Bolstered by lower entry-level costs and moderate price increases for major upgrades, the French company claims its rejuvenated Laguna range is set to pave the way for dramatically higher sales and better perception of its vehicles in the fiercely-contested D-segment.
The updated model, launched this month, is only the start. In 2007, when the new model arrives, it promises a package of sleeker styling and pace-setting technology that should prove irresistible in the user-chooser sector, according to fleet and light commercial vehicle sales director Keith Hawes.
But for it to be successful, the current Laguna needs to set a new benchmark for the brand. Hawes said: ‘Our immediate task is to meet the expectations of our current customers with a package that represents an all-round improvement on the previous Laguna.
‘I admit the quality of the Phase One car was not as good as it should have been. We had problems with components like the ignition key card and the tyre pressure monitoring sensors. In addition, the interior was not up to the standard required by the marketplace.
‘A tremendous amount of work has gone into addressing these issues, and the revised range is the result of that effort. It takes us a significant step forward.’
Speaking at the launch of the range in Italy, he added: ‘Company car drivers spend a lot of time on the road and they have every right to demand that their vehicles are both reliable and provide a comfortable environment.
‘We are now able to meet those expectations. While I’m not looking for the revised line-up to achieve higher sales than last year, when the fleet market accounted for 12,000 of our total of 15,000 Laguna registrations. I think it will lay the foundations for our future expansion.
‘By the time the next version of the car arrives, the perception of Renault will have been lifted. I see this range as being instrumental in conveying the message that our company is a producer of good quality cars.’
In a €150 million makeover, the Ford Mondeo/Vauxhall Vectra challenger originally launched in 2001 gets revised frontal treatment to reflect Renault’s new corporate identity, altered headlamps that give better illumination by raising the spread of dipped beam at speeds above 15mph, and extra chrome trim detailing.
Substantial changes are made to the interior, which features a more upmarket dash panel, a new centre console, higher-grade trim material and dual-zone air conditioning.
But the biggest revisions are found under the bonnet, with a new line-up of engines providing greater power as well as meeting the Euro IV emissions regulations.
With the 1.6-litre and 1.8-litre motors now deleted from the UK range, the initial engine choice is from two 2.0-litre petrol units, one developing 135bhp and a turbocharged version producing 170bhp, and a 210bhp V6 3.0-litre, backed by a 1.9-litre, 95bhp dCi turbodiesel. Euro III-level dCi motors developing 120bhp and 150bhp are still available on order, but a 1.9-litre Euro IV 130bhp unit will arrive in spring and will be joined by a second cleaner 150bhp 2.0-litre unit at the end of the year.
Another new Euro IV, 205bhp petrol engine, due in the next few weeks, will allow Renault to roll out a GT version.
Cheaper than its rivals but with higher torque at lower revs, quicker acceleration and superior equipment levels, it will be pitched to take a tilt at the Mondeo ST220 and Vectra GSi.
Hawes said: ‘We think the GT will create interest, but the 130bhp dCi will be our major player and will account for at least 60% of fleet sales.
‘It will be a high-value package offering very strong performance for the enthusiastic business motorist.’
With standard fitments across the range including height-adjusting front seats, height and reach-adjust steering, power door mirrors, remote audio control and keyless entry and ignition, the Laguna is kitted out with all.
As before, trims levels begin with the Expression and progress through Privilege to Initiale, with the Extreme and Dynamique levels catering for sporty tastes. Privilege adds improved in-car entertainment, climate control, a tilt-slide sunroof, part leather upholstery, rear lateral sunblinds, a parking proximity sensor, tyre pressure monitoring and xenon headlamps.
Electronic stability with traction control, full leather upholstery, metallic paint and pre-telephone equipment and an impressively fast-responding new Bluetooth sat-nav and communication system come with the top-range Initiale.
Option packs are grouped to provide extra specification such as cruise control, automatic headlamps and turn-by-turn navigation at prices lower than those for items bought separately.
Behind the wheel
RENAULT’S original Laguna came with a GT badge, but the difference between it and the standard car was purely visual. Things are different this time around, thank goodness.
With a new version of the Megane 225 engine under its bonnet, the latest variant becomes the halo car the range has always lacked – and it is good news for the company’s business customers who like a bit of dash to accompany the Laguna’s attractive lines.
Blessed with an unusually wide torque band, this is a proper GT that is nippy off the mark and pulls strongly and seamlessly, thanks to an unobtrusive turbocharger.
Owing to freakish blizzard conditions, much of our twisty route through Tuscany had to be negotiated with extreme caution, but we still had the chance to enjoy the car’s revised damper settings and lowered suspension when the snow cleared.
By comparison, regular suspension settings make the 130 dCi feel entirely different as it takes motorways in its stride with a sixth ratio geared to provide relaxed and economical long distance cruising.
For all its ability to soak up road irregularities with the minimum of fuss, the car remains composed through the bends.
True to its heritage, the Laguna introduces innovations to go with high style, and Phase Two versions banish the manual handbrake on all but the Extreme model, which sits on 17-inch wheels, has a rear spoiler and sports front seats. The electronic handbrake works well and disengages smoothly when the car moves away from rest, and manual setting is still available via a switch on the dashboard.
OPINIONS are divided as to the frontal styling of the Phase Two version, with some feeling it appears less distinctive than the original. But there’s no argument about the hike in the perceived quality of the interior, which offers enhanced looks as well as improved convenience. And the suspension tweaks turn the GT into surprisingly agile transport.
|Engine (cc):||1,998||1,998 tbo||1,998 tbo||2,946 V6||1,870 diesel||1,870 diesel||1,870 diesel||2,188 diesel|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||135/5,500||170/5,000||205/5,000||210/6,000||95/4,000||120/4,000||130/4,000||150/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||140/3,750||199/3,250||221/3,750||206/3,750||169/2,000||221/2,000||221/2,000||236/1,750|
|Max speed (mph):||128||138||146||146||113||125||126||133|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||35.7||33.6||33.2||28.5||47.9||51.3||47.9||43.4|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||187||198||200||237||257||150||154||174|
|Fuel capacity (l/gal):||68/14.96|
|On sale:||March 18|
Sample prices (OTR): Expression 2.0, £15,775, 1.9 dCi 130, £16,875, Sport Tourer 130, £17,875; Privilege 2.0 Turbo, £19,175, 2.2 150 Auto, £21,175; Initiale 2.0 Turbo Auto, £22,675, 2.0 Turbo Sport Tourer, £22,675. GT205 2.0 Turbo, £21,350, Sport Tourer, £22,350