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A darn good GT

Renault Laguna 1.5dCi

Renault Laguna 1.5dCi - useful, good-looking and a masterly drive to boot.Sculptured to perfection

Renault Laguna 1.5dCi - useful, good-looking and a masterly drive to boot.Sculptured to perfection

Most people, especially if classified as a 'local', have absolutely no notion, not an inkling, that a one-and-a-half-litre diesel engine could pull a fully-laden Laguna. And that means stuck with five adults and their luggage, to a thoroughly illegal 100km/h in 12.3 seconds.

It all happens so smoothly, so pleasantly without fuss, that anyone with a mechanical interest dating a couple of decades and who fondly remember making exaggeratedly slow journeys in those rambling, ramshackle old route buses, will have absolutely no comprehension what it means to drive this 110bhp car, with its maximum 'oomph' developed at a meagre 4,000 rpm, and enough torque to satisfy the entire Household Cavalry at full gallop, that is 240Nm developed at a very low 2,000rpm.

This combination allows the driver the pleasure of being able to sit in fourth gear down to about 25km/h in everyday motoring, and then accelerate in fine manner up to the desired point where fifth or sixth gear may be handier.

I was totally fascinated by the six-speed gearbox, and for the sake of this test drive, being alone, but not lonely, I did wheel spinning starts using first and then second gear. I then went on to do a gentle tale-off in third gear, and another one because it was easy beyond belief, and once on the move the pick-up was faster than petrol engine cars doing the same exercise in second gear.

As a finale, a perfect start was made in fourth gear, with the judicious help of the clutch; and most fascinating of all, once forward movement had reached about 10km/h, the Laguna accelerated smoothly to our local limit in no time at all, no fuss made.

Frankly, the Laguna, the third model I've had the pleasure of driving, is a big car, a gratifying five-seat comfortwagon that will bat the family round in closeted peace and quiet, at very high average speeds with very little diesel consumed in most conditions. And yet it is so simple to control, to drive well and enjoy, that from the pilot's 'perch' she handles like a Clio, rather than the Continental, the professional commercial traveller's 'dream machine' that matches anything in segment offered today.

Obviously this sort of business-cum-pleasure machine has to be given the usual 'rough-house' treatment on bits of the Ta' Qali runway that far more expensive machines shudder at, and we bashed straight in with legal limit, 'hands-off' braking. The anti-lock brakes worked to perfection, and with never a wander, we stopped hard and fast three or four times for good measure. Not surprisingly on full lock, high G-force turns induced a lot of roll, but never to the point that it became a problem, and although understeer was noticeable, it never made the car run unduly off the chosen line.

Once on the safety track, it's only right and proper to remind all that active safety starts with the driver, and the way he or she reads the road and the various situations that present themselves in a never-ending stream. However, without the sort of disc brakes all round that the Laguna uses as a standard feature, the power-assisted steering that only needs 2.9 turns lock to lock, and the beautifully balanced chassis, incorporating McPherson strut type front suspension with a very advanced auto-directional rear suspension with a flexible axle in a 'H' format, the driver would have to work quite hard to keep this delightful vehicle in check.

The front seats are delightfully grippy, keeping the occupants where the designers required them to be and this ensures the auto-adaptive front airbags that deploy according to your body shape, and the thorax-side airbags with double impact sensors and different pressures will deploy for maximum effect in the event of a side impact. This gadgetry, exclusive to Renault, enables the airbag activation time to be halved.

The Laguna is far more eco-friendly than most. It is manufactured in 'green', ISO1400-certified factories. Nasty carbon dioxide emissions are lower than 140g/km, and models from the Renault range are 95 per cent recyclable. The Laguna uses eight per cent of recycled plastics in its plastic mass.

I particularly liked the new 'lines' that have been built into the third generation: a nicely sloping bonnet culminating in redesigned headlamp clusters and aggressive intake grilles. The side 'skirts' enhance the general style of the car, which has a nicely sloping roofline that smacks of a well-dressed coupé rather than a five-seat hatchback. This car in the unbeatable parlance of years gone by is a darn good GT, a fast family tourer with a boot in its smallest format able to carry 450 litres of groceries or goodies; stretching with the rear seats down to a massive 1377 litres.

Useful, good-looking and a masterly drive to boot. What more could any family man, or woman desire. Yes, this is a superb ladies' car, easy to control, light on her feet, inbuilt safety that makes taking the children within its cabin a stressfree experience, or when on a serious buying jaunt, a massive pleasure to own.

At a glance
• Engine: 1461cc dCi -K9k 780.
• Euro 4.4 cylinders, 8 valves, direct injection, common rail, diesel.
• Maximum power: 110bhp at 4,000rpm.
• Torque: 240Nm at 2,000rpm.
• Maximum revs: 5,000.
• 0-100km/h, 12.3 seconds.
• Maximum speed: 186km/h. Maltese maximum speed, 80km/h.
• Fuel consumption, combined cycle 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres travelled.
• Dimensions: 4,686mm (length); 2,060mm (width); 1,445mm (height).
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