In November 2000 the first print articles on the Renault Laguna Mk2 started to appear. What did they say?
Renault’s approach was to “take the car upmarket” by improving the fit and finish of the interior (everyone was thinking ‘Passat B5’ at this time). Patrick Le Quement said of the car that combined Germanic rigour in its treatment and Latin flavour. Looking back, it’s hard to see how the Laguna Mk 1 lacked any rigour as the design still holds up for the quality of its detailing inside and out. With the Mk2 they flattened the surfaces and reduced the curvature of the main forms, lending the car a more chiselled, planar look. Where did the flair reside? Conceivably, the decorative metal panel over the grille and the inflections on the rub strips; perhaps something in the rake of the C-pillar. Apart from these mild flourishes the car is sober and serious.
The Laguna faced stiff competition at the time. Citroen had launched the C5 and a new and very grown-up Mondeo had gone on sale. The latter more influenced by the Passat than the former which seemed to have been influenced by molluscs. The Mondeo went down the same flat-surfaced path as the Laguna while the Passat was rather curvy at all scales, yet the message the competition took from this was to do the opposite.
The biggest change perhaps over the model shift between Laguna 1 and Laguna 2 lay in how the estate was treated. Renault snubbed the antiques trade by making the Laguna 2 estate more of a fastback, with a raked d-pillar, more of “shooting brake” to quote the marketing boss of the time, Thierry Dombreval. Bad move, I say, as people buy estates to move things and if they wanted a shooting brake they’d not be looking at Renault. The thinking was that customers were opting for the Scenic instead of the Laguna so the Laguna was made (pause) less practical. It seems to me that they only compounded the problem. What they needed to do was make the Laguna ever more practical.
Renault wanted to shift the focus of the firm away from small cars by making the Laguna more serious and refined. That didn’t work as the car was dogged by electrical problems and its bigger sister, the Vel Satis found few takers.
In January 2001 Mike Duff at Car magazine summed up the Laguna: “…the new Laguna will carry on where its predecessor left off – pampering reps with generous equipment, cruising the motorways at a thoroughly sensible cost-per mile. But Mondeo-beater, it ain’t.” Renault offered a V6 among the engine ranges available, and like all mainstream saloons, it was dismissed: “The V6 motor quickly proved itself rather too fast for the attached Laguna. This is a car that, like its predecessor, likes to canter rather than gallop. The suspension is slow to react, and changes in road texture or intended direction seem to come as a total surprise to the springs and dampers – catching them out every time. Lots of roll and squeal in corners and woolly steering, and a surprising amount of ‘whump-thump’ gettting into the cabin. There’s also noticeable wind noise above about 75 mph, a loud whistling from the tops of the doors.” The key card received short shrift for doing nothing a key could not. Having tried the Renault key card 14 years later, I can only agree. I just don’t see the point.
In April 2001 Car gave the Laguna another kick, out of four cars (C5, Mondeo and Passat), the Laguna came second to the Passat.
Fifteen years on, the car’s legacy is this: “Plagued by wide-ranging problems with the electrics, mechanicals and build quality,” writes Honest John. The counterpoint is this: “Stylish looks, luxuriously well-equipped and a comfortable ride. A fine motorway cruiser. Excellent crash test rating.” In 2001 a Laguna could be had for £14,000. Today you can get a 1.6 base model for €550 with 160,000 km.