Now the Vel Satis has gone into production and an example is sitting on the Gelken driveway, my opinion couldn't be more different – after a week with the car, I'm hooked. And Renault was right – both the Avantime and new Megane are clearly derived from this car.
Not that everyone agrees with me, you understand. My son thinks it is the second most hideous looking car on the road today behind the Fiat Multipla. And I have had more than my fair share of rude stares as I drive around Peterborough (I have yet to see another Vel Satis on the roads).
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this beholder sees a machine of rare style and panache. If I was a company director and had a budget of £30,000 to play with, this is undoubtedly the car I would choose. You can keep your BMWs and Mercs – they are just so common!
The Vel Satis doesn't look particularly big from the outside, but climb aboard and its true magnificence is revealed. Even my son grudgingly admitted that it was a work of art inside.
Rather like those Bang and Olufsen stereos that don't actually look like what they are, the big Renault is like no other car on the road. Its 'wow' factor goes right off the scale as you poke around discovering new and innovative gizmos everywhere.
Even after a week I am still finding nice little touches, such as the thin strip of wood veneer on the passenger side of the dash which, when pressed, reveals a set of cup and sandwich plate holders. Neat.
Under the bonnet is a 3.0-litre V6 diesel powerplant, but the untrained ear would never know this car is powered by heavy oil. Press the starter button (no key here) and even in the mornings, the unit is whisper quiet.
A previous tester complained that the handling lagged behind that of the equivalent BMW but surely he was missing the point altogether. Vel Satis drivers are not young tearaways who want to push their cars to the limit on bends. They are older, mature drivers who value their lives and want a smooth comfortable ride. They don't come any more smooth and comfortable than this.
And the car is no slouch. With a 0-60mph time of 10.5 seconds and a top speed of 131mph, I had no trouble keeping up with motorway traffic, even the 'stop-go' mayhem of the M6.
Opt for the 3.5-litre V6 Initiale model (which incidentally is about £2,500 cheaper than this one) and the top speed increases to a whopping 147mph.
Company car tax bill 2002 (40% taxpayer) £313 per month.