UK CAR Reviews: Renault Laguna 2.0 - petrol 1996
Those of us with any interest in motor
racing will have over the past few seasons become increasingly dis-enchanted
with Formula 1 as a spectacle. Watching endlessly processional races where
the peak of automotive perfection can only make a pass by being quickest
through the pits has become somewhat shall we say tiresome. Luckily, there
is always the much more entertaining saloon cars in the British Touring
Car Championship (BTCC) to watch, as they slide three abreast around the
bends, and run bumper to bumper down the straights.
Those of us with any interest in motor racing will have over the past few seasons become increasingly dis-enchanted with Formula 1 as a spectacle. Watching endlessly processional races where the peak of automotive perfection can only make a pass by being quickest through the pits has become somewhat shall we say tiresome. Luckily, there is always the much more entertaining saloon cars in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) to watch, as they slide three abreast around the bends, and run bumper to bumper down the straights. It also has the added attraction of cars we can all readily identify with. Nissans, Renaults, Vauxhalls, Fords, Audis and even (gasp in amazement) Volvos. OK so it's really only a silhouette formula with cars only bearing a passing resemblance to the show-room saloons, but the under-pinnings are all the same, and we can rest assured that a genuinely quick BTCC car is based on solid foundations which will be reflected by a half decent road car, as they say "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear".
This should suggest that the current top dog Nissan Primera is the top saloon car on the road, but a little lax rule interpretation means that the Nissan is based upon a four wheel drive chassis and associated improved suspension and will be until next season. No, the real star of BTCC for the last few years has been the under-rated Laguna, which at the hand of French nutcases like Alain Menu set the standards by which all other front drivers must be measured.
When you have your expectations raised about a car, then the first thing you do is jump in and drive and leave the closer inspection till later.
It's easy to settle into the Renault. The seats are supportive
and the gear change, foot controls, steering wheel all seem to be in the right
place; no long stretches to first gear and no stupidly off-set pedals made for
ballet dancers. Shorter drivers did find the steering wheel slightly to low,
Normal average-sized drivers found it fine.
The two litre petrol motor gives excellent performance, good low-end, strong mid-range and decent top-end fleetfootedness at the expense of a little refinement. The quick, light action gearchange encourages enthusiastic use and the strong, dependable and only slightly grabby brakes bring you quickly to a halt without any drama. The real strength of this car though lies in its handling.
Light yet direct and talkative steering give pin-sharp and instant response to your arm movements, combine this with a chassis which gives a supple ride yet has brilliant balance through corners, and grips hard and long and you get a car which is entertaining to drive. It has all the practicalities of any modern saloon but allows the devil inside you to surface just a little when the mood takes you. It's a car which encourages you to take the scenic route. The pliant suspension helps a little when the roads get bumpier too, keeping the wheels firmly attached to the road, whilst at the same time managing to keep the body under control. It still rolls a little in true French style but it's never intrusive.
|When the basic car is so alluring its easy to overlook the other bits and pieces. Here, the Laguna starts to let itself down a little. The interior trim is very jazzy indeed, and whilst it may have been stylish 3 or 4 years ago, and bearable still today, I don't think it will age too well for much longer.|
The dashboard designers made an effort to create a swoopy, integrated feel to the interior. Again, 3 years ago it was new, different, stylish. Now it's just beginning to look old and tacky.
The handbrake lever irritated me immensely, bare metal, cleaned by yard brush bristles as it moves, poking out through a plastic hole. What the hell is that all about? - A normal plastic-leather cloth gaiter would have looked much better and is probably cheaper to make as well.
I did like the sunglasses case stuck over the drivers door, though I mistook it for a mishaped handle at first.
On the whole, whilst the interior fixtures and fittings do grate a little, this Laguna displayed enough dynamic ability for me to happily recommend it as an entertaining drive.
Having previously driven the petrol version above, I thought my experiences would be identical apart from the engine characteristics and less frequent visits to the local fuel stop.
Yes the interior still grates just as much. No matter how long I try to live with it.
Half decent smoke maker, good bottom-end, gentle whistling turbo thrust, modicum of top-end; much what you would expect, maybe even a little more refined than you expected.
Oh dear dear dear me, what have they done? Same supple ride of the petrol, but the handling has gone completely to pot. The steering response is now heavy and sluggish and much worse, the car now under steers immediately through corners. It feels like some one has hung a huge great pendulum weight out the front end of the car, and it constantly wants to go straight on. Which, guessing the weight of the turbo diesel lump is probably exactly what they have done. With this lump in, the balance of the car seems to have been destroyed, ruining a perfectly good car.
I was so looking forward to driving this car and now I don't care if I never see a diesel Laguna again.
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