Retro Road Test reviews by Motoring Research. We drive old cars on modern roads to discover just how some of the most popular classic cars stack up today.

Renault 4

Renault 4 GTL review: charming, versatile and very French

Launched in 1961, the Renault 4 could be used for work during the week and take the family away at the weekend

Volvo P1800

Volvo P1800 review: driving the best looking Volvo ever

We try an Italian-inspired, British-built Swedish car that proves old Volvos can be sexy

Retro Road Test: I’ve bought one

Retro Road Test: I’ve bought a Toyota MR2

Our man puts his money where his mouth is and buys a third-generation Toyota MR2 after last year’s Retro Road Test summer special

Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

Toyota Prius Mk1 review: Retro Road Test

We drive the unassuming little saloon that kick-started the hybrid car revolution: meet the original 2000 Toyota Prius

Land Rover Discovery: Retro Road Test special

Land Rover Discovery: Retro Road Test special

We’ve driven the latest fifth-generation Land Rover Discovery – but how does it compare to its predecessors? We head to Eastnor to find out

BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

BMW M3 CSL review: Retro Road Test

Driving the ultimate BMW M3 – the E46 CSL. On the road in the lightweight 2003 BMW M3 CSL – does it live up to the legend?

Retro Road Test: SEAT Leon Cupra R

SEAT Leon Cupra R review: Retro Road Test

Retro Road Test: SEAT Leon Cupra R

It says a lot about how much the hot hatch segment has changed that the 2010 SEAT Leon Cupra R is considered ‘retro’ just four years after production ended. Sharing its engine with the Volkswagen Golf R and Audi S3, the Cupra R was one of the most powerful hot hatches money could buy back then. With depreciation bringing this model close to the £10,000 mark, should it be on your radar – or does it feel old-fashioned in 2017?

What are its rivals?

Alongside the closely-related Audi S3, Volkswagen Golf R and Volkswagen Scirocco R, the Leon Cupra R was sold at the same time as the Ford Focus ST and Honda Civic Type R (FN2) – all of which can be bought for similar money today. When this Cupra R was new in 2011, it cost £27,520 including options (£25,995 before), which made it somewhat a bargain alongside the near-£32,000 Golf R.

Which engines does it use?

Under the bonnet is the VW Group’s 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, producing 265hp. That’s 25hp more than the regular Cupra, thanks to an ECU remap, a higher pressure fuel pump, a new intercooler and a revised exhaust system. Turbo pressure was increased, too – resulting in a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155mph.

What’s it like to drive?

What’s it like to drive?

All that power goes through the front wheels – a brave move when the Golf R had resorted to four-wheel drive, and most front-drive rivals had a reputation for being extremely frisky under acceleration. While, naturally, the Cupra R is happy to light up its front tyres if you’re ham-fisted with the throttle, it’s no Mk1 Focus RS.

There’s no old-school limited-slip diff, but instead an electronic system that uses the ABS to apply the brakes to spinning wheels and reduce understeer. It works well: while understeer could still be an issue on-track, onBuckinghamshire B-roads we didn’t find ourselves wishing we were in the four-wheel-drive Golf.

Body-roll is well contained – despite the slab-sided MPV-esque looks – and even in the age of 300hp-plus hot hatches, it still feels very quick. Power delivery is linear, with oodles of torque available from around 2,500rpm.

Reliability and running costs

The Cupra R is too new for any big reliability issues to come to light, but it should be a fairly safe bet. Make sure you get an insurance quote before parting with any money, and don’t expect much more than 30mpg in day-to-day use. SEAT servicing should be reasonable, but obviously it’ll cost more to maintain than a regular 1.2 TSI.

Could I drive it every day?

Could I drive it every day?

Yes, of course you could. There are all the creature comforts you’d expect from a modern hot hatch (including luxurious quilted leather seats), while later models from mid-2011 got a (now a bit dated) infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity and bi-xenon headlights as standard. It’s a practical car, with plenty of room in the back and a generously-sized boot. Kids might tire of the hard ride, though.

How much should I pay?

This is the sort of car that might be driven hard and neglected, so it’s worth paying more for a good example. We reckon a budget of around £13,000 will get you a very tidy one.

What should I look out for?

What should I look out for?

Look out for signs that it has been driven hard. This isn’t an obvious track car, but some owners may have taken their Cupra R on track days. Check the condition of the tyres (and make sure they’re a good brand) and look closely at the alloys as they’re fairly easy to kerb. Also, make sure it’s been serviced regularly.

Should I buy one?

Not everyone will be taken by the people-carrier looks, but the Leon Cupra R represents excellent value for money alongside the more expensive Golf GTI. It’s rarer, too, and we think it looks rather special in the Chrono Yellow seen here. It’ll make you grin almost as much as the latest hot hatches, but for a third of the price.

Pub fact

Pub fact

Although SEAT continues to stick with front-wheel drive for the Leon Cupra, it did briefly produce a 4×4 version of the Mk1 Leon. It was sold between 2000 and 2002, but in left-hand-drive markets only. Power came from VW’s 2.8-litre VR6 engine producing ‘more than 200hp’.

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

We reunite Ford Lotus Cortina TV star with its owner after 40 years

Ford Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years onSome people remember names, others never forget a face. A select few of us even recall our online passwords. Rob Jones, however, has an uncanny memory for car number plates. Hey, we all need a party trick.

Rob knows the registration marks of every car he’s ever owned, from the MG Midget he bought after passing his test to the SEAT Leon Cupra he drives today. And one of those remembered registrations – FGF 113C – led to an emotional reunion with the car he owned 40 years ago.

Like many great love stories, our tale begins on a sofa in front of the telly. The show was ‘Car SOS’, and presenters Fuzz Townshend and Tim Shaw were battling to restore a Mk1 Ford Cortina GT from little more than a bare shell.

Made in DagenhamFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Seeking inspiration, the team visited Ford’s heritage workshop in Dagenham. Their mission: to drive the GT’s big brother – the legendary Lotus Cortina. Rob nearly fell off his sofa. This immaculate white-and-green classic, hailed by Tim as “a sensation of the era”, wore the same number plate as a Lotus Cortina he’d bought in 1976.

“It had to be the same car,” explains Rob, “but I searched through my old photos to be sure.” The Polaroid print he found proved it beyond doubt. There was Rob, in glorious faded sepia, wearing a pair of turned-up flares and leaning on a Lotus Cortina, registration: FGF 113C.

The Ford heritage workshop is usually off-limits to the public, so Rob contacted Motoring Research – having seen our gallery feature on the Dagenham collection. A few excited emails later, Rob had a date in Dagenham. Even better, it was on his birthday.

From road to racetrackFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Before our heart-warming ‘boy meets car’ moment, a few words on the Lotus Cortina. This skunkworks special was launched in 1963 and is arguably the first fast Ford. It packs a 106hp 1.6-litre Lotus engine and close-ratio Ford gearbox, clothed in lightweight alloy panels.

Tipping the scales at just 826kg, the Lotus Cortina reached 60mph in 9.9 seconds, plus a top speed of 108mph. It was an instant hit on the racetrack, with Jim Clark winning the British Saloon Car title in 1964, then Alan Mann Racing clinching the European title in 1965.

A total of 3,301 Mk1 Lotus Cortinas were built before the squarer Mk2 arrived in 1967. By this point, well-publicised reliability problems and the launch of the Escort Twin Cam meant the Cortina’s star was fading. But it has gone supernova since, with prices for concours examples stretching well into six figures.

Show some appreciationFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Rob negotiated a rather better deal. “I paid £370 for my Cortina,” he laughs, “then sold it for £500 eight months later. I didn’t own it long as I kept having problems with the starter motor. The ring gears would slip or jam – I ended up replacing them about once a month.”

There are no such issues when, four decades on, Rob twists the key of his old car. The twin-cam engine bursts raucously into life, its throaty bark reverberating off the walls of Ford’s workshop – a huge warehouse that used to be a truck factory. Rob’s smile says it all.

“This brings it all back,” he beams. “I was a Lotus fanatic, but I couldn’t afford an Elan – so this was my dream car at the time. It’s been lowered a couple of inches since I owned it, but otherwise nothing much has changed.”

For the custodians of Ford’s heritage fleet, Rob’s visit provides a valuable chance to fill in the blanks about this Cortina’s history. “We don’t know much about the car before it came to us,” they admit.

A Christmas crashFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

One story in particular raises a few eyebrows. “Yeah, I crashed it,” admits Rob. “I’d just finished my Christmas shopping. I pulled out of a pub car park in Newbury [sober, he adds] and got sideswiped by an Austin 1100. It ploughed into the nearside wing and I ended up paying a £25 fine as it was his right of way.”

On the rain-drenched roads of Dagenham, Rob is being extra-careful: “I didn’t want to push it in the wet. I’m very conscious the car is worth a few quid more than when I owned it.”

It’s clear Rob loves being back behind the skinny wooden wheel, though. “It’s just lovely. I remember that twin-cam sound – and the smell. But the steering is so heavy compared to a modern car. You need muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger to do a three-point turn.”

A great motoring memoryFord Lotus Cortina TV star reunited with owner 40 years on

Rob has owned many cars over the past 40 years, including several self-built Ginetta sports cars, but the Cortina is the one he wishes he’d kept. “Just being back behind the wheel felt special. I’d have another, definitely. I just need to discover one in a barn.”

Seeing Rob reunited with his Lotus Cortina reaffirmed our belief that cars are more than mere transport. They bookend periods in our lives, our memories of past journeys and destinations inexorably linked to the vehicles we travelled in.

For Rob, driving the car he owned in 1976 is the closest he’ll get to time travel. And unlike his flares, the Lotus Cortina hasn’t aged a day.

Renault 5 GT Turbo

Renault 5 GT Turbo review: Retro Road Test

Renault 5 GT TurboWhen I was 17, there were two things I yearned for: a girlfriend and a Renault 5 GT Turbo. I eventually acquired the former (credit: Dutch courage and Clearasil), but the latter slipped through my fingers.

Fast-forward two decades and the fast Five is no longer the darling of sex-starved teenagers, Maxers and TWOCers: it’s now a bona fide classic car. And with prices for 80s hot hatches spiralling skywards, now is the time to buy.

This 1989 Phase Two GT Turbo belongs to Renault UK and must be one of the few completely standard examples left. As it emerged from the delivery truck, squat and perfectly proportioned, the excitement in the MR office was palpable. How would it measure up on the road? Can a 122hp hatchback still excite in 2017? Or is the Supercinq, like an inexpedient ex, better left in the past?

What are its rivals?

Think ‘1980s hot hatches’ and one car above all comes to mind: the Peugeot 205 GTI. However, for all the 205’s fleet-footed brilliance, the standard (1.6-litre) version is outgunned by the GT Turbo for power and acceleration. And the Renault is cheaper to buy. More on that later.

Other competitors for what Car magazine frequently called the ‘hot hatch crown’ included the Ford Fiesta XR2, Fiat Uno Turbo and Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk2. The Golf is the sensible choice (no change there, then) while the Fiesta offers rough-and ready fun. As for the Fiat, finding one will be your greatest challenge; there are just two for sale in the UK at the time of writing.

What engine does it use?Renault 5 GT Turbo

Unlike the original, mid-engined Renault 5 Turbo, the GT Turbo’s powerplant isn’t shoehorned behind the seats. Instead, it resides beneath the front-hinged bonnet, driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. So far, so conventional.

But Renault had secret weapon. Clamping a turbocharger to the humble 1.4-litre lump unleashed 117hp from launch in 1985, upped to 122hp in Phase Two models from 1987. In a car weighing just 830kg (a new Renaultsport Clio weighs 1,204kg), 0-62mph took 7.5 seconds and a top speed was 128mph. As the TV ad of the time gleefully revealed, the 5 left the 205 and Uno trailing in its wake.

What’s it like to drive?

A reminder of what good, old-fashioned turbo lag feels like. Up to around 4,000rpm, the 5 feels decidedly ordinary, certainly not quick. Then the Garrett blower takes a breath, the steering wheel squirms and you blast forwards, grabbing the next gear in a fabulous, frenetic rush.

Car manufacturers have spent years ironing out the on/off effect of turbo lag. However, for me at least, this belated blast of boost is a big part of the retro Renault’s appeal. It’s a nitrous hit for the head, one that provokes me into driving this 27-year-old classic harder than I probably should.

The car’s’s dynamic repertoire is a bit of a mixed bag, too. The steering is direct, but lacks the telepathic connection of the 205, while ride comfort is poor – despite tiny 13-inch alloys and 55-profile tyres. As with the powertrain, you need to up the pace to make the Five come alive.

Grab it by the scruff and the GT Turbo is still a quick cross-country machine. The front end bites hard into corners, pulling the rear around neatly with barely a hint of body-roll. Commit yourself and it will cock an inside wheel in classic 80s hot hatch style, but don’t worry – there are no snap-oversteer demons here. The brakes are better than many cars of this era, too.

Reliability and running costsRenault 5 GT Turbo

Funky and flaky in equal measure, the Renault 5’s interior conforms to every cliché about old French cars. Speed humps and potholes are greeted with a chorus of plastic squeaks, while one of the minor gauges nonchalantly went on strike mid-drive.

Of greater concern is the temperamental Turbo’s dislike of hot starts. Tweaks to the Phase Two cars, including revised ignition mapping and a water-cooled turbo are said to have improved matters. Nonetheless, be prepared for less-than-perfect reliability.

On the plus side, classic insurance means the GT Turbo is no longer an underwriter’s bête noire. And fuel economy of 39.8mpg (measured at a constant 56mph) still looks respectable today.

Could I drive it every day?

You could… but I’d advise against it. Rain and road salt will ravage any 30-year-old supermini. And while mechanical repairs to the simple, overhead-valve engine should be straightforward, fixing bodywork is a pricier problem.

I’d keep my GT Turbo garaged over winter and save it for the summer months. Indeed, secure storage is advisable year-round; these cars hail from the ‘coathanger and screwdriver’ era of car theft. Fit a tracker to protect your investment, too.

Lastly, the 5 also comes from a time long before Renault aced Euro NCAP crash tests. There’s no safety equipment to speak of, its doors are barely thicker than a biscuit tin and the interior trim has all the structural integrity of a croissant. This is a car for clear June mornings, not murky January evenings.

How much should I pay?Renault 5 GT Turbo

‘A lot more than a few years ago’ is the short answer. Like all hot hatches of the 1980s, the Renault has rocketed in value as folks who grew up lusting after them finally have the wherewithal to buy them.

There’s another factor here, of course: attrition rate. Many GT Turbos were crashed and many more modified, leaving few good examples left. I found less than 20 GT Turbos for sale, and only a handful of those were standard-spec.

Starting price for a project is around £3,000, with decent, usable cars costing from £6,000. You’ll pay between £10,000 and £13,000 for a rust-free, original car like the one here: on par with a Mk2 Golf GTI, but still cheaper than many fast Fords. It’s also around half the price of an equivalent 205 GTI.

What should I look out for?

Here are our top five Renault 5 GT Turbo buying tips:

  • Originality is key – particularly when it comes to future values. Many of these cars were modified, but turning up the boost won’t do wonders for reliability. Likewise, the last thing that fragile interior needs is stiffer, lower suspension.
  • Check for rust, particularly on doors, inner wings and behind the bodykit.
  • Look for evidence of crash damage, such as uneven panel gaps or paint overspray. Remember, many of these cars were stolen in their prime.
  • Test all the electrics and check for missing or broken interior trim. Some parts are becoming very difficult to find.
  • Join the Renault Turbo Owners Club – a great resource for parts, advice and discounts.

Should I buy one?

Like yours truly, the GT Turbo feels its age. From its modest power output to its frankly woeful build quality, it shows just how far cars – in particular hot hatches – have progressed in 30 years.

No matter. Driving this pocket rocket made me feel 17 again. And, before you ask, that’s a vibrant, devil-may-care 17, rather than a greasy, socially-awkward one. The Renault goads you into driving fast, then rewards with flashes of boisterous brilliance when you do. It’s flawed, but beguiling.

Yes, a 205 GTI is ultimately more fun. And a Golf GTI will be easier to live with. But if you grew up lusting after a GT Turbo, neither of those facts may matter. Buy carefully and Régie’s little ruffian could prove a sound investment, too. Time to hit the classifieds…

Pub fact

The original 1980 Renault 5 Turbo was a homologation special: bred for rallying, then sanitised (a little) for the street. It had a 160hp 1.4-litre engine atop the rear wheels, making it the most powerful French car at the time.

Renault’s second bout of mid-engined madness came 18 years later, with the Clio V6 of 1998. Read our Clio V6 Retro Road Test to see how this hyper hatch stacks up today.