This bop’s not gonna flop

‘For those of you watching in black and white, Spurs are in the all-yellow strip.’ Whether or not John Motson really did utter those words, it would have been an off-the-cuff remark and, therefore, reasonably excusable.

Unlike the latest gaffe from Renault, which has rather pretentiously named its two newest concept cars Be Bop. Yes, both of them, the difference being in the alternate colour used for the constituent Bes and Bops. Which isn’t much use in verbal exchanges or in Autocar’s black-on-white text.

The Be Bops, which are effectively the twin sons of a previous Renault concept car, the 2002 Ellypse, come in two different guises: one a performance-minded Sport version powered by a 225bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine; the other, which we drove, is a small SUV with half the power. Although the cars will never reach showrooms in their current forms, they give the best clues yet to Renault’s new Clio-based mini-MPV, built to rival Vauxhall’s Meriva and due to be unveiled at the 2004 Paris Motor Show.

The two versions of the concept share 50 per cent of their body components, a higher percentage inside and less in the chassis department - explained by the Sport version’s two-wheel-drive layout.Like the Seat Salsa, Be Bop’s rounded form offers a modern contrast to more conventionally styled SUVs. The rear V-shaped tailgate is original, although not necessarily because of its double opening system, which we have already seen in various estates and SUVs, but more so because of its functionality: an electric motor lifts the rear window above the roof, and the lower part opens downwards, while a shelf automatically slides out to take your luggage.

The pillarless structure allows great access to the interior and, once inside, your eyes are drawn to a central arch to which the seats are anchored, a solution that frees up floor space to create a real sensation of spaciousness.

Khaki and orange dominate the interior, colours accentuated by the large glass sunroof which bathes the cabin in light. A polished aluminium gearlever rises out of a central tunnel, which also houses the heating, air conditioning, navigation and hi-fi controls, while a chrome-finish clock sits at the end of the arch in full view of both front passenger and driver.

But style hasn’t been achieved at the expense of practicality. The cabin is awash with clever stowage spaces in the central tunnel, dashboard and doors. The Be Bop’s greatest contribution to the future of interior space management, however, is the possibility of freeing space in the rear-seat area by folding the seatback and cushion through an articulated arm that then slides them under the front chairs. The operation is completed in seconds just by flicking a switch in the driver’s door panel.

The generous 210mm of ground clearance (50mm more than the Sport’s) and body protections at the front offer clues to the four-wheel-drive hardware lurking beneath the skin, but not the rather ordinary 115bhp 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, found in the current Mégane. Drive is through a six-speed clutchless manual gearbox, an electronic coupling system linking the front and rear wheels.

And they’re pretty special wheels: massively oversized 21-inch jobs designed by the man responsible for the cars’ development, Denis Falck. ‘We want the prototypes to look as avant garde and appealing as possible, and by exaggerating the dimension of the wheels we get a good deal of this futuristic look,’ he said.

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The Be Bop might look production ready, but on the move everything about this SUV feels very experimental. The six-speed clutchless manual gearbox is hard to operate and vague, while the electrically powered steering doesn’t have enough feel and is insufficiently assisted to turn the massive tyres.

No matter, this is a design study and not a production car. The message is clear though: Renault is set for another design shift that could once again leave rivals trailing in its wake.

Joaquim Oliveira

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