Hotter Laguna turbo blows in

Renault is being very deliberate about the positioning of the new Laguna GT205. This is a ‘softer’ GT, not (like the Clio 182 and Mégane 225) a hard-core Renaultsport product. And, having driven the car on some sensational Italian roads, we think the distinction is a wise move.

The GT205 is introduced as part of a refresh of the entire Laguna range. Exterior changes are subtle, with a more tapered front to meet pedestrian impact regulations and the new corporate face. While the changes are elegant, the look is more conservative than the outgoing model’s.

Inside it’s a different story. The old Laguna wasn’t bad, but the 2005-model’s cabin is a clear improvement. The layout is less cluttered and material quality improves, while Keyless Go, an automatic parking brake and a three-dimensional sat-nav system feature for the first time.

To provide a more engaging drive, Renault have stiffened the suspension and upped engine performance across the range. Gearboxes have also been fettled to provide a more positive shift.

The GT205 takes this a step further with a chassis that sits 10mm lower on 24 per cent stiffer springs. The brakes are larger and the steering reprogrammed to give greater weight.

The changes are obvious: turn into a fast bend and body roll is well contained, with the steering devoid of the vagueness affecting the rest of the range.

The 204bhp (205PS) engine is a version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged unit already available in 165bhp tune in the Laguna and with 222bhp in the Mégane 225. The GT205’s works best from low revs and through the mid-range – 90 per cent of the 221lb ft of torque maximum is available from 2250 to 5250rpm. But while the engine propels the car to 60mph in 7.2 seconds, power tails off discernably above 5000rpm.

This trait embodies the GT205’s character – drive it smoothly and it rewards with rapid progress, but push harder and the car fails to meet the challenge. The brakes have a typical Renault snatchiness, the steering becomes uncommunicative and the engine slightly flustered.

Visual changes for the GT205 are again more stylish gent than boy racer – there are no GT205 badges, only discreet chrome strips, a small rear spoiler and smoked chrome wheels. Inside, there is no colour choice – black leather with red inserts. Thankfully, the red is a tastefully dark hue. Better still, the sports seats are fantastically supportive and the leather steering wheel a pleasure to hold. The gearlever is topped with a tactile aluminium sphere, reminiscent of a Lotus Elise’s.

The revisions to the Laguna work well and modifications for the GT205 are impressive – up to a point. Renault are right to pitch the car as a grand tourer as this fits with its abilities. As it is, the GT205 is a satisfying machine.

Satisfying it may be, but the GT205 is expected to account for only five per cent of Laguna sales – the biggest seller will remain the 1.9-litre diesel. Revised to meet Euro4 emissions regulations and with 130bhp, its mix of torque and refinement make it the Laguna of choice.

Jamie Costorphine

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