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COMMON-rail injection put an end to all the noise, black smoke and sluggish performance that used to come with the average diesel engine.
But the engineering breakthrough also paved the way for a raft of dramatic developments in technology which have given drivers the best of both worlds in performance and economy.
As well as developing successful engines for the track – having just notched up its second consecutive Formula One world championship – Renault has also driven to pole position in the race to offer the most prodigious power output for diesel engines in the upper-medium sector.
The French firm’s latest 2.0-litre dCi engine has a 175bhp punch – a significant improvement on the 155bhp produced by Ford’s range-topping 2.2-litre TDCi in the Mondeo and ahead of Volkswagen’s 170bhp 2.0 TDI Passat.
Called M9R, the engine’s first showing is in a new flagship version of the Laguna, the GT 175, which has joined the Fleet News long-term test fleet in Sport Tourer form.
Developed at a cost of €500 million with the help of alliance partner Nissan, the unit is claimed to provide much of the driving pleasure enjoyed with petrol engines while also boasting average fuel economy of 44.8mpg along with correspondingly low CO2 emissions of 164g/km – placing it in the 22% benefit-in-kind tax bracket.
Due to its high output, it has twin balancer shafts to help limit vibration at higher speeds. Pre-injection and a twin-mass damping flywheel are also used to reduce noise levels. But how does all the technology shape up on the road?
So far, impressions are favourable. That’s no surprise, considering the immense amount of torque available – 265lb-ft from just 1,750rpm means the Laguna has more pull than the slingshot Megane Renaultsport 225 hot hatch.
Though the engine seems willing to spin freely, a six-speed gearbox with a high top ratio allows revs to be kept below the 3,000 mark for most of the time, even when cruising on the motorway. As the high power keeps the need for gearchanges to a minimum, economy has been good with the car returning better than the official combined figure on several occasions, and averaging out at 46mpg.
With its long, low stance, the GT doesn’t have the vast load bay of the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra estates, but it is among the more stylish load carriers.
Compared with lesser Laguna models, the GT is finished in metallic paint as standard, sits on 17-inch alloy wheels, has stiffer suspension, ESP, a 10mm lower ride height as well as firmer dampers.
With leather trim and a satin chrome dash panel finish, it is also pretty luxurious into the bargain and standard equipment includes colour satellite navigation, xenon headlights, electrically-adjusting and heated front sports seats and a tyre pressure monitor.
Price: £23,650 (£24,045 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 164
Company car tax bill (2006) 40% tax-payer: £172 per month
Insurance group: 14
Combined mpg: 44.8
Test mpg: 46.0
CAP Monitor RV: £5,275/22%
Contract hire rate: £575
Expenditure to date: Nil
Figures based on three years/60,000 miles
The manufacturer’s view
‘The Laguna GT showcases Renault’s dCi diesel engines which combine performance, economy and refinement levels which make it the ideal fleet car.
Its interior is as comfortable as it is chic and sporty, and standard specification is equally impressive. Safety/duty of care is a high priority for fleet managers, and as Laguna was the first ever car to achieve five Euro NCAP stars, managers can be reassured by Laguna’s standard ESP, ABS, anti-whiplash front headrests and eight airbags to name but a few of its features.
Laguna today also represents the huge advance in quality that Renault has made since 2003 – a position we have committed to maintain with the next Laguna.’
Keith Hawes, director fleet and LCV, Renault UK
Equipment and options standard
Total options: £395
Price (OTR): £23,650
Price as tested: £24,045