Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Renault Laguna 3.0 V6

It’s a well-worn path from mind-bending concept to mind-numbing reality, and Renault is as guilty as any of treading it. Great-looking show cars always seem to fall remarkably flat if they make it into production. Gull-wing doors are a bit pricey, and fuel cells don’t really work.

But has Renault pulled it out of the bag with the Laguna Coupe? Here was a stunning show car that was meant to be pretty damn close to the real thing. After all, the guys already had a working Laguna, with no gull-wings or fuel cells, and all that was needed was fewer doors and more balls. How far wrong could they go?

I’ll argue that a miss is as good as a mile; many will definitely disagree. From certain angles, it’s a fairly handsome-looking thing, but from too many, in this highly subjective opinion, it’s a collision of ideas that fails to stay true enough to the elegance and poise of the concept. The front is all Clio/Twingo/Whatever, while the rear owes a little too much to Aston’s V8 Vantage for comfort. And the all-important point where the C-Pillar meets the shoulder line, looks more Volkswagen Passat clumsy than Mercedes CLS deft.

Still, the Laguna Coupe is going to appeal to a lot of people. It’s far better-looking than the latest Laguna on which it’s based (which isn’t saying much), and what Renault has going on underneath is impressive.

On launch, the car debuted with its flagship diesel and petrol engines. Big, thirsty V6s, mated as standard to smooth six-speed automatic gearboxes. Neither is likely to be a volume-seller, but both showed up the Coupe’s capabilities admirably. Against the saloon (which is actually a hatch), it is squatter and shorter and has a shorter wheelbase, all improving the handling. The Coupe’s chassis provides bags of grip and response without dispensing with that vital degree of comfort. The steering is utterly devoid of feel, however.

Something Renault is doing really well at the moment, however, is poshing up its cars to an extent that leaves its more obvious rivals, like Peugeot and Citroen, absolutely floundering: quality materials, solid touch-points and a general sense of a very Germanic finish. The cabin is full of nicer bits and bobs to provide owners with subliminal reminders that they are a marginally better class of citizen than those in lowly Laguna hatches. This, of course, is something that coupes do all on their own anyway. After all, if you’re rakish and carefree enough to buy a car with just two doors, well you’re the very embodiment of class and sexual potency, aren’t you?

But not too potent, let’s hope, because having a hatch with five doors makes an awful lot more sense if children are going to enter the equation. Or, worse still, full-scale adults who want a lift. The coupe does have a vast boot, and the neat inclusion of split folding rear seats, makes it a potentially very versatile car, but rear access isn’t ideal.

It’s a difficult one to sum up, this. It looks all right. Some will like it a lot more than others, that’s for sure. And priced in the low 20s as the cheapest of them will be, it’ll look like an attractive alternative to more staid saloons or less mature hot hatches. But the pricier versions are straying into Audi A5 territory – a very inhospitable place for a Renault.

Terrible residual values mean that expensive French cars are extremely good at mugging their owners, and it’s a brave sort of an idiot who buys a six-cylinder two-door version of a boring Gallic saloon car. Really what it boils down to is this: if you would have bought a normal Laguna, you still should, but that if you absolutely have to slightly inconvenience yourself for the sake of your penis, the Laguna Coupe is an accomplished way of doing it.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Acura - 2009

The 2009 model year is looking to be a big one for Acura, with all three of the brand’s sedans getting fresh styling and feature upgrades. The flagship RL all get new satin-finish grilles similar to those on the MDX and RDX, now a defining trademark for Acura. The 2009 RL has a roomier rear seat, softer armrests, redesigned vents and easier-to-use climate controls. Additional sound insulation and an Active Sound Control (ASC) noise abatement system help make the cabin even quieter. The bestselling vehicle in the Acura lineup, the TL is all-new for 2009, and is available for the first time with Acura’s high-tech Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). This new drivetrain option should help handle the V6’s 305 horsepower – the most powerful engine ever to come from the brand. Inside, in addition to the luxurious leather seats, elegant wood trim and additional space, the TL is available with a keyless entry system with push-button start, a voice recognition navigation system with real-time traffic and weather (including Doppler-style radar overlays), and Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Meanwhile, the new TSX still retains the basic shape of the previous generation, but it has a 1.3-inch longer wheelbase and a 2.6-inch wider track, which should make for improved handling and ride comfort. Bold fender flares and taillights provide an updated look. A new 2.4-liter DOHC VTEC engine gives the TSX more torque over a wider range for better midrange acceleration.