Why the Renault 19 was a high point for convertibles

It definitely shows that fun cars don't have to be expensive

1w ago

Cabriolets or convertibles have always divided petrolheads. Some love them, some others don’t. There are pros such as having the air running through your hair on a nice sunny day, and also this feeling of freedom that is inherently associated to driving an open top. However, on a less romantic side, these cars are usually less fun during winter or when it’s simply too hot. I own a cabriolet, a Porsche Boxster, but I only use it in the summertime and it’s true that they are a bit pointless. And because they lack practicality, we can even say that they’d be a bad buy if it’s your only car. So, why would you buy such car? If reason doesn’t apply here, it might be due to passion, and Renault built a car for such purpose in 1991.

Here is the Renault 19-16S Cabriolet, a French convertible with a German twist. When our friends from Private Car Collection told us they had one, we just had to come and take a look. Despite being a very niche market, the open top cars sales nearly tripled in Europe between 1985 and 1991 and Renault, who did not have such car in their linuep for 23 years decided to get back at it. They chose the 19 platform to go against the aging Golf, 205, and Kadett but needed a partner to produce it. Indeed, back then, manufacturers had difficulty to deal with small quantity productions.

Therefore, they went to Germany’s Karmann, who were very reputable for working with Volkswagen, a first for Renault. Obsessed with the quality of their cars, Renault wanted a car that felt more… German, and the French manufacturer ultimately delayed the production to eliminate every single issue related to their car. The R19 Cabriolet received a facelift in 1995 and was then replaced by the Megane, a model that also got its faire share of convertibles. But back to the original R19.

Renault wanted a car that felt more… German

Jonathan Yarden

Codenamed "Topless" internally, Renault wanted their car to look and feel sporty and premium, and I think that they achieved it. Personally, I really like this design, but maybe nostalgia has something to do with it. I love the details such as the double bubble behind the back seats, the air vent on the bonnet, the larger exhaust tip, as well as the yellow foglights. The 16S was equipped with a 16-valve 1.8 four-cylinder developing 140 horsepower. This allowed the car to reach a top speed of 208 km/h and go from a standstill to 100 km/h in 9.4 seconds. Sounds a bit lame? Well, it was still faster than what the competition was offering. It may not be a powerhouse but that little engine enjoys revving and makes a very addictive growling sound when you start pushing it. Renault paid special attention to the way their cabriolet would drive. Again, to be as sporty as intended, the manufacturer reinforced the chassis, and they still managed to keep its total weight under 1.3 tons. Moreover being fairly compact, it brought driving dynamics that were unseen yet in such car. The R19 Cabriolet is super fun, reminds you of the good old days, and will definitely bring a smile on your face.

Renault also did a fantastic job inside the car where they deliberately tried to make it feel more upscale. The leather seats are immensely cool, comfortable, and they offer plenty of lateral support. This particular car would really deserve a complete restoration, but you still get the feeling that it is well-built. Somehow, I expected the cabin to be more quirky, because yes of course it is French. Then again, the R19 shows that it was meant to mainly attract German drivers, because it is pretty austere in there. Yet, there are obviously no screens and gadget that will distract you from driving, and that feels pretty refreshing.

I can say that I would have never imagined that the R19 Cabriolet would be such a great car. At first glance. it may look like your average '90s Renault, but it hides a lot of character and will definitely put a smile on anyone who drives it. All in all, the R19 Cabriolet is a great opportunity to own, at very low cost, a Renault that was built in partnership with the prestigious Karmann, that same company that had to close their doors in 2010. Have I heard "future classic"? You bet it will be! Our recommendation will be an early model like the one featured in this article equipped with the desirable 1.8-litre engine that makes 140 horsepower. And yet another car that proves that you do not need big bucks to have fun!

I​ would like to extend my gratitude to my friends from Private Car Collection. They have been nice enough to let us review their car. They have a pretty cool collection of cars that you can see on their Instagram account or Facebook page. Without them, this article could have never been possible.

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Renault 19 Cabriolet

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Comments (56)

  • I’d say the Golden Age of convertibles was the ‘60’s

      10 days ago
  • Had a 16v 19 in dark metallic blue, black leather interior, wasn’t the soft top but a lovely car none the less.

      10 days ago
  • Great write up, love the photos 🥰 Had a Clio Mk1 16s, the same engine. Boy did it fly! A proper warm hatch, putting up the rear inside wheel on twisties 😁 Have photo in my garage here on DT. Still in the family, might buy it back... but this time just for more relaxed cruises. The scarcity of spares prevents to squeeze it to the limit.

      10 days ago
  • Nostalgia tickling. When I was a kid, there were a few of these 80-90's cabriolets around - driven by local youngsters - black Kadett E 2.0 8v, blue R19 1.8 16v and an old Escort (80's one).

    Although I personally like Kadett E, the R19 (as a convertible) was a superior car - you could actually almost hear the flimsy body of the Kadett twisting in corners while the Renault took the beating like a champ. Escort was a mess. Never liked it.

      10 days ago
  • I love this car, very pretty

      20 hours ago