So Renault has decided to plug the performance gap with a new engine, displacing 2.0-litres but turbocharged to produce 165bhp. This offers a useful boost in power over the normally-aspirated 2.0-litre while still offering reasonable economy and emissions.
The 2.0T returns 34.4mpg on the combined cycle and emits 196g/km of carbon dioxide, compared with 35.8mpg and 187g/km for the standard 2.0 and 27.9mpg and 240g/km for the V6. What this means is a driver will be taxed at 23% of P11d price for the 2.0T model, compared with 21% for the 2.0 and 32% for the V6.
The 2.0T reaches 62mph in 8.5 seconds and reaches 136mph compared to 9.9 seconds and 128mph for the 2.0 and 8.1 seconds and 147mph for the V6.
So for drivers wanting something a little faster than the standard 2.0, the turbo model certainly makes financial sense, as well as offering useful performance. The engine is already in service in the Vel Satis model, but Renault has tweaked it to offer an 8% increase in torque, which is up to 199lb-ft from 3,250rpm. Maximum power of 165bhp is offered at 5,000rpm.
At lower revs the engine spins sweetly enough up to about 4,500rpm and then it seems to go very tight – almost as if something is choking it. Admittedly our test car had very few miles on the clock so I would expect things to improve as the miles pile on.
But where the Laguna does score is in terms of ride and handling.
Turn-in for corners is incredibly sharp, allowing you to really point the car at the apex of a corner before powering out. And at higher speed the steering is nicely weighted, meaning manoeuvres can be carried out with some steering feedback.
The ride is also very comfortable, thanks in part to Renault maintaining the French tradition of building cars with exceptionally comfortable seats. In our test model's case (a Dynamique Techno), the seats are upgraded to offer more side support, as well as being finished in an attractive leather and alcantara material mix. The seats certainly hold you in place well and emphasise the more sporty theme in the turbo model.
Elsewhere in the cabin, you will find a six-speed manual gearbox which is fine for the job. It does not have that excellent Honda mechanical feel but neither does it feel as loose as a Vauxhall or Peugeot unit.
Standard equipment is generous on this top-spec model with a rear spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels and satellite navigation fitted as standard, along with a host of safety features which helped the Laguna score five stars in its Euro NCAP crash test.
And build quality also seems to be improving. Many of the Lagunas that Fleet NewsNet has had in on test have developed some form of problem, usually associated with the electrics, but our week in the turbo model was glitch-free.
So Renault has found the ideal situation to filling a hole in its range. The turbo version is a cost-effective way for drivers to get a performance upgrade.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £18,080
CO2 emissions (g/km): 196
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 23%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 13E
Combined mpg: 34.4
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,700/26%
Depreciation (20.56 pence per mile x 60,000): £12,336
Maintenance (2.54 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,524
Fuel (11.09 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,654
Wholelife cost (34.19 pence per mile x 60,000): £20,514
Typical contract hire rate: £357 per month
Three rivals to consider
THREE of the models here are top-of-the-range versions, except the Vectra which is one down from ultimate spec, so all come with plenty of equipment as standard. The Vectra is the cheapest at the front-end, coming in at nearly £1,000 less in P11d terms than the Renault. However, the Renault is a lot more powerful than the Vectra, offering 165bhp compared with 145bhp. The Volkswagen in top-spec Sport mode looks like the bargain of the bunch, slightly undercutting the Mazda.
IT IS pretty much 'even Stevens' here, with the cheapest and most expensive in servicing, maintenance and repair costs separated by less than half a penny per mile. Over a typical three year/ 60,000 mile fleet operating cycle, the Volkswagen Passat is the cheapest to run on 2.37ppm, followed by the Renault on 2.54ppm and the Vauxhall on 2.58ppm. The Mazda6 brings up the rear on 2.79ppm.
WITH the best combined fuel economy figure of our quartet, despite being the most powerful car here with 165bhp, the Renault Laguna wins our fuel costs section. It returns an average of 34.4mpg, equating to a fuel cost of 11.09ppm over three years/60,000 miles. Second place goes to the 150bhp Volkswagen, which returns 34.0mpg for a fuel cost of 11.23ppm. The 145bhp Vauxhall is close behind on 11.64ppm while the 164bhp Mazda is out of touch on 12.31ppm thanks to it returning 31.7mpg.
WITH the lowest front-end price of our quartet and a competitive residual value prediction from CAP, the Vauxhall Vectra wins the depreciation section. CAP estimates it will retain 27% of its cost new after three years/ 60,000 miles, costing 18.91ppm. The Volkswagen is second on 19.24ppm. It has a high front-end price but the best RV prediction of 30%. Close behind is the Mazda which is also priced quite high but has an RV prediction of 28%. The trade obviously has some suspicion of the Laguna as its RV prediction is just 26%.
THE Volkswagen wins this wholelife costs battle through consistency. The Passat never comes outside the top two in any of the sections above. With all the figures added up, the Passat is estimated to cost 32.84ppm to run over three years/60,000 miles. Close behind is the Vauxhall Vectra on 33.13ppm, thanks solely to its performance in winning the depreciation costs section, where the largest amount of money is lost. The Renault is third on 34.19ppm and the Mazda fourth on 34.70ppm.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
RENAULT has come up with a great way for drivers to get a performance boost without impacting too much on their wallets. The Laguna is the most powerful car here but it has the lowest CO2 emissions. At 196g/km it falls into the 23% benefit-in-kind tax band for 2003/04, equating to £76 a month for a 22% taxpayer. The Volkswagen is in the same band but works out slightly cheaper at £75 a month. The Vauxhall will cost £78 a month while the Mazda is way behind here, costing £88 a month.
THE Volkswagen Passat wins the running costs section and is also tax-efficient for company car drivers. However, this particular market is about sportiness and in this respect the Passat falls down. The Vauxhall Vectra is a cost-effective sporty model while the Mazda6 is a great drive but its challenge is blunted by high BIK liability and high running costs. That leaves the Renault Laguna as the best all-round bet. It is well-equipped, stylish, sporty and tax-efficient. For