Renault won plenty of respect in Australia with its success in early rallies where it demonstrated a blend of rugged reliability and innovative design. Who could forget the R8, R10 and the wonderful 16?
But that was a long time ago and the French brand has struggled in recent times, partly because it hasn’t had a consistent local presence. It is now backed by the factory through its alliance with Nissan, but when the Laguna was first launched in 1995 the company was in bed with Volvo and it was Volvo that made a somewhat abortive attempt to reintroduce it to the Australian market.
The Laguna was part of a new wave of models released by Renault as it fought back from the difficult financial times it went through in the 1980s.
Unlike earlier Renaults the Laguna wasn’t particularly remarkable, it was much like the other cars coming from European factories and beginning to find their way to Australia with the market freed of tariffs.
The Laguna was an attractive mid-sized five-door hatch with smooth, clean, but unremarkable lines.
When it arrived here there was the choice of three up-spec variants, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder RXE with manual or auto transmissions, and the 3.0-litre V6, which was only available with the auto transmission.
The interior was quite roomy. The front seats were height adjustable and trimmed in velour, the rear was a 60/40 split-fold bench for flexibility of use. Power adjustment was available for the front seats on the RXE, but standard on the V6, and charcoal leather was an option on all models.
Given its position in the prestige segment it came packed with plenty of tasty fruit. Auto air headed the list, which also included power windows and mirrors, central locking, trip computer, and radio/cassette sound.
The V6 also boasted standard cruise control, with options including a sunroof, CD stacker and a rear spoiler.
Power for the entry level variant was provided by a torquey long stroke 2.0-litre single overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine, which put out a modest 83 kW at 5250 revs, but a more respectable 168 Nm at 3500 revs. Ninety per cent of the peak torque was on tap between 1750 and 5250 revs making the four a smooth driving unit, if not particularly spirited.
The V6 was a more stirring driver with 123 kW available at 5500 revs and 235 Nm on tap at 4500 revs.
Transmission choices for the four consisted of a rather vague shifting five-speed manual and a four-speed auto, the latter much better suited to the Laguna’s laid-back cruising personality.
MacPherson Struts were employed at the front with the rear using transverse torsion bars located by trailing arms and shocks. Anti-sway bars were used at both ends.
On the road the Laguna showed pronounced body roll, but it still clung to the tarmac with admirable tenacity, displaying mild understeer as the cornering speed rose.
The ride was supple with good isolation from road imperfections.
It’s power-assisted rack and pinion steering was comfortably weighted while still giving good road feel.
Brakes were a combination of vented front discs and solid rears with ABS anti-skid electronics standard across the range, and got the job done without fuss.
The base RXE rode on steel wheels with trims, but the V6 had better-looking alloys filling the wheel arches.
ON THE LOT
If you have a thing for French cars you can get aboard an RXE for $7000-$9000.
If you prefer the V6 you’ll need to part with $3000 more.
IN THE SHOP
Find a mechanic who is familiar with Renaults and you will have a much happier time. There are a number of specialist service outlets with expert knowledge of French cars, and they’re the best to service your car.
Owners report that mechanics didn’t know much about the Laguna in the early days and the servicing wasn’t as good as it should have been so some were poorly maintained. The arrival of Renault dealers under the new alliance with Nissan has improved the knowledge of the product and the quality of servicing has improved as a result.
Renaults are often owned by people who specifically went out to buy the brand, they’re less often bought be people who don’t know them or don’t care for them.
That means they’re usually well cared for so they can be a good buy if you’re prepared to punt on a brand that doesn’t have a great recent history of stability in this country.
Little really goes wrong with them, the engines, gearboxes and suspension seem robust, the interior stands up quite well.
IN A CRASH
All models in the range had a driver’s airbag and ABS was standard making quite a solid safety net in the event in the event an accident situation arises.
Stephen Robards bought his Laguna V6 two years ago. The five-star safety rating was one of the Laguna’s attractions, he says, but he also likes its comfort, handling, low noise level, and fuel economy. On the downside he’s critical of the build quality and says it’s slow off the mark for a six, but comes on strong at the top end. He says servicing was a problem in the early days, but has improved since Renault has arrived as a factory operation. It has now done 70,000 km and in that time the cooling system has been cleaned out, a new radiator expansion tank and a reconditioned starter have been fitted.
• Unremarkable styling
• Flexible hatch body
• Smooth, supple ride
• Modest performance
• Auto better choice than manual
• Honda Accord – 1993-1997 – $7000-$11,000
• Holden Vectra – 1997-1998 – $6000-$11,000
• VW Passat – 1995-1997 – $9000-$13,000
THE BOTTOM LINE
Smooth driving, comfortable, refined five-door hatch for the converted.