IN a year which saw actor Hugh Grant lead the way for a British film industry renaissance with his starring role in Four Weddings And A Funeral, Renault was involved in its own change of direction.
The year was 1994, a period during which the French car giant changed up a gear, finally replacing the old favourite Renault 21 with the Mark I Laguna in both hatch and estate car form.
This model change quickly helped to gain Renault new prominence in the hotly contested upper medium market and by the end of 1995, the Laguna's share of that particular cake had risen to more than ten per cent and giving the established Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Vectra and VW Passat a run for their money.
The 1990s also saw the distinctive beak of the Laguna heading up the contenders for the British Touring Car Championship, a challenge which, with the Swiss driving ace Alain Menu at the wheel, brought the trophy to Renault in 1997.
In 2001 Laguna II became the first car to achieve five-star Euro NCAP crash test status and, with more dynamic styling and a revised engine range added in 2005, the Laguna II continued to achieve global sales of over 100,000 units a year and when production ceased, combined worldwide sales of Laguna I and II had surpassed 2.3 million units.
Now the third generation Laguna is on sale - a model which was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show last September. It comes in hatchback and tourer bodystyles, boasts four trim levels, Expression, Dynamique, Dynamique S and the flagship Initiale model while a wide range of engine choice comprises four diesel, 1.5 110bhp dCi, 2.0 130bhp dCi, 2.0 150bhp dCi and 2.0 dCi 175bhp plus two petrol, 2.0 140bhp and 2.0 170bhp.
Trim levels are pretty generous with the Expression entry level model providing as standard the likes of air con, electric windows all round, powered and heated door mirrors, four-speaker sound system with CD and 16-inch alloys while driver safety aids include ABS with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) with traction and understeer control, six airbags, Renault Card keyless entry, Renault Anti-Intruder Device (RAID) which automatically locks the car doors when moving at over 5mph and a Thatcham category 1 alarm.
The Dynamique-trimmed hatchback adds cruise control, front fogs, chrome window surrounds and part leather front sports seats to the manifest and, with some quite elegant streamlining, long bonnet and low deep-set grille flanked by elongated sweeping triple lens headlights plus pronounced sills and wheel arches which provide a solid and businesslike look. The new Laguna really does look the business.
Bigger in every direction than its predecessor its increased dimensions translate into even more generous accommodation.
A neatly laid-out, sweeping curved dash is a lesson in ergonomics and, while tasteful chrome trimmed dials add a further touch of class, the driving environment is well set out with controls nicely to hand including a space-saving electronic parking brake which automatically releases as you drive off.
The doors have that satisfyingly solid thunk when closing and the cabin is easily accessible. Space is also generous in the rear with more kneeroom available for adult passengers than was provided by its predecessor. Throughout the cabin there are many handy storage places and, with all seats taken, there is still a pretty generous 450 litres of luggage space available while, with seats down, load area is boosted to 1,377 litres.
Paired with a smooth-slotting six-speed manual gear change, the 2.0-litre turbodiesel proved more than equal to its task, delivering a performance both smooth and punchy from its 150bhp powerpack opening up with a 0-62mph acceleration time of under 10 seconds, developing a maximum speed of 130mph while around 47mpg is possible on average.
Perhaps the power steering could have been a bit more communicative but the new Laguna hatch proved good to drive, handling well on the tarmac and showing agility and nimbleness through bends.
Overall, this is a well put together, very competent vehicle of quality both inside and out with a satisfying equipment level.
Renault Laguna Dynamique 2.0 dCi 150 5dr
Mechanical: 150bhp, 1,995cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via 6spd manual gearbox
Max speed: 130mph
0-62mph: 9.5 secs
Combined mpg: 47.1
Insurance group: 9
CO2 emissions: 158g/km
BiK rating: 21%
Warranty: 3yrs/ 100,000 miles, 3yrs paint, 12yrs anti-rust