Absorbent ride, quality, roomy interior, hatch versatility, safety levels
Room for improvement
Lack of steering feedback
By NEIL McDONALD 14/11/2006
IF you haven’t noticed, "turbo-diesel" is the buzz-term of 2006.
Private sales are up more than 130 per cent over last year and the trend is growing stronger each week, admittedly off a low base, but the industry sales figures show that alternative fuelled vehicles, whether they be diesel, LPG or hybrid, have struck a cord with buyers as petrol price volatility preys on their minds.
Many savvy buyers – those who’ve rented the smaller turbo-charged cars in Europe - are quickly picking up on the fact that the latest-generation turbo-diesels offer incredible torque and economy.
Importantly too, they are no longer the slow, noisy and polluting diesels of old.
So it is with this growing movement that Renault has reintroduced its mid-size Laguna hatch, this time as a turbo-diesel. Forget the four-cylinder petrol or V6.
Both were offered previously but this time around the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel Laguna, known as the 2.2dCi, will spearhead its passenger car diesel campaign, which will grow over the coming months to include the Megane and Scenic models.
The real story though is the fact that the 16-valve 2.2-litre four cylinder common rail diesel develops more torque at lower revs than the previous V6 - 152kW at 6000rpm and 285Nm t 3750rpm versus the dCi’s 102kW at 4000rpm and 320Nm at 1750rpm. The difference in low-speed response is significant. The diesel will surge forward without drama.
Economy is 7.7L/100km on the combined cycle and we managed 6.7L/100km on a highway cruise, which makes the combined cycle entirely achievable.
At $46,990, the Laguna dCi makes a compelling argument against some of the smaller Euro turbo-diesels around, particularly given its commodious hatchback design.
It also stacks up well against the 407 HDi from French rival Peugeot, even though the Laguna is a five-speed auto and the Pug is a six-speed unit. Only the Passat TDi comes close to the Laguna so it would pay to look at each on a spec-by-spec basis.
The latest-generation Laguna carries over the five-star crash rating of the old car but has an improved ESP system with understeer control, electronic park brake and equipment and visual upgrades to go with the Phase II moniker.
The updates have given the hatch a smoother front end and higher-quality interior. It’s still very French, with big, cushy seats, some quirky controls – like the odd speed increments on the speedo – but the overall fit and finish is lineball with the Germans.
Visually, the car gets a more pronounced front end. The bonnet is more convex, the headlights now extend further alone the mudguards and the Renault badge is more upright. It’s neat and stylish.
At the rear, the changes are restricted to the tail-lights, now translucent, and the standard fit of a spoiler, which is more about aesthetic rather than any practical aerodynamic aide.
Apart from the facelift, according to Renault there have been some "chassis modifications which result in improved dynamic behaviour".
In our initial 250km drive, it was hard to detect any significant improvement over the old car. At highway speeds, the suspension has that same French level of suppleness to it as the old car and the steering is direct but lacks feedback. The low-speed ride too still exhibits some initial bump harshness.
One thing that did stand out was the low cabin noise levels. Even under hard acceleration the diesel was a muted hum and at a 110km/h cruising speed the cabin quietness was only interrupted by the wind rush around the exterior mirrors.
Acceleration is strong given the car’s 1495kg weight and proves you don’t need a bent six to get performance.
Renault quotes a zero to 100km/h time of 10.4 seconds against 12.4 seconds for the petrol V6.
As with the previous model, the Phase II Laguna uses MacPherson-type front suspension and an H-shaped torsion beam at the rear.
The anti-roll bars and damper settings have been modified to better handle rough roads and provide better cornering with more on-road feel but less vibration.
As with its key rivals from VW and Peugeot, the Laguna’s diesel engine is the latest-generation common rail design with 16-valves and a multi-vane variable turbo geometry. It is impressively quiet and smooth, thanks in part to the balancer shafts. There is a commendable absence of turbo-lag.
The engine is mated to a five-speed sequential automatic and the shifts are smooth and without drama. It does have a tendency to change up earlier than we’d like but it’s far better than those indecisive French gearboxes of the past.
One specification level is offered, which includes assisted parking brake, Renault "start" card, dual-zone climate control system and automatic headlights and windscreen wipers.
Inside the cabin has come in for some close scrutiny. The standard of fit and finish is a step up even over the old model, which was quite good.
The trim materials – with nice leather and cloth seats – feel up-market and supportive and there’s a new dashboard with easier to read controls and a new centre console. The rubberised feel of the air vent housings feels and looks classy.
The car’s trip computer information now appears in the centre of the instrument cluster. The radio is now better integrated and has more flush-fitting installation.
Like the updated Megane, the 2.2dCi also gets Renault’s new-generation steering wheel.
Similar to other top-end Euro offerings, the Laguna’s parking brake is automatically applied when the engine is turned off and automatically releases as soon as you hit the accelerator. It also takes up less space than a conventional handbrake so the area in the centre console now offers more storage space.
Apart from the parking brake the 2.2dCi has the latest Renault "start" card that allows automatic locking and unlocking and external illumination, which switches the headlights on for 30 seconds.
Other standard kit includes six airbags, ESP with understeer control, ABS, seatbelt pretensioners, brake assist, active headrests, cruise control and speed limiter and automatic climate control with separate controls for the driver and front passenger.
Renault is conservative with its sales estimates for the Laguna 2.2dCi – around 20 a month but there is a chance the car will do better this time around purely because of its turbo-diesel.
However, given the strong rural market, one wonders why they are not offering the stylish wagon as a turbo-diesel as well.