Renault 5 Prototype: Looking Back to Move Forward

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The launch of the Renault 5 Prototype is the best thing to happen in 2021. But is a homage to the past the best way to embrace the future?

Is the launch of the Renault 5 Prototype the best thing to happen in 2021? It's up there with Toyah Wilcox's exercise bike-assisted take on Metallica's Enter Sandman and the Toyota Camry passing its MOT with no advisories.

In case you missed the #OMGNEWRENAULT5TAKEMYMONEY frenzy on social media, the Renault 5 Prototype is a retro-inspired all-electric car. A car that, in Renault's words, “looks to reconnect with the past and draw inspiration to find the spirit of those glorious times without merely replicating it”.

You could spend many minutes identifying the references to the Renault 5 Turbo. Note the faux vents alongside the rear lights. The three grille slots. The DRLs where the fog lights would have been. The box arches. Renault even made time to add a delightful off-centre retro logo on the boot.

Rebel Run

Homage to R5 Turbo

Gilles Vidal, Renault design director, said: “The design of the Renault 5 Prototype is based on the R5, a cult model of our heritage. This prototype simply embodies modernity, a vehicle relevant to its time: urban, electric, attractive.”

I think we can all agree that it's a magnificent thing. The Renault 5 Prototype is a welcome dose of nostalgia at a time when many of us are using the past to help us deal with the present. Binge-watching the original Victor of Dibley on Netflix? No, no, no, no, no... yes.

Listen to a playlist of new releases on Spotify? I'd rather listen to Now That's What I Call Indie Classics From The 1990s, thank you. The past is comforting. There's no fear of the unknown.

Take another look at the Renault 5 Prototype. When I first saw the concept through bleary, pre-coffee eyes, my immediate thought was that Lego had launched a homage to the Renault 5 Turbo 2 PPG Indy Pace Car. To quote Roy Walker, it's good but it's not quite right.

Brave New World

New Renault 5 Prototype

You can't blame Renault for taking this route. Like it or not, we're hurtling towards a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, so electric vehicles like the 5 Prototype are the future. Renault knows that we're reluctant to let go of the past, so the launch of a retro-inspired EV is a canny move.

Or is it? The original Renault 5 went out of production in the mid-80s, so are tomorrow's electric car buyers really interested in a car that's approaching 40 years old? If Renault wants to “democratise the electric car in Europe”, shouldn't it be looking to the future and not back at the past?

French car manufacturers are at their best when they're challenging convention and pushing boundaries. It's this innovation that created the likes of the Renault Espace, the Citroën DS, the Renault Twingo, Citroën 2CV and Renault 16. Dare I say it, even the original Renault 5 Turbo.

Using the past to soften the blow of the future is like taking your favourite teddy bear to your first day of school. Holding your mother's hand as the dentist wields his drill. Eating a pudding you remember from your childhood when you're feeling down.

It's a Mystery

R5 Prototype

It's a tough job. When BMW unveiled the iX electric SUV as its vision of the future, the response couldn't have been more different. Forget the technology, the excellent electric range, the performance and impressive charging time; shocked onlookers couldn't see beyond the styling. Many voted with their hashtags and memories of the 1990s when BMW's Es were good.

Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather look at retro-inspired stuff like the 5 Prototype, Honda e and Hyundai Ioniq 5 EV. However, we mustn't lose sight of what made French cars of the past so appealing: forward-thinking and pushing boundaries.

Maybe Toyah Wilcox is top of the pops in 2021 after all.

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