Long-term test goodbye – 29 October 2009
I expected this departure to be a difficult one. The Laguna Coupe arrived with huge potential – great looks, trick steering, plenty of kit and punchy turbo diesel engine – but it was a huge sigh of relief rather than regret when the Renault finally went. Apart from a first-generation Mercedes A 140, which I loathed with a passion that bordered on the violent, I’ve had a run of some damned good long-term cars. The Laguna has comprehensively killed that run of luck stone cold dead.
How, I kept asking myself, could Renault have got this car so very wrong, when everything about it said mais oui? This is a car that should pamper and waft like a true French cruiser, swallowing huge distances with insouciant ease and looking cool and sophisticated in the process. Its sleek and clean styling say so, as do its powerful engine and spacious leather-wrapped cabin. It should, but it doesn’t.
The main culprit is its terrible ride quality. Unflinchingly hard and crashy, it transmits every single imperfection through to cabin. It’s a characteristic completely at odds with every other aspect of the car, and a very unwelcome gatecrasher to the party. It’s so disappointing that the styling and drivetrain didn’t receive the cosseting and compliant ride they so much deserved. I simply cannot understand how such a suspension set-up was signed off in the first place.
There were other niggles – the sharp clutch and incredibly vague gearshift were a combination that took some finesse to master, the joystick central controller started feeling a little fragile, and while the four-wheel steering resulted in entertainingly sharp and precise handling, the wheel only ever felt vaguely associated with the front wheels.
But these were minor foibles rather than the huge stumbling block that is the ride quality. It got so bad that my wife refused to travel in the Renault, claiming the constant fidgeting made her feel unwell.
The Laguna Coupe is an opportunity that’s been missed by a mile. It has the pace, the style, the character and the versatility to elevate it far higher than its mainstream badge might suggest. But this is a good car that has been ruined by one insurmountable flaw. Which is why after 5969 miles I am glad to see the back of it.
By Ben Whitworth
Since last report
£120.46 (this month)
Style, four-wheel steer agility, equipment levels, scarcity
Intolerably hard ride quality spoils everything else
Full marks to my local Renault dealer, Hemmings Chichester, who sorted out the blindingly high setting on the Lagnua’s bi-xenon headlamps. When I called and explained the problem, I was offered a slot that afternoon to bring in the car for repair or at any time the next day. Less than 24 hours later – after receiving a handy text message reminder of my appointment time – I was handing the Laguna’s key card over to Natalie Bevis in the Hemmings service centre and being offered a cup of coffee.
The coffee was awful, but the service was good – quick, on time and with the added bonus that as well as having its headlamp height reset, the Laguna had also received a minor software upgrade after the diagnostic equipment flashed up a necessary update. Everything was covered under warranty and that was the end of that. Pity the diagnostic couldn’t sort out the Laguna’s shoddy ride quality as easily as some errant headlamps.
Interestingly, I could see no other Coupés on the forecourt or in the service bays. And given the combination of the current economic climate and the Coupé’s price range (mine weighs in at £27,555) that’s hardly surprising. I did a quick search on Autotrader, and as expected, Laguna Coupés were few and far between. I did however find an identically specced car to mine for sale with less that 3500 miles on the clock with a £18,290 price tag. That’s over £9k lost in less than a year. Ouch.
By Ben Whitworth
While I love the Laguna’s sleek styling, punchy engine and four-wheel steer agility, its unyielding and jagged ride quality is as annoying as it is frustrating. If you clapped eyes on the Laguna Coupe for the first time, you’d guess that it was a fast and handsome GT cruiser, capable of covering ground quickly and effortlessly. Right? Horribly wrong. The problem is that instead of the anticipated compliant and loping ride quality, a typically Gallic suspension set-up to smooth away even the most acned of roads, the Laguna Coupe feels stiff-jointed and abrupt – an unwelcome facet completely at odds with the car’s character.
This should be a laidback cruiser, a soothing and cocooning coupe that majors on comfort and style. The lines say so. The refined and punchy turbo diesel engine says so. The well appointed leather-wrapped cabin says so. Truth is, it’s everything but. I knew it was bad, but it wasn’t until my wife colourfully cursed the car’s fidgety ride quality last week– the constant jiggling makes her feel queasy on even the shortest trip – that I realised just how unforgiving the concrete spring and damper set-up is. And as a result, everything not tied down in the cabin – loose change, oddments in the door bins, cd boxes and people – gets bounced, rattled and shaken over every intrusion. I’m pretty sure that as a result of the hard ride, the Laguna Coupe’s cabin will soon chirp and squeak more than a box of crickets.
I simply don’t understand Renault’s reasoning behind the car’s way-too-hard set-up. It may be lovely to look at but there’s not much pleasure to be had from driving it. I so wanted the Laguna Coupe to be a great car, a gem hidden deep within the mainstream dross. Disappointment beckons…
By Ben Whitworth
Look at the Laguna Coupe, squint your eyes – a little more – and there’s definitely a whiff of Aston Martin around the Renault’s grille, shoulders and tail. Rumour has it that the designer behind the Coupé – we don’t know who he is because Renault has a policy of not mentioning specific designers – was inspired by his father’s collection of classic Aston Martins. Which would help explain that bold grille, gunslit taillights and the muscular shoulder lines that flow seamless and tail. And why Ian Callum thought it was the best-looking car at last year’s Paris show where the car made its debut.
Kudos to Renault for resisting the temptation to slap badging and rubbing strips all over the Coupé. Bar the Renault script on the bootlid, its sheetmetal is bereft of decoration. This harmonious and balanced look is enhanced by the split twin exhaust pipes and the tidy light housings – there are no front fog lights or side repeater lights.
It will be a rare sight on our roads. Renault has sold just 345 Coupes to date, which might explain why the driver of the only other two-door Laguna I’ve seen waved frantically at me as if I was some lost relative. Very uncool for such a cool car…
By Ben Whitworth
Renault’s design department just can’t win. Under erstwhile design boss Patrick Le Quément its cars were slammed for being too avantgarde for mass mainstream appeal. So it took a step back – in retrospect, a step too far – and now its current crop of models suffers from a brand blandness that in these tricky times verges on the suicidal. Sole exception is the new Laguna Coupe. We first saw it as the 2004 Fluence concept car and it’s now in showrooms looking as if it just stepped of the motorshow plinth.
And a fine thing it is to look at, too. Featuring bespoke architecture – a shorter wheelbase and wider tracks – and unique sheetmetal, the Laguna Coupe looks sleek and clean with hints of Aston Martin around the nose and tail. The Coupe design was penned in right from the start to be the halo model in the Laguna line-up. Pity then, that it’s burdened with the Laguna name. As cruel as it sounds, I reckon the Coupe would have been a stronger sales proposition as a stand-alone model. But then I’m just a journalist, and not a marketing guru on a full-fat salary, so what do I know…
So it looks good from the outside and it maintains its upper-echelon status when you swing open those big frameless doors. Although the surprisingly spacious cabin is lifted largely from the saloon, the neat detailing, generous swathes of ribbed black leather, soft-touch plastics and brushed metal finish successfully lifts the cabin, helped by the sumptuous GT spec. This adds Renault’s 4Control four-wheel steering, an automatic parking brake, cruise control, and handsfree key card to the already generous standard equipment level, that includes 18-inch alloys, climate control, bi-xenon lamps and Bluetooth. Further options include Mercury silver metallic paint (£395) and the uprated three-dimensional sat-nav, which also includes a fabulously powerful ten-speaker Bose sound system (£2200).
Although the flagship V6 petrol and diesel engines will get the headlines, anyone who has ever heard of depreciation will go for one the four-cylinder models – which is why we went for the 2.0dCi option. Key figures are £24,960, 180bhp at 3750rpm, 295lb ft at 2000rpm, 8.5 seconds to 60mph, 138mph maximum speed, CO2 172g/km and 43.4mpg on the combined cycle. Throw in the GT spec and our options and you have a £27,555 price tag – steep for a Renault.
Initial driving impressions are strong – the engine feels muscular and pulls hard above 2000rpm and the agility of the four-wheel-steer system is impressive, allowing you to slice through bends with real keenness and enthusiasm. A pity this is let down by a brittle ride quality, inert steering and a baggy shift quality. The Coupe has six months to win me over. On looks alone, it’s off to a damn good start.
By Ben Whitworth