Fuego: foreign at first, but it grows on you

In an attempt to get sales of the Fuego on the move, Renault has beefed up the suspension, redesigned the instrument panel, and installed a bigger engine. All of this has made a big difference in the car, but is it enough?

Indeed, there may be no need in most circumstances for the turbo version of the car, which is equipped with a 2.2-liter aluminum engine. But if you want that extra whoosh, you can always step up to the turbo.

The Fuego, like all French-built automobiles, has some of the most comfortable seats to be found anywhere on the road. The French are committed to a smooth ride. Combined with the beefed-up suspension and those cushy seats, the ride rates a high mark.

While Renault now conforms pretty much in the placement of controls, you still have to push the heat-control lever to the left to increase the heat level. On most cars you push the control to the right. Also, the door lock is on the dashboard. Why?

The convenience package includes a gas-cap lock. To unlock, you have to push the dashboard lock switch so that all doors are unlocked. If the doors are locked and then you open the driver's side door to get out to fill the tank, the gas-cap lock is still engaged. I remember looking all over the car for the gas-cap release. What this tells me is that when a motorist buys a new car, he should carefully read the owner's manual so that he's totally conversant with the car's controls. Obviously, I wasn't.

I did find, however, that the Renault Fuego grows on you, even though I admit that at first drive I felt somewhat negative about the car. My experience with earlier Fuegos hadn't been comfortable somehow, perhaps because the French design seems unfamiliar to an American driver. But after a few hundred miles and more than a week in the driver's seat, my initial reaction gradually changed. I'm glad I stayed with the car long enough to get a full report.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the standard 2.2 Fuego with 5-speed manual transmission at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 39 on the highway. The Fuego turbo with 5-speed manual is rated at 26 and 40. The car is equipped with a Bosch L Jetronic fuel-injection system.

The Fuego coupe is bargain-priced at $8,995, but then there is a long list of options to dress up the car. What hurts most are the options. With more than $3, 000 in extras on board, the final window-sticker price is up to $12,355.

Whether the company has done enough to make the Fuego a winner on the American road is still uncertain. The conclusion is clear, however: The 1984 -model Fuego is a significant improvement over 1983.

Even so, real success has always eluded the French carmaker in the United States. The Renault head office in Paris continues to show its chagrin over the stunning success of the US-built Alliance, for example, while its own French-built cars make scant headway on American roads.

Le Car, known as the R-5 in the rest of the world, never found its niche. Neither has the Fuego up to now.

Will the new Fuego be any different? As the sage once said, only time will tell.

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