(first posted 12/18/2012) The winners of the 1966 COTY award on the two sides of the Atlantic reveal much about the state of the two continents then. The long and low personal-coupe 1966 FWD Oldsmobile Toronado was extravagant, but an evolutionary dead end. The Renault 16, on the other hand, was a brilliant forward-looking car, the first medium-sized FWD family car with a hatchback, roomy and variable interior configuration, four wheel discs, and a superb ride quality. It became the template for what soon became a raft of (European) mid-sized hatchback cars, including the VW Passat and so many others. And in the US, GM eventually saw the light too, and adopted the R16 formula for its Citation hatchback.
Like many Renaults of the sixties, the R16 was clearly inspired by Citroen. But Renault was consistently more pragmatic, the result being cars that found greater favor and acceptance in larger numbers. Unlike the long, low and swoopy DS, the R16 foreshadowed the future with its tall, boxy and highly space-efficient passenger compartment.
It essentially combined the best of a station wagon with a sedan, in a highly variable configuration that was essentially unknown at the time.
The R16 formula (but with transverse engine) swept the globe, and eventually found its way to GM too. The 1980 Citation had excellent space utilization, and the hatchback body style was madly popular, for a few years anyway. Eventually, Americans decided they liked conventional trunks better. Whatever.
Like the Citroen and the smaller Renault R4, the R16 still had the “classic” fwd arrangement of a longitudinal engine behind the front wheel centerline and transaxle. It did have the advantage of better weight distribution, but the penalty was the intrusion of the engine into the front passenger compartment. Not a huge deal, since no pretense was made for three-across seating, but obviously, this configuration was an evolutionary dead end.
The R16 eschewed the complicated Citroen hydropneumetic suspension, but still had a superb ride quality, thanks to very long-travel suspension. At the rear, the wheels were not directly opposite, due to the transverse torsion bars, resulting in two different wheelbases, like the R4, 5 and 6. The R16 also had excellent four wheel disc brakes.
The R16 was the counterpoint to the more conventional and conservative RWD Peugeot 404, and undoubtedly the 404 was the more rugged and durable of the two.
The R16 was not very successful in the US, and only sold here from 1969 – 1972. But the R16 had a long life in Europe, and was built until 1980. But its influence has not ended, as mid-sized hatchback cars are still predominant in Europe and other parts of the world, and are beginning to make inroads in the US again.
More: CC Renault 16 by Roger Carr