The last large French car to make any lasting international impact was probably the Citroen DS, as France has long had an awkward relationship with the large car – a national political ambition to build a car to truly rival BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz repeatedly clashed with the country’s tax regime and the French driver’s apparent lack of interest. So, there came a series of cars that were seemingly specified for government ministers or were just large cars, if not prestige cars.
Renault tried to change this in 1975 with the Renault 30, sharing its V6 with the Volvo 264 and Peugeot 604. The four cylinder Renault 20 followed a year later, which didn’t add to the prestige claim, especially when it was viewed as a Renault 16 successor.
The Renault 25 was the next in this line, replacing both the 20 and the 30 – a large, for Europe, 5 door hatchback with a typical Renault longitudinally mounted engine driving the front wheels, of 2.0 or 2.2 4 cylinder or the Peugeot/Renault/Volvo 2.7 litre V6, or a 2.1 litre diesel, which was probably France’s preferred power plant.
The R25 was new in 1983, competing with the Ford Granada, Opel Rekord, Peugeot 505, Volvo 240/260, maybe the Rover 2300 and 2600 (the first one I saw was parked at Triumph’s Canley facility, now long closed, in an area not allocated to visitors or staff) and Japanese imports. Renault were as keen as you’d imagine for it to be seen a BMW 5 series, Audi 100, Mercedes-Benz 230/250/280 (W123) competitor and offered a range of upscale equipment packs to try to do this. Production ran from 1983 to 1992 and there was one significant revision in 1988, with new headlamps and bonnet profile. Styling was by Robert Opron and the interior by Marcello Gandini. So far, pretty unremarkable.
This example is a series 1 Turbo-D, seen in France this summer. The 25 is by no means scarce in France, but now pretty rare in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. There were no body variations for the Renault 25 – it was 5 door hatchbacks only, with the large rear window akin to the Porsche 924 and the Citroen SM, also styled by Robert Opron.
Of course, by 1983, Renault was in partnership with AMC, who needed a large (quite large?) car even more than Renault did. There had been the successful Renault Alliance and Encore ranges in the USA since 1982 and the logic of taking the 25 to create a new larger AMC branded product was pretty sound. As an impartial observer, it looks to me as if the process of turning the 25 into the Eagle Premier took away most of the individuality and a lot of the visual modernity in return for a general square blandness. In turn, these cars led to the Chrysler LH series, after the Chrysler takeover of AMC. All these cars were developed under the leadership of Francois Castaing, first at Renault, then AMC and latterly at Chrysler.
So, in brief, the Renault 25 – an also ran in Europe, though still doing good service in France, and the scion of an American success story. And perhaps the only characterful large French car apart the Citroens.