Review and road test of the Renault 19 (1989 - 1996)
BY JONATHAN CROUCH
If you're looking for a second-hand Escort-sized family hatchback, then you're not short of choices. Keep value for money at the top of your priority list however, and the list narrows considerably to a handful of options that must include Renault's popular 19.
The 19 isn't the most exciting of options, but it is easy to drive, has enough space inside for the kids and the shopping, comes with plenty of equipment and is usually priced to make next summer's trip to Majorca a more likely possibility. If these are your priorities, the 19 makes a great deal of sense.
Phase I - 1989-1992: 3 & 5dr hatchback, saloon (initially called 'Chamade'): 1.4, 1.7, 1.8 16v, 1.9 diesel [TR, TS, Prima, GTS, GTS-X, TSE, iTSE, GTX, TXE, iTXE, GTD, TD, RL Prima]
Phase II - 1992-1994: 3 & 5dr hatchback, saloon, cabriolet: 1.4, 1.7, 1.8 16v, 1.9 turbo diesel [RL, RL, RL Prima, RN, RT, RSi, Biarritz, RT Turbo, Biarritz Turbo, RN Turbo, RSi Turbo]
Phase III - 1994-1996: 3 & 5dr hatchback, saloon, cabriolet: 1.4, 1.7, 1.8 16v, 1.9 turbo diesel [RT, RL Prima, Biarritz, RN, RT, Executive, RT Turbo, RN Turbo]
The Renault 19 was launched in first generation `Phase I` form in February 1989 as a line-up of three and five-door hatchbacks. There was a choice of 1.4-litre 60bhp, 1.4-litre 80bhp `Energy` and a 92bhp 1.7 unit, plus a 1.9-litre diesel with 65bhp. Trim levels ranged from TR through TS, GTS, TSE and GTX to TXE. In December 1989, a `Chamade` saloon model joined the range (trimmed from TS upwards).
In October 1990, TR and TS models were replaced with Prima derivatives and in January 1991, the 'Chamade' name was dropped for the saloon. In February 1991, the hot hatch 137bhp 16v 1.8-litre variant arrived (as a three-door hatch or saloon) but early models had problems with their front suspension.
In June 1992, the 'Phase II' second generation 19 arrived, with a new corporate front grille and smoked tail lights. The 1.7-litre engine was replaced with a 1.8, there was a new 1.9-litre turbo-diesel and a cabriolet was added to the line-up in 1.8 and 1.8 16v forms. RL (plus slightly plusher Biarritz) and RT derivatives were the mainstream models.
The 'Phase III' third generation 19 models were launched in September 1994, with saloons, entry-level three-doors and non-16v 1.8 models now dropped (though a 1.8 cabriolet remained). All cars now had side impact beams and power steering and plusher models had driver airbags. The 16v remained as a hatch only in plush Executive guise. In 1996, the all-new Renault Megane replaced the 19.
What You Get
The 19 was the last Renault not to be built with right-hand drive a key consideration from the start. This is obvious when you get in a 19 after spending time in a more modern Renault like a Clio or a Laguna. Build quality isn't quite as good as the latest designs either, though little goes wrong.
Still, the bodies are spacious and the engines sturdy if unremarkable (though the 1.8 16v models are predictably fleet and the turbo diesel a good all-rounder if you can find one).
What to Look For
Rust shouldn't be a problem, but check under the front wings and round the rear wheel arches. Look out for squealing brakes at low speeds and check that the handbrake cables haven't seized to the rear drums.
Phase I first generation cars are getting a bit old now and many will have worn carpets and sagging upholstery. Plusher models have electrical gadgetry you will need to check, including the power windows (pricey to put right) and the remote steering column control for the stereo.
Clutch cable failure afflicted pre-June 1992 models and all pre-March 1993 16v models should have had attention to their suspension upper mounting plate turrets. You may find weak synchromesh on high mileage 1.4, 1.7 and 1.8-litre cars and the cooling system can leak on 1.4 and 1.8 engines.
Listen out for timing chain noise on 1.4-litre cars. Oil can leak on the diesels and you should make sure that cars with over 65,000 miles have had their cam belts changed.
(Based on a 1996 19 RT diesel) A new clutch will be around £100 and a full exhaust system about £130. Brake pads are around £25 a set and a headlamp about £70. A radiator is close to £100, an exchange alternator is about £110 and an exchange starter motor around £90.
On the Road
Bland looks conceal quite a capable performer. It isn't quite as fun to drive as a contemporary Peugeot, but the RSi, 16v and turbodiesel variants could easily hold their own on a twisting B-road.
The driving position betrays the French lack of concern for right hand drive customers, the dash is a bit slab-sided and the trim a little 'plasticky'. That said, not much goes wrong and the sportier cars are not only fast but cheap to run.
Why not? France's Ford Escort has much to recommend it if sensible virtues top your priorities. Choose carefully and the 19 makes sense.
Renault 19 (1989 - 1996) review by JONATHAN CROUCH