After 2.3m copies of two generations of Laguna since the nameplate's launch in January 1994, Renault has officially launched the redesigned 2008 model line, emphasising as never before the work done to improve quality.

A skim of the 37-page press release shows the car itself is an attractive but formulaic redesign: completely new body and cabin, upgraded but largely familiar petrol and diesel engines with longer, yet less costly service intervals, a new automatic gearbox already used in other Renaults, some new high-tech toys (more automated air-con; USB connectors for iPods, electronic handbrake, state-of-the-art sat nav and audio) and improved practicality such as a one-touch folding rear seat. All nice, all worth having for the money, but mostly nothing we ain't already seen from someone else.

But the emphasis is really on quality this time, something neither the Laguna nor Renault has been known for of late. Here in the UK, there is considerable anecdotal evidence, well documented on consumer websites, of problems with such items as automatic transmissions range-wide and Clio bonnet (hood) catches and the apparent indifference of both the manufacturer and dealers to customers' problems with their cars.

So Renault comes out fighting: "New Laguna is manufactured in the Sandouville factory in France with a level of quality never seen before," the press kit says very early on.

Later, comes the detail. It is soon apparent every aspect of designing, building and maintaining this new Renault has been scrutinised.

"During the industrial process, every effort has been made to achieve the desired result. The processes and best practice in Renault and Nissan factories have already been the object of an in-depth study. The result of this study has been the introduction of greater checks and efficiency in the assembly lines throughout the manufacturing process…," the automaker said.

"Restructuring of the operating posts and a reconfiguration of the work flow has resulted in improved reliability of tasks. The operators concentrate exclusively on their 'added value', as the different parts have already been prepared at an earlier stage, thus eliminating the risk of a faulty part.

"All functions in which there is a risk of error in the choice of a part by the operator are covered by a computer-driven system (1,000 are protected in this way). These devices, which offer a systematic check of parts ('Poka Yoke'), simultaneously validate the parts, both in terms of quality and quantity. Checks at every point on the assembly line have been made more rigorous. At all stages during assembly, cars benefit from strengthened protection (several rigid shells on the exterior, plastic films for components).

"Static and running tests as well as electronic checks are carried out on every product leaving the factory. The track at the end of the assembly line has been improved compared to the previous generation, with the aim of showing up more clearly any problems of noise (paving stones, series of tight bends etc)."

Aftersales

Renault also claimed the new Laguna's "quality drive does not stop when the car leaves the factory as maintenance and repairs were considered from the early design stages."

"More than 1,500 check points have been set up, over 124 operating ranges. They have been put to the test in 'super garages'; prototype workshops, created in order to test diagnostic tools and operational methods. Eight hundred symptoms and 6,000 types of fault have been drawn up, with the sole aim of better understanding customer issues.

"A new tool called the 'symptom definition module' enables the engineer to understand the customer's case, as a result of asking three or four simple questions. The system can involve, where appropriate, the use of a camera, linked to a computer. This permits the diagnosis of a fault from a distance, even in inaccessible parts of the car, where dismantling of parts would otherwise be necessary. 80% of breakdown faults can thus be identified in under an hour and 95% in less than two hours," Renault added.

The French car maker also said a new training programme is being used worldwide to train over 11,000 dealership 'electro-mechanics' (three and a half times more than previously).

Specific commercial and more technical training courses are available through e-learning, in order to allow independent distance learning. 23,000 people have already followed the 'Renault service programme' training course in 2006 and 2007, of whom nearly half have been sales staff.

Extensive customer surveys have also been undertaken to monitor the success of the new training.

"New Laguna will benefit from the establishment of the Renault Quality Excellence Plan PER4, with its aim of ensuring customer satisfaction in the field of sales and after-sales, Renault said.

Lighter

The redesigned Laguna is lighter by an average 15kg (up to 65 kg on the new 110hp eco² diesel version) and is the first Renault lighter than its predecessor.

Weight-reduction measures included an engine cradle and associated parts made of aluminium and the use of steel with an extremely high yield limit for the stiffer body with its improved occupant impact protection.

Renault said materials choice and parts design removed almost 20kg of steel from its new car with measures such as hollow-headed wheel screws (five per wheel) reducing weight by 700 grams per vehicle. Hubs and suspension arms are 450g lighter while soundproofing improvements saved three kilograms.

Engines

Several petrol and diesel engines are offered with six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes and an emphasis on reduced fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

The new eco2 diesel version with 110hp 1.5-litre dCi engine drinks only 5.1 litres per 100km on the 'official' EC combined test cycle and emits 136g of CO2 per km.

Versions with the more powerful engines or with diesel particulate filters have variable power steering hydraulic assistance and this is the first Renault in the D-segment to use an electric pump - French rival PSA already uses a similar system for its rival Peugeot 407.

Renault said the electrical pump varies power assistance to suit driving conditions which optimises fuel consumption by driving the pump electrically only when necessary. The entry-level 1.6 16v petrol versions retain  conventional hydraulic assistance.

Petrol engine options include a 140hp/103kW two-litre 16 valve jointly developed under the Renault-Nissan alliance, as well as a turbocharged 170hp variant with 'proactive' six-speed automatic gearbox.

A new evolution of the current Alliance V6 petrol engine will eventually be positioned at the top of the new range which is launched on 12 October in Europe.


Diesels are the aforementioned 110hp/81kW 1.5dCi unit, yet another example of European automakers' engine down-sizing, producing the same performance and replacing the old 1.9 dCi engine which was heavier and less economical.

The larger 2.0 dCi diesel engine comes with three power outputs: 130, 150 and 175 hp (96, 110 and 127 kW), all available with particulate filter.

These diesels will soon be available with a range of technologies (particulate filters, new valve for the recycling of exhaust gas recirculation gases, further development of the fuel injection system), which will enable them to meet the planned Euro5 emissions standard two years before due date, Reanult said.

Developed in the alliance, in conjunction with the Japanese partner Jatco, the Laguna's new AJ0 automatic transmission was offered on the new Scenic (Laguna-derived MPV/minivan) at the end of 2006 and, at the start of 2007, on the larger Espace MPV.

Renault describes it as "an auto-adaptive logical gearbox which identifies the type of driving and the gradient of the road" and says it reduces both friction losses and fuel consumption.

New features

A new 'triple system' air-conditioner has new central-dash 'soft-auto-fast' buttons and can be personalised.

Renault says the 'auto' function optimises thermal and acoustic comfort and response speed while the 'soft' programme prioritises a quiet air flow with a gentle action especially for front passengers and with noise reduction of up 15dB compared to the best systems on the market. Rapidly reacting to benefit those in the back seats, the 'fast' mode swiftly creates an efficiently ventilated atmosphere, the automaker claimed, noting that the new Laguna was the first vehicle to benefit from customer surveys carried out in 2001 and 2002 on the subject of thermal comfort.

"This survey gave Renault a better understanding of customer requirements. A second factor was the development of a new air-conditioning system, working in conjunction with Nissan, for the American market where it was evaluated," Renault said.

A compressor with large externally-controlled cylinders can lower the cabin temperature rapidly, while still keeping a/c use to the minimum, thus reducing fuel consumption.

Other detail changes include improved sun and humidity sensors and a pollution-sensor, familiar from German car brands, that automatically switches the system to recirculated air.

The revised Laguna Sport Tourer (estate car or wagon) has a new load area layout with seatbacks that can now be lowered in a single movement from several positions.

Pressing a single button provides a flat surface of 2.01 metres, thanks to a spring which folds down the seat backs automatically. This results in a load area of up to 1,593 litres. This is not dissimilar to systems already seen in Mazda's 6 and Honda's Accord wagons, and is a worthwhile update.

Graeme Roberts