Car reviews - Renault - Latitude - sedan range
Attractive pricing, outstanding equipment levels, vastly improved steering and ride quality, diesel performance, spacious interior, five-year warranty
Room for improvement
Creaky dash, small navigation screen, tight front headroom, louder petrol version is also less muscular and efficient
12 Apr 2011
GIVEN the steering, handling and ride quality shortcomings of the disappointing Laguna it replaces, we didn’t expect much from Renault’s all-new flagship.
After all, the Latitude follows a procession of underwhelming French family cars in recent years, even if it represents a quantum shift in Renault large-car thinking by being based on Nissan's latest Maxima and built by its South Korean subsidiary, Samsung Motors.
The result is a significantly larger, Commodore-sized sedan with an equally voluminous boot that Renault says will swallow three Australian-sized golf bags, an incredibly high level of standard luxury equipment and pricing – with either petrol or diesel power - that undercuts Australia’s two top-selling homegrown large sedans.
On paper, then, it seems Renault – which is known more for building exciting hatchbacks than large sedans – finally has a legitimate rival for popular locals such as the Commodore and Falcon, as well as premium-priced Japanese mid-sizers like the Mazda6 and both of Honda’s Accord models.
Indeed, if Australians are willing to look beyond the Renault badge and the Latitude’s Asian-influenced styling - which includes a clamshell bonnet and lashings of chrome on its three-slat grille and lavish side window surrounds – they will find a comfortable large sedan that allegedly offers $1000 better value than Nissan’s own undersung Maxima.
But we were pleasantly surprised to find the Latitude’s talents extend beyond value for money.
While traditional Renault hallmarks like class-leading safety and distinguished cabin presentation continue – as does the French brand’s more recent quality drive - gone is the outgoing MkIII Laguna’s choppy ride, sloppy suspension and dead steering feel.
No, the Latitude is no sportscar, but it surprised us with unexpected levels of body control, responsive and vice-free steering and impeccable ride quality on all manner of road surfaces – at least in the turbo-diesel version, powered by Renault’s lusty 2.0-litre dCi engine, we drove first.
Yes, the oil-burning turbo-four is clattery at idle and sounds very un-German-like from the outside, but minor A-pillar wind noise is the only blight on an otherwise well-isolated cabin that remains almost whisper-quiet at all speeds.
Fitted with an electro-hydraulic power steering system, the diesel Latitude is free of steering rack rattle, presents only mild steering kickback and suspension shock on big road holes or bumps, and returns a tight turning circle for such a large and imposing vehicle.
The front-wheel drive Latitude diesel’s steering might not offer the precision or feedback of the Commodore’s or Falcon’s tillers – and is a far cry from the razor-sharp RenaultSport-tuned Clio’s – but in concert with well-sorted suspension is quick and responsive enough to make it the most sporting large Renault we’ve driven for decades.
As expected, the oil-burning Latitude dCi offers a satisfying dose of mid-range torque that’s well matched with its silky-smooth standard six-speed auto and is also more economical than its petrol-powered sibling despite costing no more. It also revs cleanly to 4500rpm with impressive refinement.
Like the dCi, the petrol-engined Latitude – powered by a Nissan-sourced VQ-series 2.5-litre V6 – offers plenty of rear legroom and luxurious interior ambience, although only top-shelf Luxe (pronounced by Renault as ‘loox’) were made available to drive at the launch.
That said, while Luxe models add premium features like a panoramic glass sunroof, reversing camera, driver’s seat massage function, premium Bose sound system, tri-zone climate-control and an air ioniser that disperses fragrance into the cabin, all Latitudes come with enough standard equipment to shame a Calais or Statesman.
The Latitude also offers Renault’s useful speed-limiting cruise control system and a stalk for all manner of audio functions, but a surprising omission is the convenience of a one-touch lane-change indicator.
Sadly, though, while pleasingly soft-touch surfaces cover all of the important areas – including the dash, doors and sliding centre armrest - the hard plastic centre stack surround creaks in corners or when you push you knee against it, the Luxe’s airy panoramic sunroof robs too much front headroom and the integrated colour navigation screen looks small and lost within the much larger dash-top recess it resides in.
However, firmish front seatbacks are the only other ergonomic shortfall within this highly commodious cabin, which offers a plethora of storage spaces including a massive glovebox and centre console bin, plenty of steering wheel reach and rake adjustment, a handy electric park brake and a 60/40-split folding rear seat to expand a big boot that houses a full-size spare and is unencumbered by decklid hinges.
Even to the uninitiated, the Latitude is undoubtedly big step up in size – both outside and in – over Australia’s Turkish-built Megane hatch and its closely related Fluence sedan sibling from Korea.
Though they are expected to comprise the majority of Latitude sales, the petrol version is less impressive. Producing more engine noise in the cabin and less useable torque off idle and in the mid-range, the peakier 2.5-litre six-cylinder petrol engine also makes the six-speed auto hunt more for gears.
We recorded 10.9L/100km in the petrol Latitude that delivers more peak power than the diesel (133 versus 127kW) but less torque (235 versus 380Nm), which is not too much more than the claimed average of 9.7L/100km but well up on the diesel’s official combined figure of just 6.5L/100km.
As in the diesel, though, the six-speed auto – which lacks steering wheel shift controls – overrides the driver in manual mode, changing up at redline and down under hard acceleration.
Just as disappointingly, the gains made by the petrol Latitude’s slightly better-weighted, more progressive hydraulic power steering system are negated by its inferior ride, which felt far less comfortable than the diesel we drove.
While the diesel Latitude Luxe we drove rode on Hankook tyres, ‘our’ petrol Latitude Luxe wore Continentals - also on 18-inch alloys – so perhaps that was the reason behind the dCi’s noticeably plusher ride.
Either way, the diesel is the pick of the Latitude bunch, offering effortless performance, surprisingly well-mannered handling, a plush ride and European luxury at a Japanese price.
It also joins the slightly more expensive Skoda Superb and Hyundai Grandeur (both priced at $42,000) in offering diesel power in the large-car class.
The Latitude also comes the first five-year warranty from a European brand, which should make it compelling enough to reach the modest sales targets Renault has set for its vastly improved new flagship.
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