Monday, March 18, 2019

Renault Safrane Biturbo (1993)

Peugeot and Citroën both launched new flagship sedans in the late 1980s. Renault, on the other hand, decided to keep the 25 around for a little longer, which enabled it to learn from the mistakes made by its rival.

The first lesson it learned was that it had to be damn sure that absolutely every single electronically-controlled component found in the car worked flawlessly, and would do so for months and years to come. The electronic issues that plagued early Peugeot 605s and Citroën XMs essentially ruined both cars’ career, and Renault wanted to avoid that at all costs, especially since similar issues had already hurt the 25 in the middle of the 1980s.

The French automaker also learned no matter how good of a car it built, it would face a handicap right off the bat: a Renault emblem on the hood. This is the same dilemma that Volkswagen recently experienced with the Phaeton; image is very important to luxury buyers, and in the early 1990s, Renault was largely considered as a company that mostly made small, economy hatchback, not expensive and luxurious sedans.

With those two lessons in mind, Renault launched the 25’s replacement in 1992. It wanted to break from the past and started giving its cars names instead of numbers, so the new flagship sedan was baptized Safrane.

Early base model Safranes were equipped with a 2.0-liter eight-valve four-cylinder engine, and they were not particularly interesting from a driving point of view. They were largely aimed at a clientele who was willing to spend extra on a comfortable car regardless of what was lurking under the hood.

On the other end of the spectrum, Renault went all-out to create the Safrane Biturbo, a range-topping model that could send shivers down the spine of BMW and Mercedes. The point wasn’t to compete against M-badged models and AMG-badged models, that would have been futile, but the brand’s engineers were confident that they could take on the 400E and the 535i both in terms of comfort and performance.

Renault had the Biturbo built in Germany. Hartge, better known for its work with BMW, supplied the drivetrain, which consisted of a 2,963cc PRV V6 mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox. By adding two turbochargers to the six-cylinder, its output was raised to 268 horsepower and 365 Nm of torque.

The engine propelled the 1800-kilos sedan from zero to 100 km per hour in 7.2 seconds, and on to a top speed of 245 km per hour. Hartge would have likely been able to squeeze more power out of the PRV, but Renault engineers were scared that the five-speed gearbox and the Quadra all-wheel drive system wouldn’t be able to handle it.

While Hartge was bolting KKK turbochargers to the PRV engine, Safrane bodies were traveling to Irmscher’s workshops in Germany where the chassis was reworked and final assembly took place.

Had the Biturbo been launched in the early 1980s, it would have likely had “Biturbo” written on just about every single body panel, but that trend was over and the car had a very discrete, “wolf in sheep’s clothing” appearance. Upon first glance only a few details gave away what was under the hood: the Biturbo had model-specific 17” rims, a little trunk-mounted spoiler, an oval exhaust pipe, and a body kit for improved aerodynamics.

The most demanding buyers ordered their Biturbo in Baccara trim. The list of standard equipment was long and included a Sachs-Boge pneumatic suspension which enabled the driver to choose from three different settings. Four disc brakes linked to a Bosch ABS system took care of stopping the car, and airbags protected the passengers in the event of a crash.

Production of the Safrane Biturbo ended in 1996 after approximately 806 cars were built.

Words: Ronan Glon // Photography: Renault