Condition: Alain Menu would approve (probably)
What was the best mainstream family car of the 1990s?
If you answered “Ford Mondeo”, then score half a point. The Mondeo was an astonishing leap forward for Ford in the early ’90s, building the framework for a range that would over the next few years add the excellent fourth-generation Fiesta, the Ka, Puma, and eventually the Focus.
But while some quarters of the press heaped praise upon the Mondeo, others were more cautious in their assessments. All agreed it was a vast improvement on the Sierra of course, but far from perfection. The Mondeo was a car with little visual flair, playing it safe after the Sierra. The dashboard’s quality was good but its layout busy, and in higher-spec versions with wider tyres, the fluidity of the basic chassis was offset by a choppy ride. A great all-rounder then, but not as adept in specific areas as several rivals.
Skim through contemporary car magazines, and you might be surprised to learn that Renault’s all-new Laguna was one of the cars giving Ford’s family car renaissance a hard time, and knocked it off the top step of the podium on more than one occasion.
The Laguna, like the Mondeo, was a huge advance on its predecessor, in this case the Renault 21. The 21 was getting on a bit in the 1990s, and while the Turbo model still had the capacity to surprise, cars like the then-new Clio showed Renault could do far better with its mainstream offerings. And better the Laguna was, curvier and prettier than the 21, with a far higher quality cabin and, as it turned out, a chassis right up there with the Mondeo’s.
“Dynamically inspired”, Car magazine called it testing the RTi 16v in July 1995 against a refreshed Alfa Romeo 155, an E36 BMW 318i, and a Mondeo V6. “Not as sharp as the Alfa,” said the magazine, “but corners the most fluidly and has by far the best ride.” The aforementioned Alfa won the test, but the Laguna finished second – beating not just the Mondeo, but the BMW too.
All the Laguna really lacked at launch was a range of multivalve engines like the Mondeo offered; most of the units were taken from the 21, while the 2-litre 16v tested by Car was a Volvo unit from those brands’ brief partnership. A much more modern selection would arrive with the 1998 facelift, while the old “PRV” V6 range-topper was replaced by a more advanced 3-litre shared with Peugeot and Citroën.
You may remember a rather successful British Touring Car Championship campaign too. Renault Dealer Racing entered a Laguna in 1994, which proved competitive immediately and allowed Alain Menu to sneak a second-place finish that season behind Gabriele Tarquini’s Alfa. In 1995 Williams Grand Prix Engineering took over, and in 1997 Menu took a dominant championship victory.
Which is to say, the Laguna was pretty good all-round. It’s also now vanishingly rare – more so even than early Mondeos, lacking the general undercurrent of support that enthusiasts in the UK have for old Fords and to a lesser extent Vauxhalls.
And that makes this 1994 Renault Laguna currently for sale a proper survivor. In 2-litre “RT” trim – somewhere in the middle of Renault’s trim level lineup – a secret unexceptional star too, in a way a high-end V6 or the 16v RTi that Car tested might not be.
It’s an automatic, which might explain why it’s managed to survive this long, since it’s likely had a relatively gentle life – something corroborated by just 22,000 miles on the odometer. From the dealership’s photos it looks spot-on outside, topped off by original wheel trims and a sleek spoiler, and the only notable demerit inside is a grubby driver’s pew.
Renaults of this era aren’t known for sailing through MOTs, but this one’s got a full year left, and no recurring issues on previous tests. The engine, incidentally, is all-Renault; unlike the 16v, the regular 2-litre Lagunas got an eight-valve Renault unit, albeit one you’d still have found in certain 400-series Volvos of the period.
We don’t have any literature to hand suggesting a 2-litre automatic RT was the pick of the Laguna range, but with so few available you take what you can get these days. £3000 seems a fair price for one so rare and so tidy, and given we didn’t spot a single Laguna at this year’s Festival of the Unexceptional (if you brought one along and we missed it, our apologies!), it’s sure to cut a dash at next year’s show.