by Jeff Mullins 03/03/12
At the turn of the millennium, the mid size car market was a very different sector to what it has become today. If you were a sales rep, middle aged man with family or both, there was still an array of volume car manufacturers battling to get your attention. If you were to pick up a car magazine from 2001, you would find new offerings like the new Citroen C5, Ford Mondeo as well as the facelifted Toyota Avensis and VW Passat. If you were to count the Audi A4, there was also a totally remodelled version launched that year too, which would make a significant impact into the market share of the above brands. There was barely any sign of the crossover at this time, with Nissan yet to give up on the Primera, having a brand new model in the pipeline to be launched the following year.
Renault launched the all-new Laguna at the beginning of 2001 and with it came a list of technological innovations that made it a car befitting of the modern times that were approaching. Despite being relatively unsophisticated on the engineering front (many rivals by then had gained multi link rear suspension where Laguna II made do with a torsion beam) it featured party tricks that aimed to lure the buyer such as a credit card shaped key which facilitated keyless entry and a tyre pressure monitoring system. Neither of these were reliable in the long run however and eventually would come back to haunt the car along with a host of other issues. This was a shame, as at launch it had a huge amount going for it, with handsome styling influenced by the ‘Initiale’ concept car of the mid 1990’s and an estate derivative (Sport Tourer) that was arguably the best looking car in its class. It was also the first ever car to achieve the maximum 5 star rating in the Euro NCAP crash test, which was a massive selling point that Renault rammed home in marketing throughout the first few years of the car’s life.
At launch, the Irish spec Laguna II featured a 16 valve range of belt driven petrol engines available in both 1.6 and 1.8 litre capacities. These produced 110bhp and 118bhp respectively and were quite closely matched in terms of performance, with the latter being slightly torqueier and about 0.7 seconds quicker from 0-60 mph. Diesel power featured in the form of the 1.9 dCi with 101bhp and 240 Newton Metres of torque. Trim lines included ‘Sport’ (in conjunction with 1.6 litre and 1.9 DCi only) and ‘Supersport’ (1.6 litre and 1.8 litre). The standard equipment on these trims was highly impressive, even for today. A look back at the equipment list of the time shows that rare and usually costly features such as xenon headlights and electric folding exterior mirrors were standard, in addition to an electric glass sunroof and an on-board computer. Externally, the two specs were differentiated by the Sport spec featuring standard 16 “ ‘Rhodes’ alloys, while Supersport models came with larger 17” ‘Silverstone’ items which further enhanced the Laguna’s already sharp styling.
At the end of 2001, the Renault Laguna II had had a lucrative first year on the market and to add to this, it received the Semperit Irish Car of the Year award for 2002. A base model was also launched which did without many of the gizmo’s of the launch cars, as well as more obvious things like alloy wheels. From here on in, the range went on without any great changes until 2005. In 2003, the Mirage model was launched and featured full leather as standard. These models proved popular and further enhanced the Laguna as a value proposition in its segment. A 120bhp version of the dCi engine also became available in Supersport trim, but is rare compared to the standard 101bhp model.
On the reliability front, the Laguna II did much to tarnish the reputation of the manufacturer that produced it and perhaps featured too much technology for its own good, particularly considering the fact that electrics were never a strong point with the French. Fancy equipment like the key card proved to be a disaster in some cases, and most cars with the tyre pressure monitoring system have them deactivated today due to previous malfunction. Xenon headlights are also known occasionally to have trouble with self levelling, but only on some cars.
Apart from the diesel, Laguna II’s can be mechanically fine however and enormous mileages are not unheard of. Timing belt intervals are recommended at every 70k miles in the handbook, but people who have experience with the cars advise that 50k would be on the safer side. 1.9 dCi diesel engines are also prone to sticky exhaust gas recirculation valves that lead to engine failure, with symptoms being slow acceleration (ref: AutoExpress). It is the electrical issues though, like the ignition not recognising the key card, which mainly hamper reliability. In 2005, the car was significantly improved with a mid-life revision which boosted reliability as well as build quality. This revision saw power on the 1.6 litre petrol increase to 115bhp and the discontinuation of the 1.8 litre engine. A new 120bhp dCi diesel unit also became available and it was upon these two units that the remaining sales of this generation Laguna were spread out upon in this country until it was replaced in 2007 by an all-new model. As a used buy, these post 2005 models make a very shrewd purchase on the used market today, as they have little of the reliability problems that previously affected the pre-facelift model. Indeed, in a reliability survey by well regarded German auto association ADAC, the post ’05 Laguna II came out on top of staple cars in the segment such as the Ford Mondeo and Opel Vectra.
Although the Laguna has faded away into obscurity today as a new purchase, a used model represents fine value and a lot less risk than one might think provided they go for the post ’05 model. Early ‘01/02 models are trading firmly at banger money now, with ones for the brave advertised on CarsIreland.ie for well under a grand. To get into the seat of a newer model, asking prices start at around 2.5-3k for a 2005 model. As I write, an ’05 1.9 dCi model with 200k miles on the clock is presently advertised at 2.5k, which shows they are capable if nothing else. I would however advise that with whatever potential purchase that you tread carefully, verify service history and thoroughly check electrics.