Vintage R&T Road Test: 1968 Renault 16 – A Pioneering “Sedan/Wagon” Gets A Good Review But No Love From American Buyers

The R16 was a genuine trailblazer: the first larger mass-market hatchback, still referred to as a “sedan/wagon” by R&T. It was the template for a huge wave of cars to come: FWD, hatchback, variable rear seat for different purposes, highly space-efficient, four wheel independent suspension and brakes, and more. It should have been a big success. Well it was reasonably so, in Europe. But not in the US, where it found little love.

But R&T gave it a pretty healthy dose, in their road test.

The R16’s most impressive quality was how its body was optimized for space efficiency. Although it was a full 20″ shorter than a contemporary Falcon, its interior accommodations and cargo space equaled or exceeded it. Its drive train was of course all up front, as well as the spare tire, and a refusal to follow American styling trends—unlike a number of European sedans, mostly those by the Big Three’s European ops—allowing the boxy body to be optimized for passengers. The three R&T editors had differing opinions on its actual styling; one liked it, one didn’t, and one was of a mixed mind. But the practical advantages could not be denied. And they all agreed that it was “distinctive”.


The R16’s unequal length wheelbase—by 2.75″—was due to how the transverse torsion bars were mounted. But it made zero impact on handling. In typically French fashion, the suspension was of the long-travel variety, which allowed considerable lean in curves. But adhesion with its Michelin X tires was never compromised as a result, and the shocks were carefully selected to harmonize with the springs.

Obviously, the ride benefited from that “very good indeed, with a soft, easy ride over indifferent road surfaces”, which along with its smooth and quiet 1.6 L hemi-head pushrod four, made for a comfortable cruiser, very happy at 70 mph with the engine exceptionally quiet at that speed. Performance with 70 hp was adequate, but certainly not either brisk or inspiring.

The issue in the US was that priced at $2500, competition was fierce from significantly cheaper cars like the Corona and others. You had to really be able to appreciate the 16’s qualities and be willing to pay for them. And be willing to put up with the notoriously weak dealer network. These two factors conspired to make the R16 a rare sight on American roads.

One of the engineers at the tv station in LA had one, and I got a ride in it once; its superbly comfortable seats, magic-carpet ride and smooth engine left a deep impression on me. It wasn’t that long after that someone offered me a well-used Peugeot 404, and I bit, because it had all of those same qualities but not the iffy Renault reliability reputation.


More at CC on the R16:

Car Show Classic – 1973 Renault 16 and Asymmetric Suspension Configuration

Automotive History Capsule: Renault 16 – Here’s The Real Car Of The Future