Renault’s best kept secret

Jemma Rochelle Hawtrey 

Renault Safrane Biturbo

Renault Safrane Biturbo

There has been a lot of talk in the media over the last couple of years about companies that were ‘too big to fail’. It’s a phrase that has become synonymous with the failures of the Bear Stearns and Lehmans Brothers investment banks in the US and, to a lesser extent, various organisations in the UK and other European countries – most notably, in the UK, Northern Rock and BNP Paribas in France. 

We are all feeling the results of this situation with higher fuel prices and more redundancies while the need for personal transport increases because of a public transport system that is increasingly rickety, expensive and unreliable. 

The other advantage of personal transport is that it can take you – within reason – straight where you want to go and carry a lot of luggage or shopping or belongings with you without issue. So how do you do that reliably on a tight budget? 

I have just taken delivery of a 1995 Renault Safrane RT Executive for the princely sum of £500 or so. It’s done a shade under 86,000 miles in 15 years, has so far required nothing more than a single bulb and a replacement boot lid switch and, like all executive cars, it doesn’t so much drive as glide (or, at least, it will when I work out how to get the steering wheel off and straight again) – but ask anyone about Renault models of the last 20 years and you would probably have to remind them that it actually existed. 

So why is it that arguably Renault’s best car since the 1940s is a completely unremembered unknown? 

It’s certainly not because its uncomfortable or a hassle to drive. It’s not because it was behind the times – no other cars in 1995 had a voice synthesiser to tell you what was wrong with the car and the majority didn’t have steering wheel radio or cruise controls at the time either. (Reliable) voice warnings and stalk radio controls were unknown in the UK at least before Renault introduced them with the 11 Electronique and 25 models in 1985. It has a hatchback body and a boot that can take more than most estates without complaining and, in the more expensive models, came with computer-controlled air suspension and, for a while, bombproof Volvo engines in the 2.5i model. 

So – what went, and is continuing to go, wrong? 

Personally I think it has a lot to do with the mentality of those who created the banking crisis. I have recently read a book called ‘Too big to fail’ by Andrew Ross Sorkin and I have noticed that, over and above the monumental level of arrogance-fed stupidity displayed by these people, there is a seeming blindness regarding price over ability. My father had two Safranes which followed two of the preceding Renault 25 models – and all of them were rare cars, even though they drove and handled well and are the most comfortable cars I have been in full stop. 

So why buy a BMW with seats that more resemble an SS barrack room than an executive office and which costs double the price? 

The reason is simple: for some reason everyone thinks that a BMW or a Mercedes-Benz tells everyone you’ve succeeded – that driving around in something barely bigger (or more comfortable) than a Chevrolet Lacetti at four times the price (and likely discomfort) is a way to advertise your success. It’s not – it’s just a way to advertise you have infinite skill at wasting money. 

The biggest problem the Safrane had was Renault itself. The car was never advertised and so, unless you knew the Renault range, you wouldn’t have known at the time that the Safrane ever existed. It was even worse with its replacement – the Vel Satis (although, to be fair, looking like a small shed didn’t help it to be sure). Rolls Royce can advertise through word of mouth because they have a reputation that’s been built up over years… 

Another issue was there wasn’t enough distinction between the Safrane and the Laguna. The people who would buy the Laguna or Safrane at the time had all the same options and equipment on a smaller car in the Laguna – and, over time, even the engines became the same with a 3-litre Laguna being introduced. The only versions of Safrane that arguably offered something new and unusual were the Biturbo and Biturbo Quadra models with a 258hp engine and 4WD. 

It was concluded that there was no market for these models in the UK so they weren’t produced in RHD form. The biggest complaint against the Safrane at the time was that it was underpowered – just imagine what a 260hp 4×4 competitor to the M3 and M5 the Biturbo would have been – at probably less than two thirds the price and a much higher standard specification. 

The Renault Safrane is now firmly in bargain basement territory with prices ranging from £400-£800 depending on model and year. In that area it,s not so much the price of the car that counts – it’s the price of the spares and the parts it might need. Renault has always had a reputation for price gouging and sadly that hasn’t changed. However, a little research will be your friend here. For example, it’s possible to buy online for less than £10 a CD with the workshop manuals for eight different Renault cars (from Clio to Vel Satis, including Master van and Safrane). 

A lot of the parts like switches and the like are common in more run of the mill Renaults (for example the boot switch for a Megane Scenic will work with a 1995 Safrane). Dialogys will give you all the self-test methodology for the fuel computer and dashboard which will display most of the problems within 5 minutes and save you hours of main dealer ‘labour’ time. 

The good, the bad and the automatic… 

So, what do you look for in a Safrane? 

The best models to go for are the manuals. The automatic transmission used in the Safrane (AD4/AD8) earned a nasty reputation in the Renault 25 for spontaneous self-destruction although to be fair that was more to do with leaking fluid lines than a weakness in the gearbox itself. With my car the automatic is fine although it is a little indecisive at certain speeds (30mph being one of them unfortunately). But it’s done 85,000 miles and is still going strong so I see no reason to doubt it until shown otherwise. 

As regards engines:- the 2.5i Volvo based 5-cylinder engine is probably the best balance between power and efficiency and is more than powerful enough to give good performance. Be warned however, these cars are very quiet, and it is very easy to find oneself way over the speed limit without noticing (cruise control is your friend here). I remember one experience on the continent towing a caravan down a long hill where the whole thing began to snake and I looked down at the speedometer to find myself doing 85mph – the engine was purring comfortably the whole while (my pulse rate was almost purring as well). 

Unusually both automatics and manuals were available with cruise, in the case of the manuals a clutch switch disabled the cruise mode while changing gear and re-engaged it afterwards. 

There are two-litre models but these are somewhat underpowered to say the least and are generally found in the RN base specification cars. These engines are much more suited to the lighter Laguna. 

In the Series I Safranes the best balance of power to economy is the 2.2i 12v engine (J7T) which produces 140hp and is a direct carryover from the Renault 25 but with more power. 

The 2.2i RT Exec Auto model that I have is middle of the range and came as standard with fuel computer and voice synthesizer warning system. It also has dual area climate control, electric windows, sunroof and mirrors (heated), electrically heated windscreen and mirrors, cruise control with remote, radio cassette with remote and remote central locking and alarm. Leather seats were at first an option as were electric seats with driver memory in some models. 

As with all used cars the lower the mileage the better and the better the general condition the less likely you are to have problems with the car. I can think of no more comfortable modern car that I have been in – the only one that rivals it is the Renault 25 and they are exceedingly rare thanks to the Government’s Scrappage Scheme (which I personally think was a disgrace but more on that later). 

Cars can regularly be found on eBay where I found mine and its best to ask all the questions you can about the car – as some problems can be expensive to put right (especially leaking heater cores for example). 

Another good deal, if you have a little more money and can stand the look of the thing, is the Vel Satis. Granted it was panned when released and didn’t sell well at all but, for £4000 for 2005-2006, example it’s worth looking at and the spec on them is generally astronomical. The best bet with these are the 3.5 turbodiesel models.

Posted in: AROnline Blogs
Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

39 Comments on "Renault’s best kept secret"

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  1. Adrian says:

    Isn’t one of the problems French car manufacturers have that the only people who buy their luxury cars new are the French Civil Service? As the author of the above article states, they’re obviously not marketed properly (or at all) in the UK…

  2. KC says:

    Isn’t one of the other problems that the French sometimes have strange ideas about how a luxury car should look? You have a Citroen DS, C5 or C6 at one end of the spectrum and, at the other end, you could end up with a Renault Vel Satis.

    Different, with character – yes. Desirable – probably not.

  3. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick says:

    The issue for the French – at least for PSA – is that, whether the cars are good (CX, XM), bad (C6, Tagora) or indifferent (605, 607, 25, Safrane), the dealers only fall into the latter two categories. The C6 comes with a Jaguar XF rivalling price-tag, yet comes with service and backup that might appease a C1 owner but will leave any executive car buyer seething.

    Combined with indifferent build quality and the resulting depreciation, ownership of a French executive car is something people only repeat if it falls into the “good” category.

    Certainly my experience of the C6 is that the car, whilst capable, is generally disappointing and the dealers barely scrape into capable. What’s worse is that I’ve made this mistake before and swore off owning any PSA Group car in 2004, only to go back on that because I hoped so much that the C6 would be a “new XM”.

    The Renault 25 was not a greatly reliable car, even when sold as a Dodge or Eagle. The Safrane shared many of the Laguna’s foibles – the survivors are the good ones of a bad group IMO – given the number of leaking matrixes, knackered gearboxes and howling, expensive and prematurely worn wheelbearings I’ve seen on these cars.

    I think the worst thing about the Safrane was that it was inherently bland – German cars like the Mercedes C-Class and BMWs have become so common they appear bland, but are styled, have character (it’s just that the character has become uniformity on our motorways and business car parks). The 25 and Safrane were simply dull, near-featureless large hatchbacks.

    The best thing to come out of the Renault 25 was the Chrysler LH platform, which evolved from the Dodge Monaco/Eagle Premier variants. In the last-developed version, the MY99 to MY04 Chrysler 300M, it translated into a futuristic, spacious and capable car with exceptional handling for a FWD chassis.

  4. Chris Chapman says:

    Part of the problem is that the French do not currently have indigenous upmarket prestige brands – many people will not buy luxury cars with the same badge as superminis and vans, hence Volvo (Ford as was), Saab (ex GM/Vauxhall), Lexus, Infiniti, etc.

    Renault allegedly wanted to buy Jaguar for that very reason. Perhaps they should blow the dust off some of their obsolete brands such as Panhard, Borgward, etc?

  5. Andyman says:

    Interesting article – my only quibble is the standard ‘public transport rickety unreliable expensive’ blah in there. Here, on AROnline, we are used to having to parry the generalised uninformed opinions of those who don’t look beyond the advertising/hype/latest model fetishes and therefore dismiss interesting/older/obscure cars simply through lack of independent thought – so why throw out the same sort of opinion about something else?

    Public transport does have shortcomings and there are many roles that it can’t fulfill – but it is not getting worse and it is not increasingly rickety. It is a fact that train services are now much more reliable then 10 years ago – the rolling stock is also newer – if you travel in the South East you now get air-conditioned sliding-door trains built to a high specification whereas 10 years ago you were in rattling very basic trains in many cases.

    Likewise, buses are now generally very user-friendly low floor models. Yes, it can be exepensive – but so can motoring, that’s a fact of life! As it happens, I’m a motorist, I like driving and I’m interested in cars. I also cycle and use buses and trains. There’s a role for them each and you don’t need to knock one to justify the other!

  6. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling says:

    Big Renaults have been underrated for years and poor sellers because of it – 20, 30, 25, Safrane and Vel Satis all suffered – now the new Laguna seems to be going the same way.

    They have tended to be very competent but bland and the mass-market badge isn’t popular at that price. Good buys secondhand though. Not sure the Safrane is the best Renault since the 1940s though – the 4, 5 and 16 would surely be ahead.

  7. @Chris Chapman
    Borgward was, in fact, a German marque – see the Wikipedia entry at this link.

    Interestingly, Carl F. W. Borgward’s grandson, Christian Borgward, has plans to revive the brand. Any AROnline readers wishing to find out more about those plans should visit Borgward AG’s website at this link.

  8. Jemma says:

    The best thing with Renault or Citroen dealers is to search round for a good one and stick with them. You stick with them and they will do a lot for you. There are, sadly, bad ones about and the Citroens especially are complex machines – particularly the XM. However, with the tech manuals that are available online, most jobs are doable and, if they are, you can probably gain enough information from the self-test modes to tell the garage what you need.

    Andy – public transport around my area *is* a joke – to do a 10 minute trip can take anything up to 1 hour. My grandmother lives 7 miles away from town and there is a bus every 2 hours and that is it – at £7 return for a 15 mile journey on buses that make noises that I didnt know were possible from something mechanical… If I needed to go into London I would take the bus and train – but for getting around locally a car is just necessary.

    Anyway, so far as sales were concerned, the 25 sold the most in its class overall and the Safrane was far better in alot of respects. Having owned a R5 Series II, I wouldn’t rate them for comfort – the 16 I’d rate as one of the better ones.

    I would take exception with reliability niggles – none of the 5 Renaults I have driven had any major faults – except a failed alternator once while towing – yet the Vauxhall Carlton we had fried its injection computer on a regular basis and the TurboDiesel Merc my father has now needed a whole turbo + intakes + gaskets etc. at less than 30k miles – a known fault for the C320 that is actually now a recall…

    I took the Safrane up to my parents today and I think, to be honest, if my father had the choice of the Mercedes he has now and the Safrane, he would have chosen to keep the Safrane – it’s just so much nicer to drive and be driven in.

  9. Shep says:

    The 1997 Safrane 2.5 Executive I had as a loan car for a couple of days in the early-2000s remains to this day one of the nicest cars I have ever driven – only my Volvo V70 2.5 of the same age beats it.

  10. Stewart says:

    I had a talking 25… it was nice for a week but then the autobox went pop. However, I have had 4 XMs, which I can’t rate highly enough: 1 manual 2.0 SEi, a 2.0 Prestige, 2.0 TCT VSX auto and a 2.1 TD Exclusive Auto. All fantastic and hugely underrated cars which were better built than the Renault or, in fact, the BMWs I have – the XMs drove far better as well!

  11. Simon Woodward says:

    I have no experience of the Safrane but I have driven a friend’s MK1 Laguna V6 which I found nippy, comfy and its design has aged well compared to the later Laguna. I’m sure the Safrane drives well and is reliable etc. but to me it is very forgettable to look at. The picture you show is a sporty model but most sold here would have looked a lot blander.

    I suspect a lot of people buy premium German brand cars for the badge rather than the driveability of the car. It’s the same with designer clothing, sunglasses etc. – there are much cheaper alternatives that do the same job(and made in the same sweat shop) which look just as stylish but it’s the badge that sells the product because some so-called expert tells them so.

    I have two German cars (and two English cars as well) which I bought for the way they drive not the badge on the front. I hate telling people I have a Porsche 944 because straight away some so-called expert will tell me it’s not a proper one and it’s got a VW van engine when, in reality, it was designed for VW by Porsche and it’s the earlier 924 that has a VW engine not the 944 or 924S which have a Porsche engine. I have had it for about 10 years – it’s nippy and pretty cheap to run but I like it because it sticks to the road like glue and, because mine has no PAS, ABS or TC, it feels like I am driving a real car and not something that feels like a Play Station game!

    Renault have made some great cars since the 40s: R4, R16, R5 (especially the mid-engined turbo) and Clio Williams but, like all carmakers, Renault have made a few dogs too: R12, R9 and R21.

    I’m not saying the Safrane’s a dog – it’s just not my cup of tea. Enjoy the car Jemma as they say ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.

  12. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick says:

    Simon Woodward :
    Renault have made a few dogs too: R12, R9 and R21.

    You forgot the 14. To be fair, everyone forgets the 14.

    I’ve got a Mk II Clio outside right now and I normally hate small cars – yet I like it. Good seating position, nice spacious footwell, excellent visibility, and nice and chuckable with a torquey 1.6 engine. I’ve also got a loan C2 whilst the aforementioned C6 is in the workshop and’ if it weren’t for the Clio’s howling wheelbearing and 133,000 miles of cragginess, I wouldn’t use the C2 at all – it’s a horrible contraption, utterly joyless.

  13. Jemma says:

    @Shep
    Ironic really since the 2.5 Volvo engine was the lump bolted into the Safrane – with a few ‘confuse the mechanic’ mods of course to jack up service prices.

    I did quite like the R19 convertible and a suitably upgraded Megane might be nice. The 21 was grim except for the Turbo which was downright lethal.

    Anyone remember the R7? Someone thought an R5 with a boot was a good idea apparently…

    I went off the R5 Turbo after everyone that owned them decided that strapping on the exhaust stub from a B17 was a ripping idea (it was, every time there was a speedbump…).

  14. Simon Woodward says:

    @Richard Kilpatrick
    I did forget the R14 – it always looked like it had had a side shunt – but didn’t the R14 also get displayed in the Louvre like the the Range Rover? There was also that nasty looking coupe in the 70s based on the R12 but, at least, they brought us the Espace via Matra which was clever. The R18 Turbo looked fun and, for some strange reason, I’ve always been fond of the Fuego and the MK2 R5 Turbo .

  15. Simon Woodward says:

    I hate it when someone puts a bee in my bonnet but I’ve just picked up the 1978 ‘Observers Book of Automobiles’ to find out the name of that coupe – it was the R15

    I’d also forgotten about the rest of the vast Renualt range over the last 40 years. The R30 looked pretty neat with its V6 but I bet understeered big time. The other innovative car that we never got but should have is the original Twingo complete with frog eyes and controls nicked off a Creda cooker.

    The point is that I’ve always followed the UK, German and Italian stuff but have not paid much attention to the cars from next door in France. Whether Good, Bad or Ugly, I shall start to take a closer second look at the French stuff.

  16. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling says:

    I always thought the R14 was underrated! I even liked the styling. The R14 TS had quite a sporty character. The ’78 range was vast and with some oddities: R6, R12, R15/17 etc. Renault was doing very well across Europe at the time. Not many of them left now though because they rusted away.

  17. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick says:

    The R17 with “targa” style sunroof was a very sexy car, really let down by awful R12-based running gear.

  18. 406v6 406V6 says:

    The point about people buying a car because of its badge is well made. These days the “badge buyers” have converged on Audi more than the others. I’ve yet to ride in any Audi, B** or Merc that I thought was comfortable and the A6 I rode in a year or two back sounded more like a tractor than a luxury car. On the other hand, the humble Megane I rode in a couple of weeks ago was quiet and composed with a very comfortable ride. Just don’t ask how many ££££ it costs to change the light bulbs.

    Similarly, a Citroen C5 hire car was beautifully quiet, smooth and comfortable – so much better than a diesel Mondeo which was crude, noisy and vibratory even if the handling was quite good.

  19. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick says:

    I really don’t like the image of Audis, but I tried a mate’s A5 Cabriolet and have to admit that the seating position, ergonomics and build quality were great (see how it goes during ownership though) – I particularly liked the visibility compared to, say, a VW Eos or Peugeot 307CC; I was expecting it to be much worse.

    Brand snobbery works both ways. I still don’t want an Audi A5 Cabrio – but, if it had a VW or Seat badge on it, I’d probably really want it.

  20. DaveH says:

    Brand snobbery and rubbish build quality killed the Safrane. That and it’s image – it looked like an upscaled Laguna which was the same problem as Peugeot had with its exec car.

    Renault tried something different with the bloody awful Vel Satis creation (although I have been told these are nice cars to be in). The Citroen C6 was an absolutely beautiful piece of design – the facelift is rather shabby – but again its a Citroen and the build quality will be poor compared to other non-French (or Italian) brands and the parts are excessive in price.

    Nowdays people see a brand worn or driven by a celeb and they want it. G-Star clothing is a perfect example, a rather quick start up which was seen on celebs and so is now the must have brand with kids. MINI anybody? A car that is rather compromised but because it is a small BMW it is bought in droves, again endorsed by celebs the world over.

    This has destroyed brands like Cadillac, Lincoln, Saab and Volvo which were once seen as alternatives – nowdays people turn their noses up even if they are competent machines (Jaguar S-TYPE and XJ anyone?).

    Luckily Jaguar is starting to rebuild is reputation but the problem is they are stating to change its once nice ride to one close too the Germans – the reviews on the new XJ say it’s not as smooth as the old model.

    This is down to motoring journalists, especially the Top Gear boys, who go on about the handling of a car without ride being mentioned. Yes, a car should have good handling, but it should not knock your teeth out!

  21. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick says:

    Saab’s image was destroyed by GM ripping the soul of of the cars in the 1990s. The Vectra-based car sold despite dynamic deficiencies and so-so engineering. The S-TYPE and X-TYPE have been consistently good sellers; Jaguar has maintained steady growth.

    There’s been no facelift of the C6. The C6 is the car it was at launch bar a few electrical tweaks and a new 3.0, 240bhp engine with lower emissions. The build quality and material quality is on par with contemporary Mercedes; this isn’t saying much but it’s far from the occasionally shoddy quality of the XM.

    I’m not sure about parts prices, but the front brake pads, replaced with Main Dealer labour were £197 inc. VAT – which, whilst a lot for anyone used to bangernomics, seems fairly normal (even slightly cheap) for a 2-tonne beast.

    Top Gear praised the ride of the C6. In fact, every journalist who has driven it has praised it; apart from this one – because I’ve lived with the car for two years and owned CXs and XMs beforehand, I find it disappointing. However, it seems mine’s had a fault which the dealers had overlooked (several times), so perhaps it can be improved – and there’s also been a firmware update for the suspension ECU which allegedly improves the ride quality and reactive nature of the suspension.

    The issue, as with the rest of the tech on the car, is convincing PSA and the Dealers that firmware updates and improvements are not an “optional” procedure but should be offered to owners as a matter of course, as they would be with any other tech you own.

  22. Simon Woodward says:

    Talking about the famous ‘Germanic build quality” the GB’s motorway network has its hard shoulder littered with broken and rusting 3 year old monochrome Mercs.

  23. Jemma says:

    Firmware updates for suspension systems – having worked in the IT industry that is a truly terrifying thought…

    “Please re-install your car then reboot…”

    It’s only a device to get you from A to B after all – how complicated does it need to be?

    I am beginning to think simplicity is best – not least because, if you get a blocked carb jet or a misfire, an older car will still drive – if you lose an oxygen sensor the vehicle is immobile.

  24. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick says:

    @Simon Woodward
    This is why I decided I may as well get a big PSA group car after all – the original C-Class was shocking and the W210 E-Elass was a real dog (ugly to boot). I nearly bought a CLK Cabrio in 2001 and the quality of the materials on the interior was shocking.

    The A-Class impresses me for the innovation and surprising simplicity of the design (I don’t find them complex, just clever) and I loved my R129 Mercedes; the only 1990s Mercedes models I’d like are the 1992-1998 500 SL with 32v M119 V8 (had one, want a ’96-98 one with 5-speed box), the G-Wagens or the aforementioned A-Classes.

    Cars are all built to a price these days, which is why I tend to focus on the Dealer Network as being the weakspot for French cars. Compare them to the Jaguar Dealers – I went in to see the XJ and asked how the XF had done as reliability concerns were one of the reasons I didn’t get one (ha!). They were really open and said that there had been a few glitches the first year but now they were very reliable and the customer satisfaction was right at the top because the Dealers had worked hard to rectify the issues.

    The machine may go wrong. It’s complex and big and mass-produced. When it does, I want it fixed correctly, courteously and promptly – and, if it’s an expensive, premium product, at my convenience (though I personally think that, C1 or C6, if it breaks due to poor quality control the Dealer should be bending over backwards to fix it).

  25. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick says:

    Jemma :
    Firmware updates for suspension systems – having worked in the IT industry that is a truly terrifying thought…

    *Shrugs* My issue isn’t with the car needing them, but the delivery mechanism. Most people are familiar with technology; we all have to flash our phones or apply updates to our consoles after all. It’s the car manufacturer’s attitude to technology as a whole that infuriates me.

    The C6 (and other PSA cars) use a Magneti-Marelli telematics system, branded NaviDrive in the Cits but known elsewhere as RTx – RT3 being in 2005-6 models, RT4 in 2006-8, and RT5 filtering in from 2008ish. RT3 has no HD and uses maps for navigation, it’s also on VANbus; RT4 uses an HD and has a telephone module with SIM and is on CANbus, and RT5 replaces the SIM with Bluetooth capability.

    Naturally, I would like to upgrade my SIM-requipped car to Bluetooth. It’s not even prohibitively expensive; it simply isn’t feasible, there’s no route to do it, no amount of money.

    This strikes me as stupid. I can’t go and fit a third-party model as my car’s hifi is also the interface for the telematics, diagnostics and configuration. I can hack it to add USB, but I want Bluetooth.

    Technology may be a little intimidating to people who understand carbs, but carbs were intimidating to people who didn’t understand engines at all and were equally capable of stranding the driver. Most cars have limp-home modes for sensor failure now.

  26. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick says:

    Gah, uses map CDs for navigation. Doh.

    Also, FWIW, my C6’s suspension has had the firmware update now and it drives differently, better as a result – less wallowy, but still soft.

  27. Pea Diddy Widdy says:

    Respect Jemma. You need 22″ rims and some bad ass boom box!!!

  28. Very Tall Brad says:

    I agree with Jemma about the Safrane.

    I bought a 3 litre V6 RXE in 1996 and kept it 11 years. Comfy, fast and a bit anonymous. Dodgy auto box electrics but a really nice car.

    I have also had quite a few XMs (still got a couple), a C6 and the Vel Satis and would entirely agree that what lets these down are the poor Dealers and their awful customer care. My 300C experience lasted a month – never again.

    Although I am fortunate to own more than two cars, my main cars are a Citroen C4 Grand Picasso and a Lexus LS both owned from new. You couldn’t get dealer service that is further apart – 11 visits for the Citroen for the same problem to be repaired and repaired again and again – it’s still not right. The Dealer still couldn’t give a monkeys. The C4 will be sold as soon as the HP is paid off and it’ll be Kia/Hyundai/Toyota that’ll get my business.

    Back to the Safrane… Underrated and all the fault of Renault themselves.

    Do they ever inspect their Dealers???

    Brad.

  29. Dennis says:

    Chris Chapman :Part of the problem is that the French do not currently have indigenous upmarket prestige brands – many people will not buy luxury cars with the same badge as superminis and vans, hence Volvo (Ford as was), Saab (ex GM/Vauxhall), Lexus, Infiniti, etc.

    Renault allegedly wanted to buy Jaguar for that very reason. Perhaps they should blow the dust off some of their obsolete brands such as Panhard, Borgward, etc?

    Except you’ll find Volvo written on trucks and buses…

  30. Dennis says:

    Jemma :

    Firmware updates for suspension systems – having worked in the IT industry that is a truly terrifying thought…

    “Please re-install your car then reboot…”

    It’s only a device to get you from A to B after all – how complicated does it need to be?

    I am beginning to think simplicity is best – not least because, if you get a blocked carb jet or a misfire, an older car will still drive – if you lose an oxygen sensor the vehicle is immobile.

    Most fuel injected cars have a ‘get you home mode’ which operates on a restricted performance basis using generic settings, so losing an O2 sensor doesn’t usually immobilise the car.

    Firmware for controlling suspension isn’t really a problem, even a basic steel spring can snap without warning…

  31. Dennis says:

    You see a lot more Safranes along with C6s, XMs and the big Peugeots if you go to France. Basically, it’s down to national pride – a lot of French people will still buy a French car over a German one and there would be an outcry if the Government started driving foreign vehicles!

    With the exception of Land-Rover Defenders, I’ve yet to see their public services using anything that doesn’t wear one of the trio of French badges. (Here you see our Councils using Mitsubishi and Toyota pickups rather than home-grown Defenders…) This is probably why France still has a strong motor industry and we don’t.

    I think to an extent it also has to be down to the Dealer backup – not only is there a better equipped Dealer Network in France, but there are more independent specialists too. I think a lot gets lost in translation when it’s passed to the UK Dealers.

  32. Richard Kilpatrick Richard Kilpatrick says:

    You won’t see that many C6s. Citroën sold 1,500 of them in 2009 – not in the UK but worldwide. There are, depending on who you believe, around 250 or 700 C6s in the UK – I’m inclined to suspect the latter given that, when I bought mine, there were over 100 2006/2007/2008 models in the Dealer network alone.

    In total, since introduction, they’ve sold 19,400 – compared to 19,100 607s in the first year of sales alone.

    To address the Landies, Peugeot sold a variant of the G-Wagen.

    I still wonder why our motorway police aren’t charging about in Jaguar X-TYPE AWD Estates…

  33. Phil Simpson says:

    I thought the Safrane looked good until the styling was upstaged with the launch of the Mark 1 Laguna which, coupled with the lack of marketing, was its death knell.

    Unfortunately, I’ve never driven or owned one so can’t comment any further.

  34. Ianto says:

    Pretty much, yeah.

    I would nominate the last generation Clio as another great Renault – even in 1.2 guise it was really quick and the 2.0 Sport was a blast.

  35. daveh says:

    @Richard Kilpatrick
    Citroen parts are very expensive – my friend’s C3 was broken into and the plastic clip on the electric window mechanism was broken. He had to buy the whole mechanism at a whopping £250.

    However, if you have the same problem with a Ford or a Vauxhall, they will sell you just the part concerned and that costs you considerably less.

  36. DaveH says:

    @Simon Woodward
    That’s because Mercs have not been built to a good standard since the late ’80s.

  37. Ianto says:

    Nah! Renault’s best kept secret is the Megane Scenic – as Harry Hill would say: ‘Fight!’

  38. Saffles says:

    I have owned 3 Phase 2 Safranes (all of which were the 2.5 and one of which was the rare Questor) so must chime in here.

    The 2.5 Safrane is far from a featureless hatchback as one person here has put it. For instance, stick it in reverse and the passenger side door mirror will automatically drop down for you to see the kerb. I’ve yet to see that on any other 12/13 year old car. Dual function climate control, counter-balancing rear wheel steering, voice synthesizer fault computer, a bomb-proof Volvo engine and gearbox.. hardly a featureless hatchback.

    The big problem with these cars is the Renault badge itself. People do not like Renault. Renaults are not generally reliable cars (unless Volvo-powered) and when they go wrong they’re costly. The dealerships are piggy in the middle as parts ordered in error can’t be returned to Renault either so most have to cover their own errors and costs somehow – through high prices.

    The Safrane itself is a very good car. OK, it’s not got the status of an Audi, BMW or Mercedes etc but it is a very comfortable and reliable car. I have a neighbour with a fantastic looking Mercedes yet he has openly said to me it’s the worst car he ever bought as it spends more time at the garage than on his own drive.

    My local scrap yard owner also has both a 2.5 Safrane (no, not as a scrap car) and a brand new Merc. He got the Safrane from an insurance company who wrote it off as flood damaged. He replaced the cambelt and fired it up, kept it as his personal car for over 7 years and in that time had one breakdown – a blocked fuel filter. He still keeps his Safrane for its 100% reliability just in case his new Merc breaks down.

    I have 2 local Renault Dealers. Both will tell you they have had no more than 2-3 Safrane customers use their workshop facilities – because hardly anything ever goes wrong on them. However, the recent Scrappage Scheme has, unfortunately, led to many of these fantastic cars being taken off the road.

    Parts for the Safrane… Well, you know Renault parts aren’t cheap but for the Safrane they are ridiculously expensive. If I told you how much I’ve spent this year on one of ours you’d be scared. A simple job became a nightmare and has now turned into a restoration.

    Unfortunately, Renault don’t like Service Manuals for this car and you are therefore literally stuck with buying an old copy of Dialogys from the Internet for your tech support as most Renault Dealers have no idea where to start with these cars.

    Renault also aren’t great with electronics so, when you start poking around in the engine bay and unplugging things, expect trouble thereafter.

    A good Safrane, though, is worth its weight in gold. Personally, I would not touch a Phase 1 but the 3 Litre with electric rear seats and suspension could be attractive. The Phase 2 with Volvo units are far superior even if they do lack a few gadgets. The only weak point with these cars is the cambelt. Try finding a mechanic who a) will agree to do it and b) CAN actually do it. The 2 requirements don’t tend to go together.

    The body also had styling similar to the early Lagunas. However, whilst without a doubt this did the Safrane no favours, it has had the advantage of making the car rather unattractive to car thieves. Who really wants to steal a big automatic Laguna? (or Safrane in our case). Renault autos are known for being unreliable but the Phase 2 is bomb-proof. Looking like a Lag does it a lot of favours.

    The Safrane was also severely under advertised. I’ve heard that Renault become so desperate to get rid of them that they offered them to their staff at discounted rates and that, with the Vel Satis, they offered their own staff a 40% discount with a free Clio from what a source told me.

    In summary, the Safrane is an exceptional car. Those who have had one will tell you the same. Those who still have one will not let go of it willingly. They are cars with character, romance and dedication. When you drive a Safrane you’ll instantly know it’s a car for you just from the sheer comfort. I’ve known people who drive really battered scruffy looking Safranes just because they’re so comfortable and reliable. You wouldn’t do that in a BMW or Merc would you? You’d be the laughing stock of the local area.

    Fantastic cars, underrated and, unfortunately, doomed. In a few years, you’ll be lucky to see one per year. Renault do not support the Safrane in any way shape or form and, as such, parts are becoming scarce. They almost treat it like it was the worst car they ever made and with the Phase 2 reliability it was – for their repair and parts profits!

  39. les henshaw says:

    i have owed a left hand drive 1997 2.2TD for 8 years and a 1998 2.5 petrol for 5 years and the spec on these vehicles is second to none. At present the 2.2 is on sorn only because it needs a new condensor and exhaust, the 2.5 has passed evey mot and I only had to replace the battery, exhaust, brake pads and strut bearings in 5 years, not bad for a car 18 years old. My brother in law passed comment about the age of the car and suggested that i need a new one, (he gets a new merc evey 4 years) but why waste money when 168bhp,cruise control all electric,windows,sun roof,mirrors,cd changer,seats ect ect.I average 25.6 mpg around town with the 2.5 and about 40 with the 2.2 not the best but comfort wise i’m a convert.I cant praise these cars enough mine has only just started to show rust on the rear wheel arches but nothing serious.

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