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Renault Vel Satis and Avantime

Renault

Review

RENAULT'S two new executive challengers are daringly different, but only one of them makes a convincing case for itself.

Do you have any loft living, Habitat-shopping, Bang and Olufsen listening trendsetters in your company, who eschew established labels and like to stand out from the crowd?

In order to provide clues for searching them out, I imagine they will probably have names like Margeurita or Tristram, read The Guardian and eat a lot of Thai food out of proper bowls, with chopsticks, in their lofts. If there are any drivers in your company that fit this description, it might be worth slipping a Renault Vel Satis brochure in their 'In' tray when their car comes up for renewal.

Because this is the sort of person Renault believes will drive its new Vel Satis - a car that brings a breath of fresh air to the executive sector.

And fresh is the key word for the Vel Satis. It seems to have become a central tenet of E sector cars that the blacker and darker, straighter and more sober they are inside, the more executive they are.

Unlike the Vel Satis, in which the occupants sit up high surrounded by acres of glass, ringed by pale wood and leather. The controls, switches and steering are all floaty light. On a nice day, with the sun pouring in through roof and windows, the Vel Satis is an uplifting place to be.

The central tunnel does a nice wavy swoop between the amazingly comfortable seats, which move in all directions and swivel halfway up your back, while the 160 watt multi-CD stereo is the best looking unit on the market. In attitude it reminds me of the Range Rover, which also manages a clean, crisp interior.

The top of the range 180bhp 3.0 V6 dCi Initiale auto, the model driven on launch, comes with tonnes of equipment and nice design touches as standard. There is wood with walnut marquetry, leather in a choice of eight shades, full colour satellite navigation, heated screen wash, electric, heated front seats with driver memory, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, parking sensor, tyre pressure monitor, six-CD changer and automatic parking brake. The electronic parking brake, as seen on the new Jaguar S-type and BMW 7- series, is fuss-free. It makes you wonder how you lived with those old-fashioned levers.

The two versions further down the range, the entry-level Expression and mid-range Privilege, are by no means short on equipment either, and a driver choosing the Vel Satis will get real value for money.

From a fleet point of view, the 3.5 V6 petrol is not worth considering, because the diesel does a great job without the extra emissions and fuel, although the V6 is extremely smooth and powerful.

The 180bhp 3.0 V6 dCi Initiale auto costs £30,255 on-the-road with a P11D price of £30,070. With emissions of 232g/km, it is in the 31% band for benefit-in-kind tax, which means a bill of £3,729 per annum for a 40% tax-payer.

This makes it £100 cheaper per year than the benchmark in the sector, BMW's 530d Sport auto, although there is a lot less kit on the BMW.

CAP Motor Research is predicting residual values of 28%/£8,450 after three-years/ 60,000-miles, which puts it in Vauxhall Omega territory with all the other executives doing better.

It is not an easy car to predict future values of though. On the one hand, with only about 3,000 likely to be sold a year, it may take on cult status and prices may rise, or it might be another French executive white elephant.

If it ends up being the latter, that will be a shame, because the Vel Satis is good enough to deserve more.

You do wonder about the way the Vel Satis looks on occasion though. Its exterior style could be said to have presence: people stare in curiosity at the aardvark nose and long body, rather than gasp in awe at its sublime beauty. We were sitting at some traffic lights during the launch in Monaco and three boys coming home from school were laughing and pointing at it. Their dads probably drive Ferraris, the spoilt little brats.

It might not be beautiful in a conventional sense, but it is striking, and that is good enough for me.

Behind the wheel

The ride is not perfect, because it seems to bang over bumps a little too much for an executive car, particularly at the rear, and there is a lot of body roll, which can be unnerving on fast motorway bends.

The steering is too light, although it weights up artificially at higher speeds, making for odd heavy/light turns around twisty roads depending on the speed the bend is taken at.

The Isuzu based 3.0-litre diesel installation is exceptional. Renault has managed to do what Saab hasn't with the 9-5 using the same engine, and quell virtually all noise and vibration into the cabin. It is almost impossible to tell you are in a diesel, stationary or on the move.

With plenty of torque, accelerating past lorries and slower vehicles on the motorway is a breeze, although an mpg figure of 32.5 is no more than adequate.

All in all it is a pleasant car to cruise around in, enjoying the ambience, the wonderfully luxurious multi adjustable leather seats and the attention from the great unwashed.

There is a good amount of room in the back - possibly more than in a 5 series - and I could fit in the boot comfortably (I know because I tried), and I am six foot two and 15 stone, so there is plenty of space there as well.

It also has one of the easiest to use cruise control systems, programmed digitally to the last mph, although the adaptive automatic gearbox didn't seem to be quite as keyed into the way it was being driven as it should be.

But this car is not about a driving experience to bring tears of joy to enthusiasts. It is about making a lifestyle statement, about travelling in a pleasant, refreshing environment, about carrying trendy Habitat furniture back to the loft in the manner to which it is accustomed.

As a fleet car, the Vel Satis is unlikely to perform a volume role, but it offers something different, done well, away from the standard Germanic executive fare for those who want a change, and by doing that the Vel Satis succeeds.

Fact file

Make: Renault
Model: Vel Satis
Engine (cc): 3.0 V6 dCi
Max power (bhp/rpm): 180/4,400
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 243/3,600
Max speed (mph): 130
0-62mph (sec): 10.5
Comb fuel consumption (mpg): 32.5
CO2 emissions (g/km): 232
Transmission: Automatic
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 80/18
Service interval (miles): 12,500
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £30,255

Renault Avantime

Corporate management speak often refers to 'out of the box' and 'blue sky' thinking, and I imagine there was plenty of the aforementioned going on at the conception of the Avantime.

Because the Avantime is an enigma, defined more by what it is not than what it is. It has the dimensions of an MPV, but it isn't one because it only has four/five seats with no flexibility. And just as painting a car red doesn't make it a Ferrari, giving the Avantime two doors doesn't make it a coupe, despite Renault's claims.

It would be a concept car if it was not in production, and the suggestion it has the same feel as a convertible with all the windows down and the massive sunroof back is untrue because the roof, rear screen and window structure put pay to that effect.

So, what is it? Well, you would have to say it is an Avantime, sitting in its own odd little head-turning genre for good or for bad, richer or poorer. It is saying something, but personally, I just can't understand its language.

Renault expects to sell 1,500 a year in the UK through its 'Premier' dealerships, so the car only has to communicate to relatively few people who are looking for something different and striking.

It comes with a choice of three petrol-engined variants, which will limit its attractiveness as a fleet machine: a 2.0-litre Turbo Dynamique, 3.0-litre V6 Privilege and 3.0-litre V6 auto Privilege, which churn out 218g/km, 266g/km and 271g/km of carbon dioxide respectively.

The 2.0 Turbo Dynamique would be the most likely fleet candidate, and would cost a 40% tax-payer £2,387 over the next year on a P11D value of £23,870 in the 25% benefit-in-kind band.

On the residual value front, CAP Monitor is quoting predicted residual values ranging from 27% to 29% of cost new after three years and 60,000 miles for the Avantime.

The Dynamique gets part- leathers seats, single CD, front and lateral driver and passenger airbags, front and rear curtain airbags, automatic dual climate control, Xenon headlights, ABS with Brake Assist, ESP and traction control to name a few, so spec levels are good.

The Privilege models add parking sensors, cruise control, automatic wipers, metallic paint, heated leather seats and multi CD player.

There is a decent amount of room in the Avantime, as there should be, but not as much as you might expect, particularly in the rear, where it does not outdo a good executive saloon.

It has to be said it is a disappointment after driving the Vel Satis for the day. Based on the Espace, the Avantime has the ageing orange digital readouts in the centre of the dash, and just a rather forlorn looking digital rev counter in front of the steering wheel.

In fact, after driving its launch partner, much of the Avantime feels lacking. The seats are comfortable, but not the same excellent ones in the Vel Satis, and the materials and build in the cabin feel less resolved.

Where the Avantime does score though is on a warm sunny day when the side windows, with no B pillars can be dropped completely and the massive sunroof pushed back out the way. Instantly it is airy and rather fun to cruise around in as people stare open-mouthed. Because cruising is all drivers will be doing. The ride is similar to the Vel Satis, but with marginally more body roll, so straight lines are what the Avantime does best. The steering is as communicative as the average MPV and the high seating position will divide opinion as it always does.

I will admit I just don't 'get' the Avantime. The Vel Satis seems to do the job the Avantime does not, managing to be radical, yet well thought out and with a real purpose.

A prospective buyer in a showroom sitting in both cars will find the Espace interior of the Avantime feels clunky and dated compared to the delicate modern elegance of the Vel Satis.

It is not as practical and for a fleet buyer it is more expensive to run. The Avantime is one for somebody determined to be different, come hell or high water, with a lot of money to spend. The question is, how many of these people are out there?

Make: Renault
Model: Avantime
Engine (cc): 2.0 16V Turbo
Max power (bhp/rpm): 165/5,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 184/1,750
Max speed (mph): 126
0-62mph (sec): 9.9
Comb fuel consumption (mpg): 30.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 218
Transmission: Six speed manual
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 80/18
Service interval (miles): 18,000
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £24,050

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