Why is Renault even bothering to make another Laguna?
Because the so-called D-segment isn’t dead, yet. Although this market sector peaked at 3.4m European sales in 1998, nearly one million cars are still expected to be sold in 2007. Renault wants 9 percent of this market, and while that may not sound like a lot of sales, combined with a platform that will also underpin many other Renault-Nissan products, notably the next Primera, and the new Laguna will meet Carlos Ghosn’s demand that every car must be profitable. The new Laguna needs to be good, because not only are more buyers leaving for crossovers, medium-sized 4x4s and the like, but the competition is better than ever. As well as upmarket German offerings the Laguna has to contend with the new Mondeo, Passat and the forthcoming Vectra.
So a new Renault – safety features and faults then?
Yes to the former and hopefully no to the latter. Renault's new Mk3 Laguna is spearheading the firm's new Commitment 2009 plan to boost quality. They want this car to be top three in its class for product and service quality. Which is why earlier this year CAR Magazine joined a Laguna prototype testing in Argentina as part of the attempt to iron out the faults that plagued the previous generation. The result is a three-year, 100,000-mile warranty as standard across the range and, apparently, a car that has been ‘engineered and will be manufactured with a level of quality never reached to date by Renault’. By comparison the Mondeo has a three-year warranty but only to 60,000 miles. It’s also what you can’t see that has been improved. Electrical faults plagued the previous car so three complete ‘electrical platforms’ were built. These complete electrical systems were tested ‘day and night’ and only then were the first roadgoing prototypes built. Since then, 120 cars have covered over 6 million km without any major faults. Renault believes this exhaustive testing will cut the number of first-year warranty claims by 80 percent. Being a Renault, safety kit is generous. There are six airbags as standard and a new rear thorax airbag is an option for £250. ABS with EBD, Brake Assist (which primes the brakes when you come off the accelerator) are standard across the range as is ESP with ASR traction control on all but the 1.5 dCi. The Mk2 Laguna was the first car to receive a five-star NCAP safety rating so the new car should be equally class-leading.
How much will I have to fork out for all this reliability and rigorous crash testing?
Less than the previous car. Renault reckons the price of a new Laguna is, on average, £300 less across the range. The Sport Tourer (nee estate) is also now only £950 more than the hatch, a price cut of £150. The hatch we’ve been driving can be ordered now with the first deliveries due for mid-October. The five-door range starts at £15,990 for the 2.0-litre petrol rising to £23,400 for a top-spec 2.0-litre diesel auto. Trim levels are Expression (which comes as standard with air con, body-coloured bumpers, door handles and mirrors, 16-inch wheels and keyless entry/go), Dynamique, Dynamique S, and from October you can order Initiale trim (with full leather and sat-nav as standard). Wheels are 16 or 17-inch as standard depending upon spec; 18s are £500, front and rear parking sensors are £300, whilst metallic paint is £360. Two different-spec sat-nav systems are available for £975 or £1750 and CAR implores you to spend £800 to get the part-leather, part-Alcantara sports seats if you’re not having Dynamique or Dynamique S spec. They’re brilliant: comfy, support, holding you just so, and they don’t leave you wallowing from side-to-side like the standard seats do in anything approaching brisk driving. The 1.5 dCi is insurance group 8E.
But what about the rest of the car?
In regards to the styling you can make your own mind up. However, even on 18-inch wheels and dark colours the car still looks under-tyred. Both the front and rear appear a little pinched, despite the 1811mm width of the Laguna, and to these eyes a Mondeo or Passat is better looking. Moving inside the car and you get a 450-litre boot – the Mondeo five-door has a much bigger 528 – but with the seats folded down this increases to 1377 (1448 litres for the Ford). The Mondeo also bests the Laguna on fuel tank size, with 71 litres to the French’s 66. It’s very close on interior room though and the Laguna will take one 6ft 6in frame sitting behind another with ease. Only if you’re this height will headroom feel tight in the back. Being a five-door there’s always going to be a compromise with rear visibility because of the hatch but the Laguna does seems excessively compromised by both swooping C-, and also A-pillars, meaning pulling out of junctions can be a tad tricky. Worth a definite mention are the blinds for the rear and side windows. Not electric like the S-Class but very effective nonetheless. For the side windows they’ll set you back £275, and a further £50 for adding a blind to the rear window.
What about the quality? Does it live up to the hype?
Very impressive and the moulded, soft-touch plastic for the top of the dashboard is especially nice. The whole car feels well put together and whilst it doesn’t appear Teutonic like the Mondeo perhaps that is a good thing, as that car can appear a little brash. It doesn’t follow the Mondeo/Passat feel and now that look finally works. The sat-nav is brilliant, and the aluminium effect inserts on our 1.5 dCi Dynamique-spec car was tastefully done, as was the wood trim on the dash for Initiale, though that car's black leather and black dash was very sombre. The lighter leather on our car is perhaps the best compromise, as cream trim reflects too much on the windscreen. There are two problems though with an otherwise excellent interior. While the electronic handbrake works very well in practice, it is activated by a small switch just to the right of the switch that opens the armrest. You can see where this is going when you reach for something on the move. Though perhaps Renault already knows this, so it was only when I thought the armrest was broken and gave the switch a couple of hard pulls that the handbrake momentarily came open.
And the other problem?
This is perhaps more serious. Ergonomically, apart from the handbrake, the dash is very good. But unfortunately the stylish sweeping design seriously affects front-seat comfort. For passengers (remembering that we were in left-hand drive cars), the curve of the dashboard massively restricts room for your left leg. The footwell is large but your left knee is forced right and you end up sitting skewed to the right (but don't forget I'm 6ft 6in). This doesn’t affect you on the driving side, but again there is an issue. If you’re over six foot then your left knee rubs horrendously on the door handle. This spoils an otherwise fine driving experience. The initial specs look very promising. The average Laguna weighs 15kg less than its predecessor, including anal-but-clever touches like hollow-headed wheel nuts that save 700g per car. The anti-roll bars are 80 percent stiffer at the front, 50 percent at the rear, whilst the springs are respectively 20 and 50 percent stiffer front and rear. Renault claims this gives the Laguna a ‘responsive and precise chassis’ and while the Laguna may not have the breadth of talent of the Mondeo, it is certainly a very good car indeed. A full back-to-back test on UK roads will be needed, but our left-hand drive car cornered flatly with linear steering and a precise gearbox. There’s no feel from the wheel but c’est la vie these days – the only thing missing is a little more weight under load. On the 17- and 18-inch wheels of our test cars the ride was very good though there was a little patter at low speeds, and the car is set up to naturally understeer. The car is remarkably quiet. In fact Renault claims it is the quietist five-door in its class, and they’re probably right too, thanks to special damping of the hatch which reduces the usual amplifying effect of the fifth door.
What about propulsion?
For now there are three diesels and two petrols. A 2.0-litre diesel with 129bhp and 148bhp, and a very intriguing 1.5 dCi with 109bhp. The 2.0-litre petrols are the same unit, but one is sans turbo, so you can have 138 or 168bhp. Renault UK is still considering the 1.6 petrol but nothing is confirmed. Come spring 2008, we’ll have a 175bhp version of the 2.0-litre diesel and soon after the Laguna will get the 350Z’s 3.5 V6 petrol, and then an all-new 240bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel. The 2.0T was disappointing: noisy, and not that fast thanks to the power-sapping standard auto. And you’ll be hit by 210g/km and only 31.7mpg on the combined cycle. The higher-powered diesel was better and its 158g/km and 47.1mpg are identical to the lower-powered version. It’s more refined than the equivalent PSA unit and with manual is expected to be the biggest seller. Perhaps most intriguing though is the 1.5 dCi. While you may only get 109bhp and 177lb ft at 2000rpm, the flip side is a car that weighs 1386kg and will return 55.4mpg and 136g/km. Yours for £16,350 (though our test car was the £17,100 Dynamique spec) and a very good proposition. Obviously it's not going to fly down the road but Renault knows this, knows it’s a better alternative than a 1.6 petrol and knows that it should definitely be on to a winner with company car drivers. It's our pick of the range.
What’s next for the Laguna?
As mentioned the Sport Tourer will be here just after Christmas. It comes with a ‘Super-fold’ system whereby the three rear seats fold flat at the touch of a button. And when the seats are flat the luggage rail can be stored under the boot floor rather than having to be left in the garage. Said boot is 508 litres with the seats up, and 1593 with them down, though the Mondeo has 542 and 1733 litres of space. The Sport Tourer looks very stylish, and much better resolved than the hatch and only adds a couple of points to the CO2 and hardly affects fuel economy. Also around the corner is Active Steer, which will give the Laguna four-wheel steering. CAR Online will be bringing you full details next week, and the same system will also appear on the Laguna coupe which has been confirmed for production.
The new Laguna is good. Quality has taken a big step forward, the dash is intuitive, and unless you’re very tall the interior is very comfortable. There are lots of nice, practical touches and the 1.5 dCi makes a very good car indeed. Dynamically it falls a little short of the Mondeo but the gap is closer than ever, and the Laguna is generally cheaper than the Ford. Only the looks hold this car back.