The just launched Safrane is Renault's new entree into the tough executive car market, a market that has fallen to a new low in the last couple of recessionary years, a fall in direct proportion to the rapidly reducing numbers of executives actually in employment.
It 's predecessor, the 25, had been around perhaps a little too long and never scored heavily in a fiercely competitive market sector even during it's more buoyant years of the mid to late eighties. Yet, the newcomer, the Safrane, is a fine car, the epitomy of where car making has got to in the nineties, svelte, stylish, comfortable, superb performance and failsafed with massive overdesign in the areas of safety and handling, touching base with all of the latest technology in a range priced from around £18,000 to nearly £26, 000 for the top of range 3 litre V6 model.
The Safrane arrives as the latest in a line of new models released in the last few years that have revitalised the fortunes of the French car maker, giving it a whole new reputation for high technology, innovative design and superb build quality, a renaissance that the association with the world of Formula 1 - now as joint World Champions with the Williams - has certainly enhanced.
This search for the highest engineering standards is perhaps indicated by the amazing numbers of computers built into the Safrane which control, monitor and interpret all vital functions.
Clothed in a curvy, hatchback, low CD body, the shell of the Safrane has been massively engineered for safety with door bars featuring among many crash protection features, the whole car feeling solid, full of confidence and with excellent build quality and finish evident.
As to the equipment specification, it's probably easier to list what's missing, the car is so well fitted, speed sensitive power steering, cruise control, air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, ABS, remote central locking, a remote controlled 6 speaker stereo with graphic equaliser, electric seats - heated too -, dual range automatic gearbox, I could go on....and on...
The 2 litre, 12 valve, 4 cylinder, injected, engine is a newly re-engineered and refined version of that used in the 25 from late 1989 yet it is now smoother, quieter and more powerful than ever in that car, as smooth as a nightclub crooner but far more racy and as quiet as a sensory deprivation tank. With a very solid 135bhp under the right foot even the automatic version is pretty fleet of foot at a shade under 13 seconds for the 0 60 mph dash, the manual gearbox version well over a second quicker.
The test car's auto-box was a 4 speed, dual range, slick shifter, which, on changing to the sport mode, dramatically transformed the car into a real barnstormer holding the gears almost to the redline before sliding, almost imperceptibly, up through the box. Yet in economy mode it gave me around 25 Mpg from a very rapid, early morning, motorway dash.
A limousine like ride, soft and yielding, often translates to poor handling but not in the Safrane which has a surprising agility and tolerance for a fairly large car, very little body roll evident, the multi linked rear suspension in total control and the steering with enough feel to place the car accurately. Braking is very strong from the vented disc set up, all backed up by ABS.
The cabin interior is sumptous, very roomy with an excellent quality of trim - cloth in this instance - the aforementioned, all electrically positioned seats, heated for greater luxury, supportive and very comfortable. A large wrap around dash contains big, clear, conventional, instruments with, alongside, a multi-function computer panel and a diagrammatic display of the airconditioning options.
Renault's new Safrane simply oozes confidence, as it should for the French car makers have got it just right this time. The Safrane is a superb long distance cruiser that pleases and surprises every time that you climb into it. It's well up with the best in it's class and will surely succeed.