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Car reviews - Renault - Laguna - Dynamique 2.0 dCi Estate

Our Opinion

We like
Design inside and out, responsive mid range, turbo-diesel and auto transmission smoothness and torque, seat comfort
Room for improvement
Steering feel, ride, highway performance

27 Aug 2009

IT SEEMS a long time ago now, but in the 1960s and 1970s French car-makers such as Renault were established players in the Australian market.

Their cars’ combination of Euro style, adroit handling and superior ride comfort, tied to tough bush-capable underpinnings won over many Australian buyers more acquainted with the less sophisticated Australian or English fare. These French cars were even assembled here.

Move on to 2009 and the French have gone to imports. It is debateable whether any medium or large French family car can claim superiority over its competitors in what were trademark French qualities. This is highlighted with the new Laguna III Estate.

Medium wagon buyers have some decent choices these days, despite the popularity of the SUV wagon which has decimated passenger wagon options. Ford Mondeo, Mazda6, Subaru Liberty and Volkswagen Passat are all medium mainstream wagons that you often see in most Australian cities.

With few exceptions, buyers of such wagons rarely give the Renault Laguna a single thought in their purchase decision. Most Laguna III buyers will be looking at something else French, such as a Peugeot 407 Touring or Citroen C5 Tourer, and will no doubt be replacing something European, probably French, and most likely a Laguna II.

Which puts me in a unique position – for better or worse – as a Renault Laguna II V6 Privilege Estate owner. I probably fit the Renault Laguna III Estate buyer profile to a tee. I was especially keen to see if the new generation was an improvement over the Laguna II.

And while is not strictly speaking the domain of a road test such as this, in the case of Renault it pays to acknowledge the rather large elephant unfurling its trunk and trumpeting in the room.

Laguna resale values are not particularly good, which makes this car either a great buy for someone looking to take advantage of higher-than-typical depreciation for tax reasons or others who are willing to wait a few years to buy the car second-hand. Or you can plan to keep it for a long, long time.

The most expensive Laguna wagon you could buy in the Laguna II range was the top-spec Privilege V6 Estate, costing $55,990 in 2002.

In Laguna III, the top Privilege spec is left to the hatchback model, with the Estate only coming in upper mid-grade Dynamique and mid-grade Expression.

The manufacturer’s list price for the top-shelf Estate, the Dynamique dCi, is $46,990. Even though spec levels have changed, the new Laguna Estate looks incredibly good value against the old one (and when compared with the Citroen C5 Tourer and Peugeot 407), but it is also competing with the more powerful 125kW Passat wagon at the same price.

The manufacturer’s list price for the top shelf Estate, the Dynamique dCi, is $46,990. Even though spec levels have changed, the new Laguna Estate looks incredibly good value against the old one (and when compared with the Citroen C5 Tourer) but it is also competing with the (cheaper) fellow Euros, the Passat Variant and Peugeot 407.

So from the old to the new, from Laguna II to Laguna III, there is a drop in price but an increase in size. While the Laguna III has a bigger body (and slightly longer wheelbase and wider track) interior space in headroom and legroom, front and rear, is about the same as Laguna II, with a few improvements such as centre console air vents for rear passengers and quick-release split-fold rear seats. The rear seat is slightly wider, making the squeeze for three childseats a bit easier.

The interior presentation – from the Laguna II’s sea of boring grey – is much better, all black with silver highlights. The textures and quality of materials is far better and of course more contemporary. The fit of panels and switchgear appears much improved, too, and like its predecessor, the control and instrument layout is simple to operate without distracting eyes from the road. Even the ignition keycard is far less flimsy.

Comfortable seats are a French specialty that the Laguna retains. The neatly squared-off cargo area – while not in the same class as the voluminous Ford Modeo – is bigger than the Laguna II load area.

Even outside, well-executed touches such as the chrome side window surrounds and even the headlights are contemporary without looking like they have been smeared on. If you like the look of European cars, you will love the styling of the Laguna Estate. It is arguably a more rounded design than the hatch.

Start up the dCi engine and it rattles with the best of diesels. So no surprises there, yet the unexpected comes when you apply some throttle.

Like most turbocharged diesels, the Laguna experiences turbo lag, and the Laguna’s 2.0-litre engine does nt wake up until it reaches 2000rpm. Then, you can enjoy the shovel-loads of torque piled on from 2000rpm to around 3500rpm, at least when driving around town in the 30km/h-70km/h band.

This diesel revs smoothly and reaches the red line like a petrol engine, but it just doesn’t have the get-up-and-go you really want at higher speeds. Overtaking takes patience.

The Jatco six-speed auto transmission is so much better than the Aisin-Warner five-speed auto used with the L7X V6 petrol in the Laguna II. While the new Jatco unit is not the last word in shift quality or intuitive shift-point software, it makes the clunky, surging and generally annoying Aisin-Warner unit appear to be dark ages material.

At 100km/h the dCi is ticking over at just under 2000rpm – right where peak torque comes shoving its way in. Nice.

Fuel consumption is pretty good, with our worst figure of 11.8L/100km being about as bad as it will ever get for stop-start short-hop urban driving. On a mix of urban roads and freeways, we achieved an average of 8.7L/100km.

When discussing the finer points of chassis technology and the resulting handling and ride qualities, it pays to get some perspective. For Laguna II owners, the new Laguna III’s steering has more weight and the response is sharper, but the ride quality (if you’re used to the 16-inch wheels on Laguna II) has taken a turn for the worse. It thumps over bumps and potholes on its (optional) 18-inch wheels, and the damper and spring rates also seem mismatched.

Because the Laguna II and Laguna III share much of their underpinnings, they feel similar to drive – no great chassis adroitness here, but in the case of the Laguna III, sitting on the Continental Premium Contact 2 tyres, far more mechanical grip.

So throw the Laguna III at a corner and it gets around it well enough, but without relaying much information or giving any sense of balance. When really pushed, it is nose heavy. Clearly, this is not a driver’s chassis.

A drive of any of the Laguna’s key competition – possibly aside from the Peugeot 407 – will show they are all better in ride and handling.

If these qualities are important to you, then you had better seriously re-consider your interest in the Laguna III. Its steering in particular is odd, feeling as if you are steering with your elbows, such is the lack of feel and inconsistency of response. Tackle some S-bends and the steering wheel feels to be attached to the rack with a rubber band.

It is hard to understand is why Renault did such an ordinary job of the Laguna when it is clear from the ability of their small cars, the Clio and Megane, that they know how to make a car ride and handle.

If all cars traded on their strengths of interior comfort, convenience, safety and style over driving enjoyment, then driving enthusiasts would have to give up all hope.

Yet not all buyers are driving enthusiasts, and for those who are, the family car is not the one you use to fling at a set of twisting corners. For such buyers, for whom the finer points of steering feel and chassis composure are completely irrelevant when all they need to worry about is getting the family to point B, then the Laguna Estate is a good choice. For other buyers – for whom dynamics, ride quality and re-sale value are – important, there are better choices.

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