Renault’s Design Rationalism: 1986 R21 Analysed

We get the slide rule out on Renault’s mid-80’s midliner.

1990 Renault 21 profile

To finish the French part of this discussion, here is the 1986 Renault 21. While there is some room for interpretation in the exact angle of these lines, the overall theme is clear. Parallel lines govern the bodyside. They are almost equally spaced too. The apex of the triangle formed by the windscreen and rear window is almost symmetrically located. Both of these characters indicate a lack of underlying dynamism in this car. Notice a faint nod to aerodynamism in the partly covered rear wheel arch.

Images of this are so rare I had to use this one with the dumb logo planted on the middle of the door.
Images of this are so rare I had to use this one with the dumb logo planted on the middle of the door.

It’s not un-coincidental that there are very few side profiles of this car and the Google images search quickly runs dry. In comparison both the 405 and BX have a vibrant net presence. The message here is that Renault’s design is severe without any noticeable accent. That’s rationalism taken too far: it is off-putting and uninteresting while the 405, BX and 80 continued to fascinate.

Does this car remind anyone of the Nissan Sunny estate we discussed in November? I think it may be irrational to be solely rational: people like a bit of emotion.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

10 thoughts on “Renault’s Design Rationalism: 1986 R21 Analysed”

  1. This, along with the first generation of Nissan Almera, may very well be the most boring car I know. And I don’t use that term lightly, mind you. I actually am no BX fan whatsoever, bot compared to this it really as all the appeal of the love child of an SM and a CX.

    ‘The car as a domestic appliance.’

  2. The R21 was a a little dull to look at but a rather nice car to drive – if not as perky as a 405/BX. The estate version was considered quite desirable around my neck of the woods during the late 1980’s. A design oddity of the 21 was the fact that the wheelbase lengths differed according to which engine the model was fitted with. I recall the turbo edition was a bit of a road burner in its day too.

    Looking at the side profile here, I was struck by one design detail. Is this an early version of the floating boot lid motif beloved of BMW and so many others subsequently?

  3. Is the pictured car not, in fact, the desirable Turbo version? And I’m not being facetious. It, and its Quadra version, were supposedly very good.

  4. It is indeed the Turbo version. Shame there are so few decent pictures of the base, pre-facelift model, which to me isn’t without merits, even though it epitomizes Renault shift to hard-core modernist styling in the mid-80’s – albeit in a less accomplished package than the contemporary R25.
    Some people like to refer to ‘domestic appliances’ and probably think fridge or washing machine. For me the references are more to be found in consumer electronics e.g. a Sony portable tape deck, or an Atari ST…

  5. Also Richard’s analysis of the car’s lines made me realise how similar the glasshouse is to that of the final version Audi 80 B2, which was about to make way to the glorious B3 by the time Renault launched the R21…

  6. I am not quite sure, but was the R21 not a result of the creative gap between the eras of Robert Opron and Patrick Le Quément? Was Renault hoping this non-individual stylle will find more acceptance and buyers in the States – knowing the american Hillbilliy won´t buy anything french?
    Well the american version of the R21 was really hard to identify as something coming from Europe – it could be a Nissan or a Subaru or anything else…

    It is almost bizarre that Renault developed so many remarkable versions of such a trivial car.
    The Turbo and the Quadra were mentioned, i remember the Nevada with 7 seats and the opulent Baccara. And they are producing the R21 as a sedan, with hatchback and in a estate-version.

    as a european

    1. The R21 dates from a time right at the end of Opron’s tenure at Renault, and although this particular model isn’t credited to him, the styling at least is consistent with the R25, which is very much his.
      That said, while the 25 Baccara was remarkable, the R21 version is more akin to a Rover effort – i.e. merely adding chrome, wood and cheap leather in the hope of fooling the aspiring middle classes.

  7. The Baccara is the one version of the 21 that I like. Thanks for posting the US version: new to me. It’s as dull as the European one.
    Audi B2: I will come back to that.
    Good reference!

    1. I like them too generally, but that one was quite a lame effort.

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