Fleet accompli

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Decent a car as the Renault 2 I was (and in turbocharged form it was

quick, well-balanced and immensely satisfying to drive quickly), it didn’t exactly have fleet buyers falling over themselves to acquire it in bulk.

With its successor, the Laguna, Renault is making a bid to be taken seriously in the fleet sector for the first time. (The 21 actually fared less well than the even older 18 in this respect.) No question, this marks a vital launch for a company that is enjoying a purple patch in UK showrooms, notably with the Clio.

In the long term, there will be estate and diesel (a new naturally aspirated 12-valve unit) options. Initially, however, there are seven models, featuring three engines and three trim specifications. Last year, Vauxhall dispatched 75 per cent of its Cavaliers to business users; Renault is aiming to dispose with around 65 per cent of its Lagunas likewise, and it is attacking the task with a ferocity seldom seen this side of the West Indies first XI

pace attack.

Its pricing is particularly vicious. The entry level 1.8 RN is listed at just £10,570, and the range-topping V6 (with compulsory automatic transmission) will leave you plenty of change from £19,000. If it’s hardware for money you’re after, then the Laguna will appeal.

On the road, the 1.8 is possibly the best of the three packages which could be good news, given that it is expected to account for around 60 per cent of sales. For what it is, it performs admirably. When the 1.8 runs out of puff on a sharp ascent in southern Spain, it is only to be expected. When the same thing happens to the 2.0, and it did, it is more of a disappointment. The sharp edges that cluttered the interior of the 21 have been junked, and in their place you get a tidier, more shapely instrument binnacle and a generally uncluttered cabin that is pleasantly free of the inherent rattles that marred some 2 I s we experienced. If the Laguna marks a small step forward in terms of styling, it is a gargantuan

advance in terms of build quality.

The 1.8 and 2.0 are both comfortable and efficient without being technically startling, in which respects they fit the current medium sector idiom perfectly. And as there’s so little to differentiate between contenders in the market at the moment, the pricing strategy could make all the difference, as could insurance premiums that are on average one group lower than the class norm.

On paper, the 3.0 model (pictured) is slightly less humdrum. The 170 bhp V6 propels it from rest to 60 mph in 8.4s, and thence to a top speed of 137 mph. Standard equipment includes heated windscreen (in a country that provides snowstorms on Bank Holiday weekends in April, that’s a boon), remote central locking with alarm, cruise control, air conditioning, ABS (with an alarm to warn you if the system fails), driver’s air bag, adjustable steering wheel, CD player and electric operation of almost everything. In short, it’s a lot of car for £18,565.

Like the other Lagunas, it is quiet and refined. It feels softer. though, as might be expected of a car geared towards the high-mileage motorway classes. In some ways, it is ironic that the Laguna Renault’s spear-carrier in the I3TCC has no sporting pretensions on the open road (at present, you can buy a sports pack for existing models, but that adds only spoilers and colourcoded panels. not performance).

The biggest drawback of the V6 is its transmission. It hunts between the gears with uncomfortable regularity: aim at a corner, turn in, accelerate through and, just as you reach the exit, when you actually want to proceed smoothly up the following straight, it changes down . . .

Most V6 users will not, however, engage in frenzied driving on mountain roads. As we said, if you accept the Lagunas for what they are comfortable, practical saloon cars without sporting pretensions then you really can’t complain.

A sports model? Nothing is scheduled for launch within the next 12 months. Beyond that? Well, there has been talk . . SA

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