Renault knows a thing or two about small turbocharged engines, though you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you’ve been following Daniel Ricciardo’s exploits in this year’s F1 world championship. The poor guy must go to bed some nights wondering if the Regie has ever built a decent engine in its life.
But Renault has not only produced some stunning Formula One engines – powering seven drivers to 11 world titles – it actually pioneered the turbocharged F1 engine.
In the late 1970s the French turned racing on its head by producing a winning 1.5-litre turbo V6, overcoming considerable teething problems; rival team chief Ken Tyrrell dubbed the cars the ‘yellow teapots’ because they were always on the boil…
Turbos were all the rage in the 80s, but it took the cool Swedes to harness the power and make them suitable for regular motoring. Turbocharged engines had been all about high boost and performance, and turbo road cars tended to be a bit wild, with sudden explosions of power that threatened to throw you off the road. Saab changed that in the early 90s with the ‘light pressure turbo’, which produced enormous low-rev torque rather than peaky power, and with less lag.
Here we are today, where turbos are as much about economy as performance. Now we have a car like the Renault Captur, which makes do with just 898cc of capacity to haul its mini-SUV arse around. It’s a hell of a feat.
However, the awe I feel for this technology is more theoretical than practical.
Truth is, 66kW and 135Nm simply doesn’t cut it. You won’t find many other cars struggling as hard as this to get up to speed – 13 seconds flat from rest to 100km/h for heaven’s sake – and it’s no better accelerating on the move, either. You have to work hard to keep up with the ‘Cardashians’.
I’d tried to stay positive about the three-pot Captur, thinking back to how Renault had decimated the V8s and 12s in F1 with an engine half their size, but what really did it in for me was taking a Mazda CX-3 home one night. The Mazda’s 2.0-litre atmo felt alive by comparison, responding quickly to my right foot as I happily zipped along with the traffic. In theory, the Mazda uses 25 percent more petrol, but in practice I reckon the difference would be much less that that – and the extra cost of the 95-octane juice required by the Renault means there’s no price to pay at all for that extra driving enjoyment. For me, it’s a no-brainer.
So I’ve put my inner Alain Prost on ice; now I’m listening instead to my inner Daniel Ricciardo.
This article was originally published in Wheels Magazine September 2015.