Ashtrays: 2005 Renault Vel Satis

Having a chance to sit inside a Renault Vel Satis allowed me to check out two things.

2001 Renault Vel Satis: www.motorstown.com
2001 Renault Vel Satis: http://www.motorstown.com200

When Car magazine reviewed the Renault Vel Satis I remember being disappointed in their judgement. Stephen Bayley said it was not ugly enough and Anthony ffrench-Constant spent much of the article’s text talking about tropical parasites*. The part I remember is that ffrench-Constant criticised the rear compartment for the lack of room for feet under the front seats.

Recently I had an opportunity to sit inside one of the cars, a 2005 2.0T version which was once belonged or was used by the present prime minister of Denmark, Lars Lökke Rasmussen. The second thing I checked was the rear foot room. And I can report that there is no shortage of room for feet. The car is incredibly spacious inside and the rear seats are the most immediately comfortable and luxuriously shaped I can remember. I would call them the car’s selling point if one did not fall for the striking shapes and high-quality woodwork on the dash and doors. The boot is also large and very well-shaped too. That hatchback aperture makes the boot very well-lit and easy to access. I would have no hesitation in owning one of these if the need and the opportunity arose.

Turning to the main theme, I had a good look at the Vel Satis’ ashtrays. One is fitted up front and two are located in the back on the doors.

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Alas, the Vel Satis’ driver ashtray is not a patch on the magnificent trough found in the Renault 25 of a few decades earlier. People are simply smoking less and obviously need less voluminous ashtrays. I was not able to check if the ashtray had illumination. This ashtray is as small as the one on the Lancia Kappa and Ford Mondeo. It would, at best, hold one cigar’s worth of ash or maybe two Villiger Moccas. The tray is well placed though, being behind the gear lever and not in front. In the rear, things are better, but not much better. The trays are door mounted just like the Opel Senator and Lancia Thesis. They are set nicely high up, which is pleasant.

Sitting in the back led me to discover that, like the Citroen XM, the Vel Satis is a real presidential car. The driver’s and passenger’s seats are asymmetrical. The inner upper corner of the seats is cut away and this affords a really superb view out for the rear passenger. It is the equal of the XM, which also has a nearly unobstructed view for the rear passengers. This is very, very delightful feature and it really ought to be a goal of designers to make the view out for rear passengers good enough for the president of France.

All in all, this static examination of the car resulted in me entirely re-appraising my view of the car. Yes, the interior looks astonishing. Furthermore, ashtray size notwithstanding, it feels truly cossetting to be inside the car. Was the ride quality so bad as to outweigh the advantages of the car’s striking appearance, clever packaging and first-rate comfort and interior design? Really?

*That´s not really true. 

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

44 thoughts on “Ashtrays: 2005 Renault Vel Satis”

  1. Are you sure the criticism relating to the room for feet that you remember wasn’t directed at the Avantime rather than the VelSatis? It’s clearly an issue in the big coupé (due to the safety belt being seat-mounted I believe).

    With regards the ride, if I remember correctly it was satisfactory but not a patch on French cars from the previous generation. Clearly the germanisation of European car engineering was already well underway at the turn of the century.

  2. I always liked the Vel Satis’ (Latin for ‘or enough’) Andrée Putman style interior a lot, even without having sat inside it. It’s a shame that Renault got as lambasted as they did for trying to do something that wasn’t the norm.

    Talking of this generation of Renault cars: whatever happened to Louis Schweitzer?

    1. You should try the Vel Satis interior. It’s a revelation. In car terms. Probably better than the XM as far as the rear passenger seats, and that’s saying something in my book.

  3. Richard, you really make me want to go and look at a Vel Satis. Judging from pictures, I think that its interior might be a notch above the C6’s in terms of finish and materials (especially this wood trim). It might also be a bit more roomy and airy (not that I’d complain), thanks to the greater height. I just fear that ride comfort might be a big disappointment for a hydropneumatically spoiled guy like me.

    Interesting fact about the asymmetrical seats – I’ve never noticed this in all of the seven or eight XMs I’ve sat in.

  4. Careful reading helps – the part with the asymmetry only relates to the Renault. I will assess the situation in the C6 tonight.

    1. This is what Monsieur le Diplomate told me after having a seat:
      “Ze central armrest is there, beut it is a little too low. It is not ze same ‘eight as ze armrest in ze door. Ze visibilité is excellent! Ze seats are spaced almost what you call ‘a foot’ on ze other side of ze Manche. And ze backs of ze seats are much below ze window line. It ‘elps that my chauffeur likes to sit low in ze car, so even a person with ze ‘eight of M. Sarkozy would ‘ave a good view.
      It ‘as been ages since I ‘ad an XM in my service, so it’s ‘ard for me to compare which of ze cars is better. I remember that ze armrest in ze XM ‘ad a thicker and softer padding.”

  5. Probably. Another idea might be that there is still a small remainder of the once famous Swiss tendency to combine wealth with a sense of understatement and neglect of everything concerning image. The Vel Satis might be too exalted for people living deeply and truly in this spirit, though.

    1. I’m not sure that was always the external view of the Swiss. I always thought of them as a stylish nation, albeit in a restrained sort of way. I mean there was the odd liking for big American cars, but I think that was always offset by the wonderful trains and Post Buses.

    2. There is also the stylish part, but the deliberate non-stylishness was also quite common and can still be seen today.

  6. The Vel Satis always makes me wonder about the arguments, compromises and last-minute expedient moves that had to happen within Renault during its development. I can’t believe that Renault intended its flagship Safrane replacement to look and function exactly like that, and that it passed through the development system with little change. It reminds me of a film where the director departed during production due to ‘creative differences’ and the screenplay is hastily revised, leading to reshoots and further post-production meddling by the producers and studio. The result is rarely worthwhile.

    1. I don’t disagree with your feelings about it one bit Mark, but the truth is that I remember an interview with Le Quement shortly before its launch with him speaking proudly about the car. So, it’s maybe more like a film by a great director that is an inexplicable stinker.

  7. I see it being a thing that was exactly as they wanted it to be. It was a thing few others wanted. Not because it was bad though. It functions in every important respect like any modern car. The focus group people who were used to justify this were being disingenuous or did not know what they wanted in real life.

  8. But returning to Mark’s analogy, there are obvious flaws. I can see what they were getting at with the narrative, but the whole thing was a bit clumsy. So, as a flawed masterpiece, less Apocalypse Now, more Peggy Sue Got Married.

  9. “Not ugly enough” – was a good comment for the VelSatis.
    I think, the Fiat Croma and the Opel Signum are members of the same group – they all have tried to be a car as practical as a Golf-Class-car – with the same proportions. – just one or two classes bigger.
    None of them was beautiful or successful – BMW should have taken a look at their sales numbers before creating the Series 5 GT….

    Nevertheless, I really love the interior of the VelSatis. It was available with red leather – but i never had the opportunity to see a VelSatis wearing red leather.

  10. The 5GT stands apart from the others, I feel. I really have no problem with how it looks while I can understand if not agree with the difficulties of the Croma and Signum. Even the Signum deserved more sales than it got. It did nothing wrong and, really, aren´t people being very oversensitive if they think its appearance “too much” to take.

  11. I think Markus misread the intention when it comes to the VelSatis, and the Signum to a lesser extent. What Le Quement was going for first and foremost with the VelSatis was not Golf-class practicality at a larger scale, but the tall, upright and chiselled road presence of the big Renaults of the 1920/30s. I’ve argued before that the main visual flaw comes from keeping to a too traditional shape at the front with a long bonnet, where the coupé concept that PLQ is seen leaning against shows a smoother transition between the windscreen and bonnet.

    1. I bet that they argued a lot about the bonnet/a-pillar angle. The concept car has one that is shallow and there a smoother transition. It is also a lower car. If the Vel Satis production car had such a flow, other things beign equal, it might have looked too vanlike. So, if the glass house had to be raked then the car would have to be lower and then that impacts that packaging around which the car was supposedly based. Design is full of wicked compromises, no?

    2. Wicked compromises indeed. Even though I’ve always thought they chose the wrong direction here, I sincerely hope that it was at least debated at length as I would hate think it was merely the result of carelessness or incompetence.

  12. The Vel Satis’ design certainly resulted from deep discussions. I don’t even think they were wrong either. You have to go beyond customers’ ordinary expectations sometimes. For every Vel Satis there is an Espace, 16, R5 and Megane Scenic. I think any half-wise CEO recognises total risk-aversion is dangerous.

    1. My view actually is that they didn’t take enough risk. I believe they should have gone for the ‘monospace’ approach, as I explained in the piece I wrote here a while back.

    2. Richard, The four you mentioned were recognisably new concepts that you might have bought, even if you didn’t like their appearance all that much, because they offered something genuinely different. Unless you really have an over-riding fetish tor neat wood inlays, beneath the skin the Vel Satis was very ordinary. Especially in its engineering. Once, I got the idea that Renault’s (and Citroen’s for that matter) engineers talked to their designers to end up with a rounded vehicle. Now, I get the idea that they don’t.

    1. Did you push on the wooden inlay above the glovebox – it contains another small glovebox and two cupholders? I can´t find a photo of this fine detail, but i love the way, french luxury cars are combining style, high-class materials and practical details.
      The sliding covers of the door pockets at the Citroen C6 are a prime example of this french way of luxury – a great and very welcome difference to the clumsy german pomp (look at the Maybach – this was a pure statement of this luxury-style.)

    1. Thanks for reminding us about that Mark. It’s certainly well worth another read, though I end up frustrated thinking what Renault’s range could be today, compared with what it is. Since Laurent wrote that, we have seen the new Espace and the Kadjar. The latter bears poor comparison with the Koleos concept that Laurent showed which, had it gone into production in 2003, would now maybe be in its third iteration. But, what Renault’s current range shows, together with cars such as a greatly successful Renault-connected product like the Juke, is that customers really don’t place things like visibility, practicality and, even sometimes, comfort high on their shopping list. If it ticks their box in terms of delivering a style that complements their self-image, they will put up with a load of compromises. So is the Vel Satis’ main fault is that it was just too practical and comfortable?

    2. Practical, comfortable, no image. I think it’s the essence of Vel Satis’ failure as well as the Signum’s. Sometimes I have the impression that people deliberately want to show that they don’t have to care about everyday stuff and can afford some indulgence. Too bad that this thinking, once reserved for sports cars or convertibles, has now taken over more or less all classes of vehicles.

  13. Markus: I missed that detail. German exterior design and interior design seem sometimes unrelated. Understated themes are usually succesful whilst the approaches to luxury can be as cool as the Phaeton or grotesque as any large Mercedes of recent years. Actually, it’s Mercedes which are the taste criminals.

  14. Simon´s point about indulgence is something that requires a lot of thinking. I could write a long essay about the implications.
    Let´s look at the rationality of the Vel Satis. It was a rational decision to prioritise packaging and spaciousness. On another level, it was not rational to make a car people would not accept. Plainly people do learn to accept new forms otherwise we would still be wearing doublet and hose. Renault obviously didn´t provide sufficient incentives for people to overcome their dislike of the forms. Renault thought perhaps the interior design and spaciousnes was that pay-off. Again, a priori, you might imagine the emotional value of a spacious and comfortable interior would be enticement enough. No, the emotional enticement must be on the outside, it seems. In that sense the daftness of some cars´ packaging is a clear triumph of emotion over reason. It´s about the power of the visual.
    An essay….I must stop.

  15. Interesting thoughts, Richard. They also tie in with your previous comment about unrelated interior and exterior design. The emphasis on the outside for me can only lead to one conclusion: for most people, their own well-being is secondary to what impression they make on others. Isn’t that a sad thought?

    1. Manifestly there are some who are unconcerned with other people´s impressions. They are not sufficient in number to outweigh the influence of the rest. How does one respond to this? It seems spineless to give the unthinking herd what they want and yet suicidal to offer them that which they will reject. To get the balance between innovative novelty and the need to offer something that panders to people´s self-understanding is such that you might not even know when you got it right.
      It gets boring to kick Renault over this car. In this instance and in cases like the Multipla, the market´s view was wrong. I accept the democracy of the choice but dispute that the choice was wise.

    1. Good gracious. They really went to town on that. You could lose a lot of things inside that car if a small child was involved. Star Wars figures, for example. The dashboard drawer is as stunning as a dashboard drawer can be.

    2. Nice one. It also answers one of the earlier questions about about space in the rear footwell. As the VelSatis also had seat-mounted safety belts (something I had forgotten about) and a some storage under the front seat, it probably also affected passenger foot space, although likely to a lesser extent than in the Avantime.

    3. Another incentive for buying a used Vel Satis. You’d doubtless find various interesting and potentially valuable things that previous owners had stowed away and entirely forgotten to retrieve.

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