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Renault Laguna Coupe GT 2.0 205 Turbo

Click to view picture gallery“Elegant head-turning looks and
  an impressive array of chassis
  and powertrain technologies allows
  the two-door, four-seater Laguna
  Coupé to step up in class and take
  on coupés from the likes of BMW,
  Audi and Mercedes

FOLLOWING ON FROM THE INTRODUCTION of the new Laguna Hatch and Sports Tourer estates, the new and more refined Megane Hatch and the stylish Megane Coupé, comes the elegant Laguna Coupé. With their new models Renault are aiming to improve their brand image and all new models promise better quality, more equipment, more sophistication and the latest low-emission technologies.

With head-turning looks and an impressive array of chassis and powertrain technologies, the two-door, four-seater Laguna Coupé steps up in class from recent Renault offerings to potentially take on the likes of the 'premium' brand BMW 3 Series Coupé, Audi A5 and Mercedes CLK.

These 'premium' Coupés do not sell in high numbers relative to their less-costly saloon counterparts, so despite its stunning good looks the Laguna Coupé is going to find it tough going to attract customers to a perceived 'non-premium' and regularly discounted brand.

In truth, the Laguna Coupé will probably be battling it out for sales against the cheaper and smaller new Volkswagen Scirocco, the aged Peugeot 407 Coupé and a host of Coupé-Cabriolet hardtops such as the VW Eos, Ford Focus CC and new Peugeot 308 CC plus, of course, Renault's own new Megane Coupé.

The new Laguna Coupé is available in two grades with prices starting from £21,910. The entry-level Laguna Coupé is well equipped with safety, comfort and convenience features including an electronic stability control programme, ABS, climate control air conditioning, bi-xenon headlamps with washers, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear parking sensors, 'Superfold' rear seat system and automatic headlights and wipers. The audio system marks a major advance in quality — achieved through a new partnership between Renault and sound specialists Arkamys. Laguna Coupé GT versions = with prices from £23,910 — offer even more for today's sophisticated, technically tuned-in motorist.

In addition to the 4Control chassis with four-wheel steering, the GT trim provides full leather upholstery, cruise control, speed limiter, automatic parking brake, aluminium interior trim detailing and an electrochromatic auto-dimming rear-view mirror. In addition, owners can upgrade their GT with a bespoke premium sound system from audio specialists Bose.

There is a wide range of engines to appeal to the requirements of discerning buyers in this market segment, many of them company car drivers and user-chooser business customers. The choice of exact engine depends on whether the Coupé or Coupé GT is chosen. Aptly, in the overall line-up is an all-new 235bhp 3.0-litre V6 dCi turbodiesel unit with 80% of its 332lb ft of torque available from just 1,300rpm — ideal for high-mileage drivers and well in keeping with the stylish long-legged cruiser capabilities of the Laguna Coupé.

“It’s a real stunner
and drew numerous
admiring glances
and visits from
interested people
There is also the least-likely-to-sell 240bhp 3.5-litre V6 petrol unit. Other choices are from the established 205bhp 2.0-litre petrol turbo unit and the best-selling 2.0-litre dCi 150 and 180bhp diesels. Across the range, both six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are available but depending on the particular engine option chosen.

My test model was the Laguna Coupé GT 2.0 205 Turbo, priced at £23,910. Whilst this will not be the best-selling engine, it is a good sporty choice mid-range between the heavyweight 3.0-litre versions and the frugal 2.0-litre diesels.

This 205bhp turbocharged petrol unit gives a brisk and fairly fuel-frugal account of itself. Top speed is 147mph and 0-62mph takes a fleet-of-foot 7.8 seconds — so it is no posing slouch. Given the performance, fuel economy is relatively good. Officially it returns 34.4mpg and my test car nearly reached that: 33.3mpg driven over a variety of roads with both short and long journeys. The CO2 emissions are relatively high at 194g/km which incurs a road tax Band F rating of £210 now but £215 from April 2009. Company car users should be aware that this model has a 26% benefit-in-kind tax liability.

The six-speed manual gearbox has a long-throw action so it is not so easy to make quick across-the-box changes; but it is easy to use. The gear ratios seem just about perfect to get the best from the turbocharged engine, enough to make good use of the torque at low speeds and relaxed enough to reduce engine noise and fuel consumption at high cruising speeds. The fifth and sixth gears are both long-legged so long journey cruising is relaxed.

The GT version has active four-wheel steering and at speeds up to 37mph the rear wheels move in a direction opposite to the front wheels, making the Coupé extremely agile and precise at low speeds and whilst turning or parking. At higher speeds the rear wheels move in the same steering direction as the front ones so the car feels more controlled — 'on-rails'.

However, on our poor, tramlined UK road surfaces, the rear-end of the car fidgets from side to side as it constantly compensates for what the front wheels are doing. The Coupé has a wider track than the Hatch and Sports Tourer estate and consequently its suspension does not absorb potholes so well, and the ride is on the hard side. Thankfully, though, the seats are comfortable.

The interior of the Coupé GT is first class to look at and the quality appears excellent: well up to 'premium' class standard. Some of the centre console controls are a bit fiddly and I am no great fan of the button-operated electronic handbrake. Access to the rear seats is just about OK as the front doors are wide opening although pretty heavy.

The rear legroom is no more than adequate but in keeping with the competition. The rear seats fold so the boot space can be enlarged if needed but even without the extra room the boot is still large enough for holiday suitcases even if the boot opening is somewhat on the small side.

In most aspects the Renault Laguna Coupé GT scores highly and especially so for its styling. With its rising waistline and curving roof the classic Coupé side view epitomises elegance. It's a real stunner and gained numerous admiring looks and visits from interested people whilst it was in my care. Other major eye-catching details include wide wheel arches that give the Coupé a ground-hugging stance; the upturned tailgate wing with echoes of an Aston Martin; whle the Laguna Coupé GT's sleek front could be a Ferrari 599 Coupé derivative. Only the under-bumper front air intake grille seems too large and pronounced.

I love cars and luckily for me writing about them is my job. But advising others means that the head has to rule the heart. My heart would say the Laguna Coupé is an exceptional and desirable product both style and quality wise. But until Renault stabilises its sales and achieves better residual values for its products, customers will be entering into the unknown when buying this particular newcomer. A BMW 3 Series Coupé or most probably, given the down-sizing that's going on, the new VW Scirocco would, in the real world, be financially better long-term buys — unless a big discount can be achieved from your Renault dealer!

So, on the minus side, Laguna Coupé buyers will have to accept unknown residual values, some fiddly controls and chassis dynamics and sporty road holding abilities that are not really up to those of the Laguna Coupé's 'premium' competitors. However, on the plus side they will be getting a car with elegant and sophisticated styling with a high-quality and well equipped interior at a competitive price, with the handling agility that comes from four-wheel steering. — David Miles

Renault Laguna Coupé GT 2.0 205 Turbo
| £23,910
Maximum speed: 147mph | 0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 33.3mpg | Power: 205bhp | Torque: 221lb ft
CO2 194g/km | VED Band F £210 | Insurance group 17E