New models - Renault - Laguna
First Oz drive: Laguna flies Renault flag
Renault's Laguna has arrived in Australia, with the accent on luxury and safety
28 Mar 2002
RENAULT'S expanding Australian line-up has a new prestige flagship, with the French maker's much-lauded mid-sized Laguna hatchback and wagon range going on sale nationally yesterday.
Said to offer a higher level of equipment, interior space and value than its European opposition, the initial (V6-only) Laguna range will be priced from $46,990 for the Authentique hathchback, although Renault insists on calling it a "Saloon".
A 2.0-litre entry-level Laguna, expected to open the range at under $40,000 as a direct competitor to Peugeot's 406 sedan, is due to follow in the third quarter of 2002, shortly after the first anniversary of Renault's return to the Australian marketplace. Renault's larger BMW 5 Series competitor, the Vel Satis, is also expected Down Under by early 2003.
In the meantime, the V6 Laguna range will comprise both hatch and wagon bodystyles, each offering Authentique and Privilege specification levels. The Privilege Saloon will cost $51,990, while the Authentique Estate will be priced at $50,990 and the Privilege Estate at $55,990.
Laguna hatch will be available in a third specification level, the range-topping Saloon Privilege LX selling at $57,990. Metallic paint ($750) will be one of just two Laguna options, the other being full leather trim for the first 75 buyers of the Laguna Estate Privilege at a special price of $1900.
Much is made of Laguna's world-class safety standards, including the fact all Lagunas will be fitted with the company's Programmed Restraint System, which includes two-stage front airbags, side and head curtain airbags and double pretensioners for the driver's seatbelt. Laguna also offers as standard an electronic stability program, traction control, ABS and emergency brake assist.
Laguna is also the first vehicle to score a maximum five-star crash rating from the European New Car Assessment Program - something Renault Australia will play heavily on despite the fact the Australian car industry has a gentlemens' agreement not to publish NCAP results and that its peak body, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, remains opposed to the NCAP's crash testing methods.
The debate whether to use NCAP results in Laguna press and promotional material was only resolved at the last minute before this week's launch.
"As far as Renault is concerned the Laguna story can't be told without mention of its outstanding safety," Renault Australia CEO and managing director Leon Daphne said.
No manual transmission will be available in the V6 Laguna range. Instead, the 3.0-litre, 24-valve V6 will drive exclusively through a five-speed automatic with sequential manual override. Laguna's L7X V6 produces 152kW at 6000rpm and 285Nm of torque at 3750rpm.
Closer in size to 5 Series than 3 Series, Laguna brings unrivalled safety, a high level of standard equipment, unique styling and a number of technical production innovations - such as a card that replaces traditional keys and fobs and acts in conjunction with the car's remote control and ignition system.
Privilege specification Lagunas also offer Renault's "speech synthesis" system, which comprises spoken warning reminders for situations such as leaving doors ajar.
Standard equipment for Authentique-spec Lagunas includes remote central locking, power windows and mirrors, variable power steering, dual-zone climate control, six-speaker CD audio with satellite controls, Axis cloth upholstery, leather steering wheel and gearknob, trip computer, split-fold rear seating, cruise control, speed limiter and 6.5 x 16-inch alloy wheels with 205/55 R16 tyres.
In addition, Privilege-spec Laguna buyers will receive Xenon gas-discharge headlights with pop-up washers, rain sensing wipers, foglights, leather/velour upholstery, speech synthesis (voice warning rather a chime or buzzer) and six-CD stacker.
Finally, the Laguna Saloon Privilege LX flagship comes standard with full leather trim, power sunroof, rear spoiler and 7.0 x 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/45 R17 tyres.
Vital statistics for the hatch are 4576mm length, 1783mm width and 1429mm height, while the wagon is both slightly longer at 4698mm and wider at 1443mm. All Lagunas have a 2740mm wheelbase and, while the hatch's cargo volume is 430 litres, the wagon's extends from 475 litres to a full 1500 litres with the rear seats folded. Laguna hatch weighs in at 1431kg while the wagon weighs 1466kg and both variants have a drag co-efficient of 0.32Cd.
All Lagunas will carry a three-year/100,000km warranty, while claimed fuel economy figures for V6 models are 11.5L/100km on the city cycle and 8.0L/100km on the highway.
Renault Australia expects to sell between 1200 and 1550 Lagunas in the first 12 months - at a rate of at least 100 per month. The hatch is expected to account for around 70 per cent of sales.
While those figures fall well short of the prestige segment leaders in BMW's 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-class, Laguna will play a significant role in achieving Renault Australia's 5000-unit sales target in 2002.
Privilege LX $57,990
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:FIRST thing you notice once inside its spacious cabin is just how quiet Laguna is. The V6 is silky smooth and, with wind noise also kept to impressively low levels, the greatest perception of road speed comes courtesy of a dull tyre roar on only the coarsest of road surfaces.
The lack of engine, wind and road noise - plus excellent all-road ride characteristics - combines with a feeling of general chassis integrity to deliver a strong sense of quality.
High comfort and equipment levels add to Laguna's impression of luxury, as do the inclusion of numerous technical innovations like speech synthesis (standard on Privilege models) and Renault's card keyless starting system.
Meanwhile, standard ABS, Emergency Brake Assist, front and rear airbag protection, Electronic Stability Program, traction control, speed limiter and Laguna's well publicised five-star NCAP crash rating cosset the Laguna driver with an outstanding level of safety systems.
Front and rear headroom is good, as is the large, flat-floored cargo area beneath the hatch's rear hatch and obviously, the wagon is even more accommodating, with folding rear seats and an abundance of luggage space. The one glaring shortcoming is in the rear seat, where knee room is lacking, although there's no shortage of headroom.
On the road it's apparent Laguna is aimed more toward luxury than sports, with the variable power steering well isolated from road irregularities but lacking in precision and feel. However, bodyroll is kept to an impressively low level - given the premium level of ride quality achieved - even during ambitious cornering, and a high level of lateral road holding ensures confident handling.
There's very little hint of torque steer from this front-driver, despite the delightfully tractable 3.0-litre V6's 152kW peak output and refreshingly flat torque curve - Renault says some 90 per cent of torque is available from just 2000rpm.
Combined with a sweet-shifting transmission, Laguna is as pleasurable to drive slowly around town as it is to tackle winding scenery with. And the levels of safety, refinement, equipment, technology and comfort make Laguna an enticing proposition.
Whether the forthcoming four-cylinder Laguna will offer enough equipment to persuade sub-$40,000 buyers away from its many prestige segment rivals remains to be seen.
In V6 guise, however, the uniquely styled Laguna appears to offer enough value and refinement to warrant a second look by those who might be looking for something other than rear-wheel drive German offerings wearing more recognised badges.
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