Road Test: Renault 4CV

Ok. This one’s from the archives, as I drove this car many years ago. So, is a 4CV twice as good as a 2CV?

Renault 4CV

Aw, does it really matter how it drives?

Of course not, but let’s start with history. The 4CV was France’s answer to the problem of affordable motoring. It was launched a full year ahead of the 2CV in 1947, with a rear-mounted, water-cooled engine driving the rear wheels. It must be said, while it had independent suspension all-round, it didn’t possess the fine handling manners of the 2CV – which could be hurled into bends with gay abandon. With the Renault, more care was needed.

Not that it harmed sales. It was the first French car to sell one million units and production continued until 1961. They even built them in Acton, London for a time.

4cv interior

Surprisingly stylish inside. And very, very cosy.

Clambering aboard is the first challenge, with a suicide door and a rather large wheelarch to contend with. Also, this car is tiny! The cramped cabin puts me in mind of my Perodua Nippa, where the door crushes one side of you, and the gearlever seems to be almost beneath your leg.

Things are a lot more charming once you get under way though. The four-cylinder engine has superb low-speed lugging power, so it doesn’t really matter which of the three gears you are in. It builds speed up nicely. Most of the time, it handles well enough too – it’s only if you start chucking it around, especially in the wet, that the limitations of swing-axle suspension and a rear-mounted engine can combine to cause real problems.

4CV engine

This is a silly place for an engine. Renault has not learnt this.

It’s just so utterly charming though! You can forgive it any fault just because it looks so cute and seems to try so hard. It’s clear, scientific proof that humans are stupid creatures who find it impossible to ignore the aesthetic. It’s why we put up with bird-shredding cars. It’s why puppies are allowed to wreak havoc and just get laughed at. It’s why people think Fiat 500s are good. No. They’re not. I think the Renault 4CV is much better than a 500. It’s certainly quicker. Yet, I’m worried that really, I’m just a sucker for looks.

What do you reckon?

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