The Vel Satis has a wood veneer fascia strip that slides open to reveal cup and sandwich plate holders, sun blinds in the rear doors and some of the most subtle audio controls around.
And this is a brave car. Renault banked on a bold design for its Safrane replacement while Peugeot played the safe card with the 607. Renault's Avantime is even more radical than Vel Satis but is to be axed because of low sales.
The role of Vel Satis is to change the old perception of Renault as a mass producer of mainstream cars and its distinctive (though unlovely) rear screen line has been carried through to the new Megane. You won't find 'Renault' on the exterior but a chrome version of the marque's lozenge logo incorporates the opener for a tailgate that is gently pushed down, then closes tightly to the whirr of an electric motor.
It was designed for people who yearn to break away from the superbly able German double-act of BMW 5-series and Mercedes-Benz E-class. It also challenges the Jaguar S-type, Saab 9-5 and other traditional executive cars.
Like Citroen decades ago, it delights in being different. The 'key' is like a thick credit card (with remote unlocking) that fits into a fascia slot before the engine is started by pushing a button ('that's so much smarter than turning a key', said one passenger). The Vel Satis is long, wide and tall, and feels it, with limo-like leg room in the rear. Driving is effortless with a 'J' box that combines automatic and clutchless manual changes but the lifeless steering disappoints.
Don't expect the taut handling of a BMW either, although the 3.0 V6 diesel packs 180bhp, which means decent straight line performance.
Big multi-adaptable front seats with power controls ensure driver and passenger arrive fresh after a long journey and Vel Satis laps up the motorway miles. It relishes sweeping B-road corners but feels out of place on city streets, though audible reversing-assistance makes parking surprisingly easy.
The big Renault is a trend-setter but residual forecasts have been disappointing. Last August, CAP estimated it would retain 27% of its cost new after three-years/60,000-miles but this has since risen to 29%. Renault was realistic about low-volume sales and will be happy if Vel Satis achieves its objective of reinventing the brand.
On a separate note, the last long-term report was written before the Vel Satis went off to our local Renault dealership for its first service and we are pleased to say that Smith's of Peterborough carried out the work to the high standard Renault expects of its Privilege service centres.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (40% taxpayer): £330 per month