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Steane Klose | Sep 25, 2008 | 9 Comments

Got an embarrasing story for you. A couple of weeks ago we found ourselves with three press car bookings in the same week. Tony was strapped into the new R36 Passat, The Insider had his bum in a Colorado and I thought I had a week off.

That was until The Insider called and said Renault had the new Laguna waiting for us. I didn’t think to ask which one and assumed that it was the brand new 2.0–litre petrol turbo (that I knew was due out in September).

Now, I have to confess that I had never driven a Laguna and wasn’t sure what to expect. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a lot.

My attention is aroused by cars that have a defining factor, you know, something that sets them apart from the competition. Most powerful, most economical, most refined, class leading build quality, the latest technology (maybe a DSG gearbox or similar), or maybe it’s just a stunner – one or more of those attributes in a certain model, and it becomes interesting.

The press car was a silver Privilege Hatch, no identifying badges aside from ‘Laguna’. So I jumped in, slotted the ‘key card’ into the dash, switched the radio to Gold FM (showing my age a little maybe…), hit the start button and moved out into Melbourne morning peak-hour traffic.

It always takes a little while to adjust to a new car, The Insider will tell you that you continue to drive the previous ‘tester’ for a couple of days, until you adjust to the nuances of the new one - and I tend to agree.

laguna_1

The first thing I noted in the Laguna was the plentiful torque available in the lower end of the rev range. Put your foot down, and the Laguna fairly bolts. It was also immediately obvious that the Jatco 6-speed auto was a pearler, smooth and intuitive.

In fact, it was so good on the down-changes that coasting up to red lights only needed a dab on the brakes to bring the Laguna to a halt. Plenty of engine braking on the menu here, and that should have been a dead give-away really, but not on this occasion and not with this particular dill behind the wheel. (We're experts here ain't we?)

I then steered for the Tullamarine freeway and headed for the hills around Trentham and Daylesford, via Woodend.

On the open road, the Laguna proved itself to be powerful, quiet and comfortable. Overtaking was a doddle. Point and squirt had you riding a wave of creamy torque that saw the Laguna bolting past 18-wheelers with alacrity.

No perceptible turbo-lag either. Impressive, I wasn’t expecting to feel much at all for the Laguna but it was rapidly winning me over.

laguna_2

My only concern at this point, was a slight (and I mean slight) vibration felt when resting my elbow on the armrest. A little bit agricultural perhaps and not as silky smooth as most 2.0–litre petrol fours.

Maybe I’d found something not to like? I certainly hoped that I had; I wanted something to complain about. Don’t we all?

The Laguna is a comfortable place to spend your driving time (although adults sitting in the rear soon feel the effects of the limited leg-room). The test car was fitted with a dual sunroof (optional) and the standard cream leather interior of the Privilege, a combination which resulted in a light and airy interior that is hard to fault.

If you want to use the seat warmers, you’ll need to go digging for the button, down the side of the seat near the door. For the speed warning switch, that’s in the centre console. But aside from those little quirks, it is a well laid-out and nicely put-together interior.

The Laguna is also well insulated, making the driving experience a pleasantly quiet one, with nary a hint of engine noise…


laguna_3

I confess that I was surprised to discover that the Laguna has a real air of quality about it. From panel fit, to paint work, to the way the doors closed, it is testament to the efforts of Renault.

The chassis feels rock solid and tight, a fact that has allowed the Renault engineers to work their magic with the Laguna’s ride and handling.

The lumpy, broken bitumen that we are so used to around the burbs in this country, barely ruffled the Laguna. Out on the highway, it was an absolute pleasure and I figured the only test left was an unsealed road.

The Wombat State Forest was the perfect venue. The local grader hadn’t been through for months and the road I traversed in the Laguna was rutted and corrugated. Now, I didn’t belt down this track, the Laguna’s ground clearance wouldn’t allow that safely, but I wasn’t dawdling either.

Once again the Laguna came up trumps, no bottoming out, no bump-thump, just an unruffled ride and predictable handling. Even pot holes were dispatched in a serene manner - you know those nasty looking ones that you don’t see until they are too late to avoid, so you cringe and wait for the shock to crash through the front end?

laguna_6

The Laguna’s handling is pleasantly neutral, unless really pushed hard, something that the majority of Laguna owners are unlikely to do. If they do, they will find they have some easily controlled understeer on the limit.

The speed sensitive power steering is well weighted, and the brakes are powerful and, just as importantly, well modulated; on both counts it has the Mondeo beaten.

Time for some pictures then, so I found a fire trail that peeled off the road into the forest and parked the Laguna, leaving it idling. The moment I was out of the car and looking for the best angle, the noisy idle caught my attention and the bleeding obvious became… bleeding obvious. Diesel clatter!

laguna_4

As I cursed my stupidity (and failure to notice a tachometer that redlined under 5000rpm), the fact that really hit home was just how civilised the Laguna diesel was.

All of the worthy diesel characteristics were present; grunt from low in the rev range and superior fuel efficiency, while the less salubrious (knocking and diesel clatter) were virtually non-existent from inside the car.

A DOHC 2.0–litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, it produces 110kW along with a handy 340Nm from just 2000rpm. It revs smoothly and without fuss and from inside the Laguna, it is seriously hard to pick it as being a diesel. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So, the Laguna has a defining factor after all. In fact it has two: a buttery smooth diesel and a very capable chassis.

In addition to those, it also boasts a 5-star Euro NCAP rating (the Laguna was the first car ever to be awarded a 5-star Euro NCAP rating) and sharp new lines, that didn’t appeal to everyone at TMR (The Insider suggested it looked ‘bug-eyed’) and Mike just doesn’t like Renault styling - but I don’t mind the new look at all.


laguna_7

Having sung the Laguna’s praises I bet you’re wondering what’s wrong it? Well, there is a small matter of pricing, with the Laguna Privilege diesel starting at $50,690, a price that makes a 5-door diesel Mondeo (from $37,990) look like seriously good value.

You can take heart from the fact that the Laguna is better, just not necessarily $12,700 better.

There is also the fact that Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t like the Laguna at all. In fact, he thinks that all Laguna drivers are ‘wife swappers’. While that may be a fact (or not) he is completely wrong about the Laguna being anything but a stellar drive.

laguna_5

The Last Word

A real surprise package, the Laguna impresses with its ride and handling. The major controls (steering and brakes) feel bang on. One of the quieter diesel drives on the market, the Laguna should be on the short list of anyone shopping for a midsize diesel family car.

steane-likes

  • Strong quiet diesel
  • Build quality
  • 5-Star safety rating
  • Excellent ride quality
  • Confident handling
  • It's a looker

steane-dislikes

  • A little pricey when compared to the obvious opposition

Gallery

Specs

Engine type diesel
Capacity 2188cc
Bore x Stroke 87mm x 92mm
Number of cylinders 4
Compression Ratio 18:1
Max Power 102kW @ 4000rpm
Max Torque 320Nm @ 1750rpm
Type of injection Common Rail
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Economy combined cycle 7.7 L/100km
Turning circle kerbs 10.9m
Front suspension MacPherson strut type, negative offset with lower wishbone and anti-sway bar. Coil springs and telescopic hydraulic shock absorbers
Rear suspension H style rear axle with coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-sway bar.
Wheels 7.0 J 17
Tyres 225/45 R17
Brakes front ventilated discs 308mm
Brakes rear solid discs 274mm

ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and Emergency Brake Assist (EBA)

Fuel tank capacity 70L
Unladen kerb weight Manual/Auto 1495kg
Luggage compartment volume 475 litres

Standard Features

To keep things neat, we’ve hidden the Laguna’s feature list. To view the list, click below.

Laguna Diesel Standard Features

Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with understeer control

ABS brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Emergency

Brake Assist

Driver and front passenger adaptive SRS airbags

Driver and passenger lateral SRS airbags

Side SRS curtain airbags (front and rear)

Programmed Restraint System (PRS)

Front /outer rear seatbelt pretensioners

Load force limiters in front seatbelts

3 rear 3-point lap-sash seatbelts

Side impact bars and honey combed padding in doors

Electronic park brake

Cruise control with speed limiter

Fuel cut-off in event of impact

Hands free perimeter central locking and ignition with Renault card

Door open and fasten seatbelt indicators

Electric door mirrors

Electric variable power assisted steering

Electric front and rear windows (with anti-pinch sensors)

Rain sensitive automatic wipers

Light sensitive automatic headlights

“See me home” function headlights

Dual zone climate control air conditioning

Air recycling and particle filter

Adjustable steering wheel

Lumbar adjustment on driver’s seat

Height adjustment on front seats

Height and recline adjustable front head restraints

Rear head restraints

AM/FM stereo with single CD and finger tip controls

Trip computer and outside temperature gauge

Front and rear armrests

Leather trimmed steering wheel and gear knob

Sports seats trimmed in leather and cloth upholstery

Rear and lateral (second row) sunblinds

Illuminated vanity mirrors

Seatback storage pockets

Body coloured bumpers and mirrors

Chrome door handles

17” alloy wheels

Rear spoiler

Fog lamps (front and rear)

Electronic engine immobiliser

Renault Anti-Intruder Device (RAID) automatic locking system

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