Renault's Wind offers thrills by the seat of your pants

WHAT'S in a name? In the ultra-competitive world of automotive marketing, the business of naming a vehicle is serious stuff.

Gaggles of eager marketing types lock themselves in air-conditioned rooms for days at a time as they negotiate the names of future cars, often years before a designers pen has touched paper.

The Americans have always been great at selling vehicles on their monikers alone.

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Creations like the Rambler Rebel, Mercury Marauder and Dodge Challenger sound like bare knuckle fighters, their names grabbing you by the scruff of the neck, evoking images and creating expectations.

What were Renault thinking?

What then, were the bigwigs at Renault thinking when they decided to call their new compact convertible the Wind?

Sure, some might associate it to the outdoors, having wind in your hair, but I suspect most Brits will struggle to surpress a chuckle.

Thankfully Renault's Wind Roadster has more in common with wind-in-yer-hair motoring than wind-in-yer-pants bouts of flatulence.

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Priced between £15,500 and £18,200 it sits between the Twingo and Clio in terms of size.

Renault's Dynamique spec is the entry-level offering and that means 16-inch alloys, air-conditioning, cruise control, tinted windows, fog lights and sports seats are all standard fare.

Renaultsport engine offers spirited progress

The 100bhp 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine previously seen in the Twingo GT and the 133bhp naturally-aspirated petrol engine from the Renaultsport Twingo are a plucky pair of engine options.

The 1.2 TCe manages a nought to 62mph sprint in 10.5 seconds, a 118mph top speed and fuel consumption of 44.8mpg. The 1.6 VVT manages 9.2 seconds and 125mph while returning 40.3mpg.

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Chunky proportions and high shoulder line define the Winds styling.

Its a departure from Renault's hatchbacks and looks somewhat tall and ungainly in pictures.

Thankfully, it looks much lower, smaller, more compact and distinctly more sporty in real life

Details like the fixed rear spoiler, integrated rear roll-over hoop and twin cowled rear hood cover bring a sense that the Wind is sporty and robust.

Innovative folding roof is a Renault first

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The key to its compact design is the simplest of folding roofs.

Unclip a roof-lock near the rear view mirror, hold a button on the centre console and the fabric canopy rotates through 180 degrees before stowing under a panel over the boot.

The process takes 12 seconds and leaves the 270-litre rear boot space intact.

We have seen small, two seater, hatchback-based convertibles before (Vauxhall's Tigra) but Renaults aim was to introduce some of the impressive dynamics found in its hot hatches into the equation.

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The solution was to hand over the project to its performance arm, Renaultsport, for development.

Clio 182 underpinnings promise much

Underpinning the Wind's distinctive panels, therefore, is the lively chassis which defined the previous generation Renaultsport Clio and that is reflected in the way it responds to the driver input.

With front wheel drive and a short wheelbase, the Wind was always going to handle more like a hot hatch than a sports car.

The car tested here featured the 133bhp engine and did take some winding up to make swift progress, but working the five-speed gearbox to keep the revs above 3,500rpm created enough momentum to feel the lively rear end that made the Renaultsport Clio 182 such a hot prospect come into play.

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A fairly flat exhaust note does little to enhance the experience, but grip at the front wheels is strong and the Wind carries impressive momentum through corners.

It's not all bright an breezy

But the Wind doesn't take all the best bits of the Renault hot hatches and add a distinctive appearance without a few drawbacks.

Genuinely supportive and good-looking sports seats are the highlight of an interior which offers straightforward quality, but from the driver's seat there are a series of difficult blind spots to contend with.

Broad A-pillars loom large and near-supercar shortfalls in rear three-quarter vision could put some customers off.

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An awkwardly small boot aperture would also make loading and unloading a chore come shopping day.

Desire to offer something different deserves credit

That high shoulder-line and the sense of sitting low in the car does bring a sense that the Wind Roadster is something special and different, however.

Without doubt, its Renault's desire to offer its customers something fresh that motivated them to create the Wind Roadster, but there has to be the promise of sales and profit as well.

So as long Renault can find enough people who can make sure that theyre not misheard when people ask what kind of car they have - "I've got a Wind" - then it could yet prove a surprise hit.

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