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Car reviews - Renault - Laguna - Estate range

Our Opinion

We like
Design inside and out, space, comfort, safety, practicality, nimbleness, diesel smoothness and refinement, petrol smoothness and performance, brakes, quality, features, unlimited km warranty, base manual diesel’s fine balance
Room for improvement
Ride quality and nose-heavy feel of diesels fitted with 18-inch wheels, feel-free steering and unappealing driver dynamics

27 May 2009

LAST year, after much anticipation, we finally drove the third-generation, X91 Laguna Privilege 2.0 dCi hatch automatic, and found it the most disappointing new car of 2008.

Fitted with low-profile tyres and striking 18-inch wheels that helped lift the styling immensely, the Privilege diesel was an alluring package until the moment you were on the move.

The ensuing choppy ride, combined with dead steering feel and pronounced heaving through corners, totally overshadowed the Laguna’s class-leading safety and equipment levels, significantly improved quality, smooth engine performance, excellent economy, and lovely interior presentation.

Frankly we didn’t expect Renault to ever give us a Laguna to test again.

But while the importers here in Australia only have eight years’ experience, the French marque has been around for more than 100 years and it knows a thing or two about how to make cars.

More importantly for Australian mid-sized car buyers, the diesel auto hatch we tested only represents about seven percent of the segment it occupies, according to Renault, and that most consumers would lean towards the petrol model or the recently introduced (and far prettier) wagon version.

So, with some trepidation, here’s our verdict on the fuller, as well as up to $4000 cheaper, X91 Laguna range, complete with petrol and wagon choices.

Unfortunately, as is usual these days, our drive route did not include the rough and ragged inner-urban roads that do so much to expose poor damping calibrations, so we could not really judge how much better the rest of the Laguna range feels over such surfaces.

But we can tell you that the ride of the diesel-powered models fitted with the 18-inch wheel and tyre package still feels too terse and busy on some rural road surfaces, and that extra speed simply serves to highlight the lack of spring travel over bigger bumps, while the steering – though sharp and responsive – is as remote as ever.

On the other hand, we were pleasantly surprised by how eagerly all Lagunas turn into corners, and how composed and stable they feel.

Furthermore, the lighter petrol engine, having less weight over the front (driven) wheels, seems more agile and slightly more communicative. Rivals such as the Ford Mondeo and Mazda6 aren’t in any danger of being out-performed here, but at least this Laguna – in either hatch or wagon iteration – is a better drive.

Now, we enjoy the smooth and quiet performance delivery of the 2.0-litre dCi turbo-diesel engine, but the 2.0-litre turbo petrol is just as silky and significantly punchier when revved out on the run. While we found that overtaking manoeuvres in the dCi take some planning, the petrol has the power to pull the Laguna along with more speed and poise.

Still, you may be surprised to find that our favourite Laguna is the base Expression dCi manual, running on smallish 16-inch alloy wheels and driving the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox.

This combination seems to combine the low-down torque of the dCi auto with the mid-range liveliness of the (six-speed auto-only) petrol, imbuing the Laguna with a unique perkiness that transcends the car’s five-seater mid-range sizing. That it can be had for well under $40,000 makes the dCi Expression a bit of a bargain, and one that many owners will enjoy if they don’t mind changing their own gears.

It is a shame that this diesel/manual drivetrain combination is not available on the Estate wagon, because this bodystyle is quite a compelling package.

Renault’s designers have captured some of the attractive previous-generation Laguna’s good looks in the X91 Estate, while retaining a long (though sumptuously presented) cargo area.

Because this Laguna is based on the last model, it feels a tad smaller overall than the very latest mid-sized cars such as the Mondeo and Mazda6, and for some buyers this car’s relative compactness will really appeal.

Yet there isn’t a shortfall in cabin space, so occupants can enjoy the lovely dashboard look and finish and sink into the comfortable and supportive seats, safe in the knowledge that few cars at any price crash better than the Renault.

With the benefit of driving the rest of the X91 Laguna range, we can tell you that the cheaper models, without the 18-inch wheels, greatly reduce this car’s only real dynamic vice, and so are the ones to go for.

Most owners will learn to live with the disconnected feel of the light and responsive steering, and should grow to appreciate the satisfying tactility of the switches, buttons and surfaces inside. If only Renault’s engineers moved some of the cabin’s feel to the tiller then everybody would be happy!

Profound disappointment in one model has now been eclipsed by unexpected respect and even surprising pleasure for the rest of the 2009 Laguna range. Remember: less is more and cheapest is best.

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