Fleet News

Vel Satis

Renault

Review

RENAULT is about to take a brave step into the ultra-conservative executive car sector with a vehicle that looks like one of those mad concepts you see at motor shows.

The new Vel Satis has its origins in the 1995 show car called Initiale and the 1998 Vel Satis concept, but little seems to have changed visually, and Renault is deadly serious about its place in its line-up of large cars.

The new Vel Satis will form part of a three-pronged attack (along with the Avantime coupe and new Espace MPV) on the executive sector in Europe, and in the UK Renault will allow up to 3,500 a year to be sold. Note that Renault will only 'allow' that number to be sold, meaning these cars will not flood the market with massive discounts to reach unrealistic sales targets.

Renault will only build a Vel Satis when Mr or Mrs Retail Buyer goes to their Renault dealership and places an order, and that goes for Mr or Mrs Fleet Manager too - they also have to ask for one before Renault will build one.

The company also wants to buy back every car to keep better control of residual values, and dealers have been trained so executive car buyers receive the kind of service they would expect from a traditional premium brand dealership.

The Vel Satis has not been designed as a large car for senior management running Renault solus fleets. The company is pinning its hopes on enough 'non-conformist' drivers choosing it just to be different.

Although the name has a Latin ring to it (a quick Latin translation on the internet resulted in an approximate translation to 'actually sufficient' in English) Renault says the name was one of many created by computer and then selected from a shortlist.

It is certainly unusual to have two words in a model name and in keeping with the rest of the car.

Renault points to the decline of the executive saloon over the last six years with a corresponding rise in estate cars and large MPVs, while 70% of the cars from this sector in Europe are sold in Germany, the UK, France and Italy.

It certainly looks different, from its quirky front end, through its tall passenger compartment, to a rear which almost resembles the old Jensen Interceptor with its bulbous rear window.

Renault is also aware that you cannot succeed in this sector with the sort of quality found lower down the model range and has upped the ante in terms of the quality of materials used in the cabin.

Running costs also came under the spotlight with the life of spark plugs increased to 75,000 miles, air filters on the V6 engines are replaced every 36,000 miles instead of 18,000, pollen filters remain active for 18,000 miles instead of 9,000 and cam belts have a service life of 75,000 miles.

Renault says compared with the Safrane - the long forgotten predecessor to the Vel Satis - service, maintenance and repair costs are almost 30% lower over the first 60,000 miles.

And in low-speed impacts, items like the radiator and the wings will remain undamaged.

Renault is also hoping for class-leading crash safety. So far the Renault Laguna is the only car to achieve a five-star rating in the Euro NCAP tests.

The firm is expecting the Vel Satis to be tested in the spring and is expecting at the very least to have another four-star car in its range or to even repeat the Laguna's five-stars.

On the sales front, Renault says just 42% of the executive sector in the UK is made up of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and there are many brands fighting for the remaining 58%. As well as the volume manufacturers like Vauxhall, Peugeot and Toyota, there are premium pretenders like Volvo, Saab and Alfa Romeo as well as true premium brands like Lexus and Jaguar.

The Vel Satis is sufficiently different to plough its own furrow and although it remains to be seen whether the measures taken to help protect residual values will succeed, it gives a strong indication that Renault will not be expecting used values to go the same way as traditional big French cars.

If so, the Vel Satis should not represent the gamble with company money that choosing a big Renault has been in the past. Although we were unable to try four-cylinder models, they should offer individuality with wallet-friendly emissions levels.

THE interior of the Vel Satis is as unusual as its exterior. Renault wanted to avoid the dark, sombre interiors associated with German cars in this sector and the wood-finish detailing in the Initiale versions on test pay homage to the art of marquetry.

The benchmark for interior quality was the Audi A6 and Renault has ensured that the quality of the plastics and other materials used was at least as good. It is certainly the best quality of any Renault I have encountered, leagues ahead of the Laguna and better than the Avantime we tried last summer.

Like the Laguna the car is started by inserting a plastic card in a slot on the centre console, followed by pushing the start button on the dashboard.

The front seats in our test cars were electrically adjustable and the seatbacks were split. The upper half can be adjusted through 30 degrees independently of the lower half which has the usual level of movement, and both front seats also have integral seatbelts. Climate control can be adjusted for different settings on both the driver and passenger side, while rear seat passengers also have the opportunity to change the fan speed.

One of the options on Vel Satis is a DVD player and 6.5-inch LCD screen housed in the rear of the centre console, which can play DVDs and can also be used in conjunction with games consoles. Boot space is generous, but despite its rear hatch, the seats do not fold to increase the space on offer for luggage.

Two engines were available on the press launch - the 3.0 dV6 and the 3.5 V6. Fleet News is well acquainted with the 3.0 turbodiesel - it's a common rail unit sourced from Isuzu and is also used in a rival to the Vel Satis, the Saab 9-5. However, in the Saab it is only available with a manual gearbox whereas Renault has provided a five-speed automatic transmission with a sequential shift, and seems to have invested more time and effort in noise insulation. The result is that with the large diesel, the Vel Satis is a refined and effortless cruiser and will return more than 30mpg when driven normally.

It doesn't sound particularly like a diesel and has a little more torque than the petrol V6, but lower down the rev range.

The Vel Satis will outwaft a Daimler, providing a supremely comfortable ride, even on standard 17-inch alloys. The seats rival those at the posh-end of a Boeing 747 for comfort and the tall cabin provides an MPV-like driving position.

However, it is not a car to point at your favourite series of bends and drive as fast as speed limits allow.

There is significant body roll, which ensures the driver quickly loses appetite for exploiting levels of grip. Brakes provide adequate stopping power, but the pedal feels a little too detached from the slowing movement of the car for 100% confidence.

Driving verdict
THE Vel Satis does not pretend to be a sharp handling big box of fun. Instead it comes across as a mature executive saloon but offering a different perspective on design, both inside and out, and is a supremely comfortable and relaxing way to travel.

The Vel Satis offers a genuinely different driving experience from the rest of the crowd and deserves to succeed.

  • Will the Vel Satis be on your choice list? We want to know your views. Email fleetnews@emap.com today.
  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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