It’s a nice looking car, if not a touch conservative for a French carmaker
Latitude Luxe 2.5 litre V6 Petrol, six-speed automatic transmission: $42,490
Latitude Luxe 2.0 litre dCi (diesel), six speed automatic transmission: $42,490
It’s a nice looking car, if not a touch conservative for a French carmaker, but even though it’s built in South Korea by Renault Samsung Motors, there’s a definite Euro feeling about the Latitude from the moment you climb aboard and settle in to the leather pews.
Far from the polarising shape of the previous generation Renault Megane, the latest offering from French automotive giant is indeed understated and should appeal to a much wider audience than many of its past designs.
One of the major attractions of this car is the high level of equipment Renault Australia has loaded into the base model Latitude, everything from proper keyless entry (that will automatically lock the car when you walk away), Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, heated front seats to power folding mirrors and an electronic hand brake are just some of the many features of the new Renault.
But for around $5000 more you can have the Renault Latitude Luxe, which adds a raft of additional features worth considerably more than the asking price, including a high-end Bose sound system (outstanding), three-zone climate control with toxicity sensor and active carbon filter, and a two-mode driver’s seat massage system that uses pneumatic rollers to reduce stress in peak hour crawls.
Its not just the high level of creature comforts that impresses, it's as much about the quality of the various materials and switchgear that make this cabin a nice place place to be. The proper metal highlights around the shift gate and on the shifter itself remind me of that which is found in the more premium models from Volkswagen and Audi.
We kicked off the drive program in the 2.5-litre petrol engine model, which is in fact a Euro 4-compliant powertrain from the Nissan VQ family.
It’s not what I’d call an overly powerful engine, with just 133kW and an equally average 235Nm of torque, but it is smooth, as well as refined. And for a car that is just 2mm short of a BMW 5 Series, it actually pulls this luxury spec Latitude along very nicely.
It’s the level of refinement that impresses me most about this engine, and the fact that it’s nice and quiet inside the cabin, even under load when you have reason to punch it. And punch it you will need to when overtaking trucks or other cars at speed, as there’s not a lot of low-down torque.
Ride and handling dynamics are also well sorted in the Latitude. The Luxe variant rides on 18-inch rims and Renault has chosen to fit the car with exceptionally good rubber in form of Continental ContiSportContact3 tyres, which provide superb grip in the wet or dry.
Even over some fairly shabby roads, the ride was comfortable and the car felt well and truly planted, even at the 110km/h speed limit. More supple than soft, but firm enough for the car to track exactly where you point it, would be an apt description of the suspension compliance.
While the Latitude wasn’t designed to a be a sports sedan, it certainly feels slightly sporty in nature, and better on road than several of its Japanese and Korean competitors.
I particularly like the hydraulic steering set-up in the petrol variant. It’s well weighted from the straight-ahead position and responds quickly to driver input. It’s also accurate and the car goes precisely where you point it, without any of that vague or numb feeling you get with many cars these days.
The brakes are also very good with a nicely progressive pedal feel with all the usual safety features in that department including ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist and automatic activation of hazard warning lights (normally a feature of higher end cars).
The leather seats also provide great support, but they are of the firmer kind (like Volkswagen) rather than a more sumptuous design. That said after a couple of hundred kilometres behind the wheel I can report these are of the back-friendly variety and offer excellent lumbar support.
The six-speed transmission is a smooth shifting unit, but for overtaking you’re better off using the manual sequential option for higher revs before shifting gear ratios for extra pace.
With so much luxury kit on board the Latitude, peak hour commutes or highway holiday travel with the kids will be anything but boring.
Switch on the 10-speaker Bose audio system and you’re in for a treat. It’s been engineered specifically for the Latitude, by a team of Renault and Bose engineers, with careful attention paid to the positioning of the loudspeakers in relation to materials used throughout the cabin. It also produces crystal clear sound clarity at any volume and considerably better than I expected.
Bluetooth audio streaming is standard fitment across the model range and is simple to activate, as tested with my iPhone.
There’s also one-touch up and down windows and sun protection blinds for the side rear windows and rear windscreen. Add to that heated and power folding side mirrors, chilled glove box, and auto headlights and wipers and that still only represents a partial inventory of creature comforts found on board the Latitude.
It’s a spacious cabin too, with plenty of width for extra elbow-room between passengers, and although I didn’t spend a lot of time in the rear seats, the legroom back there would have to be close to class-leading in the mid-size passenger segment.
You won’t have to step up to the Luxe in order to get the fully integrated satellite navigation system either - it's also standard across the model range. While it’s an intuitive unit by Tom-Tom that works well enough, it looks too small for the allocated space provided.
Renault certainly hasn’t missed much when it comes to the Latitude as there’s also front and rear parking sensors, while the Luxe includes a reversing camera.
The car also boasts a very good monitoring system in a graphic TFT screen between the two mail instrument dials, which means you can check a range of information including actual engine oil level and the all-important individual tyre pressures.
Stepping into the 2.0-litre diesel variant, known as the dCi, with a healthy dose of 380 Newton-metres, my initial response is: 'yes, this is the car for me'. Peak torque arrives at just 2000rpm and passing those B-Doubles is pretty much effortless.
While Renault has clearly put in some major effort in the NVH department - in that the diesel clatter is largely muffled and hardly intrusive inside the cabin - it’s still not as refined as the V6 petrol version.
That said, with a combined cycle fuel consumption of just 6.5 L/100km (and remember this is a medium/large car) and plenty of poke when you need it, I can see the diesel being the family favourite, although Renault Australia is predicting a 60/40 skew in favour of petrol.
The big plus on the diesel side is that apart from far fewer stops at the petrol station, the benefits of a bucket-load more torque and the added drivability that brings will be at no additional charge, as Renault has priced both Latitude models at the same price.
From a handling and ride perspective, you can feel the additional weight of the diesel powertrain over the front end, and the steering feels slightly less accurate due to its electro-hydraulic set-up, but the differences are minor and don’t affect the overall enjoyment of the car.
The six-speed auto transmission is equally smooth-shifting in the diesel, and again the sequential shift option adds a little excitement to the driving experience, at least in the twisty bits.
It may not be quite as exciting as piloting a Megane RS 250, but Renault has produced a very appealing package in the Latitude that should find plenty of willing buyers wanting a more premium choice at a value-for-money price.