The Renault 16 is a hatchback produced by French automaker Renault between 1965 and 1980 in Le Havre, France. The reviewer in the May 1965 edition of the English "Motoring Illustrated" said: "The Renault Sixteen can thus be described as a large family car but one that is neither a four door saloon and nor is it quite an estate. But, importantly, it is a little different."
The Renault 16 was voted European Car of the Year by a board of European motoring journalists in 1966. It was the third year of the accolade's existence, and the Renault 16 was the first French winner of the award.
Over 1,845,959 R16s were produced during a production which lasted for some 15 years.
Series production started in March 1965 at the company's recently completed Sandouville plant, a few kilometers to the east of Le Havre. The car sold well in most of Europe, winning praise for its spacious and comfortable interior. Equipment levels were also high for the price. Initially, Renault sold the R16 with just a 1.4 L gasoline engine in GL specification for which 55 PS (40 kW; 54 hp) was claimed; in March 1968 there appeared at the Geneva Motor Show the 1.6 L I4 TS which could top 100 mph (160 km/h). An automatic transmission version, designated the Renault 16 TA, was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show early in 1969. The top-line model was the TX, was launched at the Paris Motor Show in October 1973, featuring a 5-speed manual transmission. Equipment included power windows for the front doors and central door locking, features previously unknown on family cars in Europe.
Production of the Renault 16 lasted until 1980 when it was finally replaced by the less successful Renault 20. Even by this stage, when it was nearly 15 years old, the Renault 16 was still one of the most popular and highly rated family cars on sale in Europe. Retired Renault styling chief Patrick le Quément made no secret of his admiration for the R16 — and incorporated a subtle tribute to its "bird-beak" grille in the corporate look he devised for models such as the Laguna, Mégane, and Scénic that the company launched in the 1990s.
By the time the Renault 16 ceased production most other European manufacturers had at least one hatchback on sale. At the time Renault had six hatchbacks on sale, the R4, R5, R6, R14, R20 and R30.
One peculiarity of the R16 design is that the two back wheel shafts are not in-line. The left wheelbase is 70 mm (2.76 in) longer than the right wheelbase, to accommodate the torsion bar suspension. This and the soft front seats gives the car a particularly smooth ride even over big bumps. The suspension has the longest travel on a car of this size; if the handbrake is applied and reverse gear engaged, the rear bumper will raise about one foot.
A second peculiarity, though one that would by 1965 have been familiar to Renault 4 drivers, was that the engine was mounted north-south in the front, behind the gearbox/transaxle. This contributed to the excellent handling and balance of this car by keeping the weight closer to the centre of the car. Traditional front drive layouts are either east-west or in some cases north-south but with the engine to the front.
Gear changing was performed by means of a column-mounted lever which allowed for a more spacious front cabin, although column-mounted gear changes were by this time becoming unfashionable in major European markets.
The rear seat could be reconfigured into several positions, or removed completely. The car was thus remarkably spacious, as described by Vicar in Motoring Illustrated in 1965.
The 16 had no major competitors until the arrival of the Alec Issigonis designed Austin Maxi in 1969, but the Austin Maxi was almost unknown outside of the UK.
When the Renault 16 was launched, rumours of industrial espionage on Citroën's project F abounded but were unproved.