BY JONATHAN CROUCH
There's an old adage which suggests that it costs as much to get it right as it does to get it wrong. Ask Ford, whose newer models have just about erased the memory of earlier failures. Renault, too, have not only learned their lessons the hard way but have also put them to good use. In 1994, evidence arrived in the UK in the form of the French giant's medium range Laguna line-up, offered first in five-door form and subsequently as an estate. The car swiftly became a sales success, so much so that it's now plentiful on the second-hand market. In terms of value for money, the high-spec RT trim level is a good bet and, in combination with the 1.8-litre engine on earlier cars and the 16-valve 1.6 on later examples, provides possibly the best combination of performance and economy.
Models Covered: First Generation models: 5dr hatchback, estate: 1.6, 1.6 16v, 1.8, 1.8 16v, 2.0, 2.0 16v, 3.0 V6, 3.0 V6 24v, 1.9dTi turbodiesel, 1.9 dCi turbo diesel, 2.2 diesel, 2.2 turbo diesel [RN, RT, Alize, Sport, RT Sport, RTi, RXE, Executive, Monaco] Second Generation models: 1.6, 1.8, 2.0, 3.0-litre petrol, 1.9, 2.2 dCi turbodiesel [Authentique, Expression, Dynamique, Initiale]
Initially in 1994, buyers had a choice of 1.8, 2.0 or 3.0-litre V6 power. A multi-valve 2.2-litre normally aspirated diesel soon followed (in April 1995), and at the same time, a 16v 2.0-litre petrol unit. Estates first appeared in late 1995, while turbo diesel engined cars were added in the summer of 1996. Trim levels initially ranged from RN through RT and RTi to RXE. Air conditioning was added to many models as standard equipment at the end of 1996, while the V6 hatchback was discontinued in mid 1997, pending the release of an all-new 24-valve engine of the same capacity. This was introduced with a revised range announced early in 1998. This featured subtle styling tweaks, new 16v 1.6 and 1.8-litre engines, a new normally aspirated direct injection 1.9-litre diesel and a new sporting V6 manual gearbox RTi model. Further revisions were announced in the summer of 1999 when Renault's 16v 2.0-litre engine, the same 140bhp unit used to power the latest Espace, was slotted in. By now the trim levels included Alize, Sport, RT Sport, Executive and Monaco. In December 1999, Renault's first common rail diesel, the 1.9 dCi, replaced the 2.2dT unit. A radical replacement was introduced in early 2001 with a couple of all-new engines and adventurous styling. Available as a hatch or a Sport Tourer, the Laguna II offered such innovations as a keyless go system using a credit card sized 'key', on board tyre pressure monitoring and Brake Assist programs that work hand in hand with the stability control program.
What You Get
Arguably the best medium range car in the class - probably the best all-rounder. Even a brief drive confirms it as a class leader - no mean feat in a category which now includes some of the best cars in the business. From the moment that you 'thunk' the solid door shut and manipulate the telescopic wheel to achieve the perfect driving position, it's clear that this is a car which knows its brief inside out. Moreover, the squashy seats, strong ventilation, perfectly placed switchgear and airy cabin remind you of the fact every time you step inside.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Very little goes wrong - but then the Laguna is a relatively recent design. Look for the usual signs of leggy fleet use - soggy seats and suspension and a generally worn feel. The V6-engined cars can be thirsty. There's a huge selection out there so take your time and choose wisely and be sure you know exactly what you're getting as there were numerous specification and engine updates.
(approx based on a Laguna 1.8 or 2.0) A full exhaust system is about £150. A clutch assembly will be around £145 and brake pads are around £40 a set. An alternator should be close to £130 and a radiator with aircon around £230. A starter motor is up to £95 and a front headlamp is about £40.
On the Road
This is a car which had to be fun to drive, even if outright performance was not a priority. So it is that, despite unremarkable mechanicals in the earlier versions, the Laguna really does flow from corner to corner with impressive finesse. You don't want to know the nitty-gritty of how the result's been achieved; just head for the nearest country lane and try it for yourself. The power-assisted steering - which is standard across the complete Laguna line-up - is direct enough in feel to contribute to your enjoyment. Nor should the five-speed gearbox detract from things, though enthusiastic drivers may wish that it was a little less vague in its action. Whilst the 3.0-litre flier boasts the largest engine in the Mondeo/Vectra class, other Lagunas place outright speed as less of a priority. The RT 1.8 and 2.0-litre eight valve models that are most common on the used market are competitive against the clock, the 1.8 reaching 60 from rest in 12.3 seconds on the way to a top speed of 112mph.
French polish - one of the best constructed French car ever made and a Renault that you could recommend anyone to buy. Those family buyers looking for a peace of mind alternative on the used market no longer have to buy Japanese.