Why the Renault Sport Spider is in a class of its own
Look back through the history of invention, and you'll be likely to come across many innovations that, for all their originality and ingenuity, were overshadowed by similar, if not identical to the contraptions they made obsolete. It's a common occurrence in the car industry, with new technologies being quickly forgotten and discarded in favour of newer ones quicker than you can blink. It was the case for rocket brakes (forgotten with the arrival of more conventional braking systems), modular car design and Bose suspension. However, it's rare that an entire car could fall victim to such a phenomenon, but as was the case for Renault in 1996, it was unfortunately not rare enough.
The car I'm referring to here (in case you didn't infer from the headline) is of course the Renault Sport Spider, a car released at the height of Renault's racing prowess, while they were looking to expand their road-going performance lineup. Renault had designed the Spider with both roadworthiness in mind, but also with another purpose; to make a new racing league out of it. Released in 1996 (though a version with a windscreen didn't reach UK shores until 1997), the car came with a 1998cc engine producing 148 bhp, which doesn't sound brilliant, but take into account the car's light weight, only about 930 kg, and there was a surefire winner. And 1996 would be the year a light, two-seater throwaround roadster would take the motoring world by storm.
That's a nice Clio Williams behind it though-Newspress
Unfortunately, that car was not the Renault Sport Spider, but instead the Series One Lotus Elise, a car which offered the same ample amounts of fun and fizziness, but with one large difference; the Spider cost nearly £30,000 when new, whereas a Series One Elise would see you handing over just £19,000. Consequently, the Spider was dropped as quickly as a hot iron by the motoring press, who fawned over the Elise when it was released.
Yet when I'm standing in front of a 1996 model about to take it for a spin, I can't see why they chose to ignore it. In my opinion, it's certainly a more exciting looking piece of design compared to a rival from a similar era (for example the BMW Z1 or Elise). It's got an almost arachnid-like quality to its styling cues, especially in those huge, rounded headlights and curved, sculpted abdomen. It certainly stays true to its namesake in its design. A large roll bar coils above the seats to stop your head being grated like Parmesan against the road in a rollover, while traffic light-shaped brake lights illuminate the road behind you. Inside, it's clear the car wasn't designed with the tallest people in mind, but the driving position is good-low and with a good visibility of the road ahead. It's a bit bare on upholstery-you can see the welding marks along the sills-but it's a minor nitpick when you're sitting and raring to get going.
On the road, the 1998cc engine doesn't quite give you that raw, throaty rasp that the Elise might emit, but neither the high-pitched tremolo purr of a BMW Z1. Instead, it's more of a murmur rather than a burble. It's not the most exciting of noises and doesn't exactly strap you in for an amazing ride ahead, however if you play with the accelerator a bit, the gurgle begins to turn into a growl. On the road, the ride is slight and the car feels eminently chuckable-as if I'm driving along a large elastic band-each movement of the steering wheel is met with a precise movement. The suspension is a little too soft and bouncy for my taste, especially in a sports roadster, but it rounds each corner with vigour and an almost fluid flick of the front wheels. And once the speedometer starts pushing 90 miles per hour, all is forgotten and I'm back in 1996, and onto my verdict..
Renault Sport Spider-the verdict
What a view to have in your rear-view-mirror (Newspress)
After driving this car, I can't understand why it's been so neglected over the years by the motoring press and community, but there is one thing I can completely understand; why someone would choose a Lotus Elise, its main rival, over this. While the Sport Spider offers a great ride and performance, it can't match the Elise in overall, breathtaking, fist-clenching fun. It's a great try, but it's better left to Norwich. I'm signing off now, that's a wrap!
Thanks so much for reading, I really appreciate it. Cheers, and I'll see you in the next article!