Offspring of AMC-Renault marriage is styled for US tastes

By , Automotive editor of The Christian Science Monitor

Alone, American Motors could never have pulled it off; nor could France's government-owned vehiclemaker, Regie Nationale des Usines Renault.

But together they've built a car that meets a lot of the criteria for a small-size car designed for US roads, fabricated for US tastes, and built for the American purse.

The front-drive, new-for-'83 Renault Alliance puts it all together.

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Indeed, the American Motors-Renault duo is pinning its future on the new front-drive Alliance, the first significant outcome of the across-the-seas handshake between American Motors Corporation and Renault.

It is what Renault's 46 percent stake in AMC is all about, and it may be the last chance for the French auto company to make a major impression on the US motorist, something the company has been trying to do since the early '60s, but without success.

The Alliance ''feels good,'' the performance is very acceptable for a subcompact-size car, and the price won't break the bank.

With a 1.4-liter engine, the pickup is fair to good. In fact, the performance of the 3-speed automatic is even faster than the 5-speed automatic. However, you'll notice the difference at the gas pump.

Driving the 5-speed over hundreds of miles, many of them on the interstate system, I squeezed some 43 miles of travel out of a gallon of gas. With the automatic, however - admittedly in commuter-type travel - I got no more than 29 or 30. But even at 30 m.p.g., there should be few complaints.

The car is roomy and, in fact, is classified by the federal government as a compact although its outside dimensions are definitely a size smaller.

Making for more comfort, especially in back, is the fact that the elongated wheelbase places the rear wheels behind the rear passenger seats instead of just under it. An ingenious design provides foot room for the back seaters beneath the front seats - a neat trick. The front seats also rock for precise seating comfort.

AMC-Renault officials hope to sell about 100,000 Alliances in the 1983 model year.

Will it succeed?

When the base car, the Renault R-9, was launched in Europe in September 1981, it was an instant success, and it is now the second-best-selling car in France behind Europe's No. 1 car, the Renault 5 - or Le Car in the United States. Obviously its success here depends a lot on the economy and whether interest rates fall further and employment goes up. Too, it depends on what the early impressions of the car are to the new-car shopper.

To this motorist, the new Alliance has a good chance at success. It is a three-box design; in other words, there is an engine compartment, a place for people, and a trunk. The Alliance will not come as a fastback.

The only engine available is the 1.4-liter L-4 power plant with electronic fuel injection, which is rated at 56 horsepower. While the standard transmission is a 4-speed manual, a 5-speed manual and 3-speed automatic are available as options.

More power is on the way, however. In less than two years a turbocharger should be an option - something that would give the car the highway power punch now found in the sporty Renault Fuego.

The base 2-door has a sticker price of $5,595, while the Limited 4-door goes for $7,470.

The usual options are available, including audio equipment, lots of power accessories, air conditioning, and - get this - leather seats.

If you want to keep a check on the ''state of the car,'' the Systems Sentry will monitor the engine oil, coolant, brake fluid, power-steering fluid, and transaxle fluid, while a keyless-entry system uses a key-chain-mounted infrared light beam to unlock the doors.

The Alliance should be a tough competitor in the sales race if the company can get the potential new-car buyer into the showroom to test it. Renault is still laboring in the United States for the serious attention of the American car buyer.

Renault is the largest carmaker in France, with about 40 percent of the French car market and 15 or 16 percent of European Common Market auto sales. In Spain, the company has about one-third of the total auto market.

So far in the US, however, its market share has been minuscule.

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