We’ve had the opportunity to talk about the retrofit phenomenon several times in our columns a few years ago. The retrofit consists of disassembling the engine, tank and exhaust system of an old vehicle, to replace them with an electric motor and batteries.
As a result, we keep our old car, but it is now a 100% electric vehicle. A formula that is struggling to take off, but which is now of interest to some manufacturers, such as Renault, which has invited us to try its R5 retrofit.
The retrofit patina
Since March 13, 2020, and the adoption of the decree that legalizes this practice, many self-proclaimed “retrofit specialists” companies have embarked on the niche, with great fanfare of communication.
But where are the adapted cars? Companies like REV Mobilities, Transition-One or Retrofuture have been promising for years that they will revolutionize this market thanks to their thousands of pending orders or their range of models to be transformed. Only at Retrofuture, we offer you many models, from the Land Rover Defender to the Mercedes SL, passing through the Beetle, Fiat 500 or Rolls-Royce.
Impressive numbers and catalogs that, however, hide a completely different reality at the moment: two years after the official start of the retrofit in France, only ten cars have been transformed in our country!
a matter of experts
The rare registered and homologated models are the result of Mehari Club Cassis, a company specialized in Mehari and 2CV, which sells kits for installation in the only three homologated models on the French market: the 2CV, the 2CV van and the Renault 4 An approval that must be model by model and whose cost easily exceeds €300,000.
It is difficult to imagine that these companies, which promise refurbished Rolls-Royce, Porsche 928 or Jaguar XJS, spend so much to homologate such rare and unprofitable models. This does not stop them from offering them in their brochure and from continuing to receive deposits.
Mehari Club Cassis
To produce its R5 retrofit, Renault naturally leaned towards the Mehari Club Cassis, the only company that managed to approve adapted models.
The R5 retrofit, therefore, takes up the already legal kit on the Citroën 2CV and Renault 4. The engine is replaced by an electric motor, batteries and heating system. Great originality of this Renault 5 retrofit, it keeps its original gearbox! We’ll come back later.
The approval of this R5 is in progress, but the sale price announced by the company, for the transformation, is around €13,000. A price that can be reduced by retrofit assistance, between €2,000 and €5,000. In the meantime, let’s take the wheel of one of the first prototypes.
At first glance, it is impossible to distinguish this Renault 5 retrofit from a classic version. Approaching, you only notice a bright yellow paint, a panel repainted in white and new colors of upholstery and storm doors of the most beautiful effect. Everything is identical to the R5, but with updated colors.
For starters, we still have the traditional ignition key. After activating it, we wait for the extinction of a small orange light on the instrumentation. We can then pass the second! We don’t start in first, gear reserved for uphill starts.
The first few meters are disconcerting, far from the kick in the back felt behind the wheel of many electric cars, this R5 presents a more modest temperament. With a 22 kW engine, just 30 horsepower, it is even less powerful than the original Renault 5.
The charm of the old
On the road, we quickly find forgotten reflexes, such as anticipation when braking.
The propulsion mode of this R5 is electric, but everything else is original, starting with the brakes and steering. It is the latter that is most surprising, difficult to maneuver because without assistance, it is very vague from 70 km/h onwards. An “original” defect on the Renault 5, greatly amplified in our test model, a crude prototype, assembled for the festivities around Roland Garros.
In curves, we also find the atypical behavior of the original R5s. We took a lot of roll, a forgotten and finally captivating sensation.
Electric with box
After starting in second gear, you can shift into third gear at about 40 km/h on the flat. A gear change that is made without touching the accelerator. No tachometer in this version, no engine noise, switching is done by feeling. Naturally, you can feel the power curve drop.
From 70 to 80 km/h, you can drive in fourth gear. A fairly sufficient speed on the secondary network, as the heading is approximate. A defect that should be fixed in the final models.
Another originality, there is no regenerative braking and therefore no energy recovery. A system that would be too expensive and complex to achieve in a retrofit kit.
Autonomy and charging
With an advertised range of 80 km, this modern Renault 5 is not intended for long-distance travel. Autonomy confirmed by our test on the secondary network around the Renault factory in Flins. A reality that reduces the radius of action of this car in the same proportion. Impossible to walk more than 40 km around your house.
For recharging, the 3 kW on-board charger allows charging in 3.5 hours or 5 hours from a conventional domestic socket. The approved battery is 10.7 kWh.
Note that the weight of this Renault 5 is equivalent to that of the original R5, within 90 kilos.
This R5 is ultimately very captivating. We keep what makes the old cars special, like the atmosphere, the behavior, the performances, we only lose… the soundtrack and the range of action. Concessions that seem minimal compared to the price. Even with a retrofit bonus, the transformation will cost around €10,000.
In a popular vehicle whose rating remains modest, this represents a hefty investment. If you first have to buy an R5 in good condition to have it equipped, count on a good €20,000 in help deducted. The price to pay to be able to drive anywhere, in silence.