The ‘room on wheels’ is a popular conceptual trope in automotive design, spurred on by the promise of autonomous driving and the sad recognition that we spend way too much time in our cars. Renault has approached the idea of cars as architecture from a slightly different tack, teaming up with French designer Mathieu Lehanneur to create new Renault concept car Suite N°4, a radical reinterpretation of one of the brand’s most iconic designs of all time, the Renault 4L.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the original Renault 4L, eight million of which were sold between 1961 and 1994. Known as the ‘Quatrelle’, it was Renault’s people’s car, one of the first ever hatchback designs, with a boxy, spacious interior and simple, low-maintenance mechanicals. 

Renault concept car Suite N°4 reimagines an icon

Mathieu Lehanneur’s Suite N°4 Renault concept car

Lehanneur has taken this functional shape and transformed it into a ‘mobile hotel room’. Based on an original 4L, Suite N°4 has been converted into an EV, with half the bodywork stripped back and replaced by polycarbonate windows, preserving the 4L’s silhouette and creating a light and airy interior.

Yellow velvet fabric covers the seats and dashboard, with a thick, ribbed chenille fabric in the rear, along with cushions and bolsters to create a space in which to lounge. There’s also a bench table that slides out from beneath the tailgate to provide a covered seating area. All this is juxtaposed with matte, cement-inspired paintwork, transforming the little car into a mobile but modest modernist structure. The polished aluminium grille is a nod to Lehanneur’s sculptural pieces. 

Mathieu Lehanneur’s Suite N°4 Renault concept car

‘I wanted to merge the worlds of cars and architecture to create an open-air hotel room,’ says Lehanneur. ‘Even better than the finest palatial suite, the car is exactly where you want it to be, whether that’s by the sea, in the middle of a field or driving around the city you’ve always dreamed of.’ The multidisciplinary designer has worked on everything from boats to chairs, technology, art, branding and interiors. 

The Suite N°4 effectively blends everything together into a total work of art, one that speaks directly to the modern obsession with off-grid and extraordinary escapes, wild camping, and van life romanticism. Lehanneur’s Renault concept car design also has strong overtones of the fictional Altra camping car in Jacques Tati’s celebrated 1971 comedy Trafic. For the film, a Renault 4L was outfitted with a number of outlandish gadgets that turned it into a compact home from home. 

The original Renault 4L
The original Renault 4L, launched in 1961

Renault’s design chief Gilles Vidal is currently doubling down on the brand’s history, emphasising qualities that will help carry Renault’s electrification plans to fruition. Forthcoming EVs will be underpinned by the revival of a familiar nameplate, strongly implying that the French company will have a much-needed focus on smaller, more city-friendly vehicles. First up is the Renault 5 Electric, a modern interpretation of the company’s classic supermini, which debuted in 1972 and was built in two generations until 1996. That’s set to hit the streets in 2024, with a bold concept preview currently doing the rounds (and seen in our round-up of outstanding concept cars).

The Suite N°4 concept, which was recently revealed at Christie’s in Paris and will be on show at Maison & Objet in January 2022, might not end up in the showrooms, but it’s a playful and coherent design vision that deserves a closer look. §

The original Renault 5 alongside the Renault 5 Prototype Concept
The original 1972 Renault 5 alongside this year’s Renault 5 Prototype Concept