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New Renault spyshots

New French cars are doing it tough Down Under.

The top-secret prototypes were seen in Townsville this week as they completed a Down Under durability trial, part of a regular test program in Australia for all the French carmaker's new models.

The cars were heavily disguised. All badges had been removed and false panels covered noses and tails, but they were the Laguna Coupe and the successor to the current Megane hatchback.

The two-door Laguna is expected to break cover next month at the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix but the Megane will not be ready for showrooms until late next year.

The delay on local deliveries will probably be 12 to 18 months for both cars.

Renault Australia refused to confirm the identity of the cars, or even any involvement in a program with the Megane and Laguna Coupe, but their escort was a giveaway.

They were pictured leaving a Townsville motel after an overnight stop with the latest Renault Koleos four-wheel drive, undisguised, carrying the support crew for the French engineering team.

“We do not discuss future products,” Renault Australia spokesman Craig Smith says.

But he admits Renault is using Australia to test its future models, for final certification and advanced engineering on hand-built prototypes.

“Every product we bring out in Australia from now on will have an element of local testing,” he says. “The new Laguna did about 30,000km of testing in Australia before it was launched in Europe.”

The five-door Laguna hatch will be in showrooms here in June, first with a diesel engine as the company's local flagship.

It will be followed several months later by a petrol-engined model. The Laguna Estate wagon will go on sale in September.

Testing of the Laguna Coupe is part of the car's durability certification, which includes hot-weather running and trials on rough-road conditions with cars built on the regular production line in the build-up to full capacity.

The Megane will probably be an engineering prototype, hand-built and undergoing much more fundamental test work.

The car is at least 12 months from its European debut, though it could break cover at the Paris Motor Show in October.

Smith was more open about the Koleos, which Renault Australia will introduce to the Australian motoring press in Morocco next month.

“The Koleos will be on sale here in September,” he says. “It will be available in petrol and diesel, starting at just over $30,000.”