Developed in 42 months at a cost of FF6 billion (£600 million), Laguna is the first car to use the platform that will carry Vel Satis, the Safrane replacement, and the all-new Espace, due in 2002.
It will be available in five versions - Authentique, Expression, Dynamique, Privilege and Initiale - with Expression equating to the LX trim level in Britain. The five-door cars will be powered by four multivalve petrol engines and three common rail turbodiesels with a choice of five and six-speed manual gearboxes and four and five-speed automatics.
In a brief test, the 3.0-litre, V6-powered Sport Tourer impressed as a distinctive-looking luxury hold-all capable of covering long distances with ease. Offered only with adaptive automatic transmission, it has ample space for five adults plus luggage, has a supple ride and responsive handling.
But versions powered by Renault's latest 1.9-litre turbodiesel motor are likely to be of greater interest to fleets, and the 120bhp unit makes the hatchback a spirited performer. The car surges away from rest with relatively little mechanical noise and feels refined at all speeds.
Operating in its super-high ratios, the car whispers along at the equivalent of 30mph per 1,000rpm in fifth and an amazing 37mph per 1,000rpm in sixth to have a claimed economy potential of more than 60mpg and the ability to cover more than 1,000 miles on a tankful.
By next autumn, a development of the 2.2-litre dCi unit introduced in the Espace will take Laguna turbodiesel motoring to an even higher level with a combination of 135bhp and 236lb-ft of torque at just 1,750rpm.
With the car 'recognising' its owner's keycard, access is simple, and once the card is inserted into its dashboard slot, engine start and stop functions are carried out by a button.
The system works well, with sensors at the neutral gearbox position and on the clutch preventing starting in gear. In the remote-control version of the system, as supplied for the UK market, locking and unlocking of doors, hatch and fuel filler works from touching a button built into the card.
What happens if the tiny battery in the card runs flat? 'In that case, we revert back to old technology,' said Dumondel, as he revealed that the card still incorporates a traditional key.
Renault UK brand manager Kate McLaren said: 'It is likely to be Christmas before we've finished working on the pricing and specification of our cars, but we are already committed to putting together a package that will make each version so much better value than our rivals that it will quickly reflect in extra sales.
'Now that the prices of both Ford and Vauxhall ranges have been announced, it's clear that we will be pitching our cars in the £14,000 to £24,000 band. But the package is based on much more than initial cost.
'While our visual prices will be as competitive as the current car, we're planning to offer a 5% advantage over the competition in terms of additional equipment. It should make a big difference in the marketplace.'