-Webster dictionary dates the term “hatchback” to 1970. Several months before the Renault 16 was officially launched, journalists struggled to describe it. A review in the British Motoring Illustrated (May, 1965) stated: “Renault has finally done something that’s original. And they have made it affordable. Their idea is to build an ordinary family saloon with an eccentrically French appearance and a fifth door…the Renault Sixteen can thus be described as a large family car but one that is neither a four door saloon and nor is it quite an estate. But, importantly, it is a little different.”
Designed with convenience and utility in mind, the R16 fully utilized the benefits of a front-wheel-drive configuration and “fifth door”. Its floor was low, long, and uninterrupted. The rear seat tilted forward and the rear seatback could be cleverly lifted and suspended from the ceiling. The rear bench could also be removed entirely, making it the next best thing to a station wagon, pickup, or panel van. Its front bucket seats were also fully reclining.
Aptly marketed as “A bold new idea in a compact size!”, the R16 was touted as having 12.6 cu ft of luggage space, and with the rear seat and backrest removed, cargo capacity could increase to 42 cubic feet! It was small and practical with a “luxury Sudan comfort.” Also, its four-wheel independent suspension, combined with torsion bars and anti-sway bars, allowed for a very comfortable ride. Although, oddly, the car's wheelbase on the left side is 2.75 in longer than the right side to accommodate the torsion bar.
The R16 was not very successful in the US and only sold here from 1969 – 1972. However, the R16 was a great success in Europe, with 1,845,959 R16s produced during a production run until 1980, but its influence is still seen in new car design today.
Manufacturer: Régie Nationale des Usines Renault
Country of Origin: France
Drivetrain Configuration: Front- engine, front-wheel drive
Engine: 4-cylinder, in-line, 66hp
Transmission: 4-speed synchronized manual transmission
Top Speed: 92 mph
Years of Production: 1969 – 1980
Number Produced: 1,845,959 (all models)