In 1998, Laguna was the fifth top-selling car in the upper medium sector with 35,055 units, 14% of which were diesel, and a massive 73% went into fleets. While sales this year have been eclipsed by those of Megane, the introduction of a range of 16-valve engines and improved equipment levels last year and the newly-revealed enhancements mean Renault is confident Laguna will continue to provide a stylish alternative to the likes of Vectra and Mondeo. A spokesman said: 'It has attractive front end price, low running costs and better than average residual values. It also looks good, is great to drive and user-choosers want it.'
The new Laguna will be launched on August 2 and come in hatchback and estate versions. It will be priced from £14,075 for the RT 1.6 16v to £23,575 for the Monaco 3.0 V6 24v. Compared to their predecessors, the new 2.0 16v RTi and RXE are cheaper. Both models cost £250 less - £16,575 and £17,575 on the road respectively - even though they get the new 2.0 16v engine, extra safety features and other refinements. The same is true for the new RT 1.6 16v 110bhp and RT 1.9 dTi 100bhp: both are £630 cheaper. Only at the top of the range, where the Monaco replaces the Executive, are there major price increases: the Monaco 16v costs £1,400 more than its predecessor.
The most crucial aspect of the latest Laguna is its two new engines. The most important is Renault's first common rail diesel - the 1.9dCi. This is a development of the direct injection dTi, which from May was available in the Megane and a variant of which has been in the Laguna for more than a year. The new 1.9dCi will be available in the new Laguna at the end of the year. With a capacity 1,870cc, it develops an output of 110bhp at 4,000rpm, up 10bhp from the dTi, while maximum torque is up 25% to 184.4lb ft at 1,750rpm.
The rise in power and torque increases top speed by 3mph to 118mph and cuts the 0-62mph time from 12.5 seconds to 11.8 for the dTi. The 1.9dCi engine achieves one of the lowest fuel consumption figures - 50.4mpg (combined) - and a 149 g/km CO2 emission level. This is one gram less than that of the Peugeot 406 2.0HDI 110 but not as good as the VW Passat 1.9 TDI (146g/km). Prices for the dCi engine are not available to enable a benefit-in-kind tax comparison.
Renault is committed to developing a range of dCi engines (a 2.2 will make its appearance 'soon') and the company is developing a new family of 1.5dCi engines for introduction early next century. Proactive automatic transmission will from now on also be offered with the dTi, which will be retained in the line-up when the new diesel is launched.
Renault admits it has taken a cautious approach to diesel in the UK. A spokesman said: 'In France, diesel has enjoyed a massive price advantage at the pumps and that is why 75% of Laguna sales are diesel compared to 14% in the UK. This is one of the reasons why Renault UK has not put a lot of effort into diesel in the past because there's been so much uncertainty about whether diesel is good or bad. We are wary of a backlash against the fuel.'
Concern over the fuel's impact on the environment has led to the Inland Revenue to announce a penalty for diesels of 3% on the benefit-in-kind tax rate in the new company car tax scheme due for introduction in 2002. Diesel was also hit hard in the latest Budget with duty being increased by 6.14p a litre/27.9p a gallon compared to the rise on unleaded petrol of 3.79p a litre/17.2p a gallon. Renault is confident the number of diesel Lagunas it will sell will increase from 14% to about 20% but its nervousness about the diesel market in the UK will prevent common rail engines appearing in other models for the time being.
The second important engine addition to the Laguna line-up is the 2.0-litre 16v with variable valve timing, which replaces the existing 2.0-litre 16v. The new unit offers reduced friction and weight savings. The variable valve timing provides increased torque at medium speeds without affecting power output at full load and high speed. Fuel consumption is improved by 16% to 36.7mpg compared to the previous unit's 31.7.
The Laguna range now offers a number of comfort and safety features as standard. To complement front airbags with programmed restraint and controlled deflation, load limiters, safety belt pretensioners and safety-type head restraints available as standard since April, Laguna will now feature combined head/chest airbags as standard in the front. The driver's seat is equipped with height and lumbar support adjustment in all versions. New larger 16-inch light alloy wheels appear on all versions except RT and Alize.
Renault's masterstroke has been to pack the Laguna full of equipment. It's hard to believe that the new base model, the RT 1.6 16v, with all the standard equipment mentioned will, at £14,075, still cost less than a Volkswagen Golf 1.6 SE five-door at £14,605. Compared with arch rival, Vectra 1.6 16v LS, the Laguna comes up trumps: the Vauxhall costs £1,360 more. And even after the recent price drop of £1,450, the Ford Mondeo 1.6i 16v LX is £325 more at £14,400.
The Press launch of the new Laguna was held in the Dijon region of France on a variety of roads and on surfaces which mingled the high speed peage, country lanes and village roads with twisting mountain courses. Two cars were tested - the 2.0-litre 16v VVT and the 1.9dCi. The refinements are subtle to the point of being unnoticeable to the casual driver, but they made a big difference to driving enjoyment.
The common rail dCi was the more noteworthy. It's supremely quiet whatever gear it is in and it simply refuses to admit defeat. As such, it is a winner over the new 2.0-litre 16v. It provided an acceptable level of performance without being overly impressive. We have to take Renault's assurances of slight gains in torque and economy - they certainly aren't noticeable.