Motoring Road Test: Renault Sport Spider

You drive Renault's new Spider at your peril. The dash-top deflector that substitutes for a windscreen sweeps airborne midges and spray harmlessly over your head. And it does nothing to protect against flying stones and bumble bees. Even a moth becomes a blinding missile at 80mph. Ideally, you need to tog up like a motorcyclist in this uncompromising, back-to- basics sports car.

The absence of a windscreen is one of the more bizarre features of the mid-engined Spider, built in small numbers at Renault's Alpine works in Dieppe. As there is no hood or heater, either, the Spider's role as serious transport is even more limited than that of the primitive Caterham (nee Lotus) Seven. Renault sees it as a street-legal race car, as a "single- seater for two". Expect to see 30 tweaked and lightened cars in the Spider Cup, starting at Donington on 8 April.

Although inspired by the Lancia Stratos, Ferrari Dino and Lotus Seven, there is nothing retrogressive about its aluminium chassis or attention- grabbing bodywork, fashioned in composite polyester. Its suspension, brakes and 150 horsepower 2.0-litre twin-cam engine (lifted straight from the Clio Williams) are bang up to date, too.

By supercar standards, the wide and surprisingly hefty Spider is not sensationally fast. Acceleration is brisk rather than brutal, reflecting a modest power-to-weight ratio. Phenomenal handling, cornering and braking make it swift and entertaining. Steering is supersensitive and uncorrupted by power assistance. Ditto the heavy brake. Metal-to-metal suspension joints provide the sort of tactile feedback normally found only in karts and racing cars. Civilised sports coupes like Rover's mollycoddling F- type don't get close for raw, masochistic fun. It remains to be seen whether the upcoming Lotus Elise is a worthy challenger.

Screenless left-handed Spiders will be on sale in Britain soon. If you want right-hand drive (and windscreen/hood protection), you'll have to wait a little longer - and pay a bit more.

Specifications

Renault Sport Spider, approx pounds 25,000 Engine: 2.0 litres, four cylinders, 16 valves, 150bhp at 60OOrpm (180bhp for racer). Five-speed manual gearbox (six-speed on racer), rear-wheel drive. Top speed 134mph, 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds, fuel consumption 32.5mpg.

Rivals

Caterham Seven 2.OVXi, pounds 20,700 (less as kit)

Fiat Barchetta, pounds 13,995 (left-hand drive)

Lotus Elise (price of imminent new model not yet known)

MG F 1.8VVC, pounds 17,995

Morgan Plus Four, pounds 21,896

TVR Chimera 4.0, pounds 29,450

Westfield 2.Oi ZEi 220, pounds 21,450

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