Renault’s distinctive 25 is no more. The large, quirky saloon has been replaced by the Safrane, a similarly-sized hatchback which is pitched squarely at the upper end of the fleet car market. Obvious targets include the Ford Granada, Rover 800 and BMW 5-Series.
To begin with, only three models are available, though holes in the range will be plugged in due course. Further models should be announced in spring.
For the moment, the 2.0 RT manual serves as the entry-level Safrane, at £18,500. The 2.0 automatic costs £19,250, and then there is a quantum leap to the range-topping 3.0 RXE, at £25,650. The latter is available only with automatic transmission. Following market research, Renault has decided to offer all Safranes with air conditioning as standard, in place of the sunroof beloved of most fleet sector specifications.
Unfortunately, we can’t pass comment on the RXE trim level. We did try the 3.0-litre model during the launch, but were rather puzzled by Renault’s constant references to the computer-controlled suspension and cockpit-variable sports damping. We couldn’t find the switch anywhere, initially suspecting either an IQ failure or that the liquid refreshment accompanying lunch was in fact some rare, mind-bending mineral water. It transpired our car was something of a bastardisation, a 3.0 RT that won’t be offered in the UK initially…
Consequently, analysis of the much vaunted suspension, which automatically lowers the body by over half an inch at motorway cruising speeds, will have to wait.
The V6, a normally aspirated development of the same engine that provides such sensational performance in the A610, is rated at 170 bhp and pumps out 173 lb/ft of torque at 4500 rpm. It is quiet, refined and suitably powerful, though this is very much a pan-European cruiser rather than something with which to attack the Col de Turini. Performance is ample, but a top speed of 132 mph and 0-60 mph acceleration in a fraction under 10s are evidence that the Safrane is tuned for comfort rather than outright speed. At motorway speeds the ride is superb, the cabin peaceful. The controls look less like something out of Star Trek than those on the 25, but the Renault heritage is obvious. Renault still leads the way with its column-stalk radio operation, but the instrument binnacle is a violent mixture of curves and sharp, straight edges. It looks as though someone has parked a Cadillac behind the steering wheel.
The two-litre, the same 12-valve unit that was introduced to the 25 range over three years ago, offers almost the same standards of cruising refinement as the V6, and it’s surprisingly flexible. Over 120 lb/ft of torque is available all the way from 2400 rpm to the 125 lb/ft peak at 4500. In automatic guise, however, it’s best to book A- and B-road overtaking manoeuvres several weeks in advance.
Standard equipment on both models encompasses ABS, electric everything (more or less) and infra-red remote central locking. The bottom line is that you get a fair slice of car for your money. The pity is that the Renault stylists’ inspiration for the Safrane’s exterior shape came from the planet Bland.
It’s sad for motoring that the French, for so long perfectionists when it came to combining eccentricity and flair in their car designs, are now turning out increasingly anonymous Euroboxes. SA