The Independent Road Test: Hello, this is your computer speaking: The Renault Safrane is strong on gadgets, space and style but, in its 2.0-litre form, is weak on power and personality, says Phil Llewellin

Winning the equivalent of a bronze medal in the Car of the Year awards gave the new Renault Safrane a good start in life. Only the Nissan Micra and Fiat Cinquecento attracted more points than the French challenger, which went on sale in Britain last month.

The replacement for the long-serving Renault 25 represents an pounds 800m assault on the market for 'executive' cars. Creating a new model is a brutally expensive exercise and a huge gamble for any manufacturer.

Like many rivals in this play-it-safe class, the Safrane is a five-door hatchback with a smooth, wind-cheating shape that looks attractive but lacks a strong identity. Gone are the days when France was synonymous with such offbeat cars as the Renault 16, which deserves to be remembered as one of the most influential post-war designs.

What the Safrane does provide is a lot of space. A six-footer has plenty of room for head and knees when seated behind a driver of the same height. The mid-range 2.0-litre automatic featured here also commends itself by providing exceptionally convenient audio equipment (operated by controls within a finger's stretch of the steering wheel) and fully automatic air-conditioning.

Children of all ages will love the voice that delivers 'Welcome, the vehicle's computer is now checking systems for you' and other messages. Among other Gallic gimmicks in the Safrane's rather vieux chapeau amusement arcade is a display of dancing spanners.

What information were these and other symbols intended to convey? There were no answers in the seven-volume library that occupied most of the dashboard locker, although this did include a 250-page guide to Renault's worldwide dealership network. It was good to know that Senator Motors, Great North Road, Lusaka, were the people to contact if we had a problem in Tanzania.

Not providing a handbook must have been a mistake. But failing to include headlight washers in the otherwise impressive list of standard equipment suggests a strange sense of priorities.

The newcomer extends Renault's reputation for comfortable seats, which are trimmed with cloth on this RT 2.0 model. The only real complaint involves having to adjust the angle of the driver's backrest with a notchy lever. A small wheel - the alternative favoured by many manufacturers - is much smoother and far more precise.

Smooth is not what you want a steering wheel to be. The rim of the Safrane's appeared to have been coated with Teflon, which did nothing to flatter the power-assisted system's feel. It makes parking easy, of course, and works well enough on the open road, but the element of 'communication' that keen motorists appreciate is absent. That said, most drivers will be delighted with the Safrane's blend of ride comfort and cornering ability. Anti- lock braking is standard.

Performance is the big drawback, even when the latest version of Renault's four-speed automatic transmission is in the S-for-Sport mode. I am not concerned about infantile sprints when the traffic lights go green. What the 2.0-litre Safrane lacks, on this evidence, is the mid-range punch that is so often needed to take safe advantage of overtaking opportunities. I frequently abandoned the attempt, or resorted to selecting a lower gear by hand rather than relying on the automatic to do the work.

'One wonders if such modest acceleration has anything to do with the French love of snails,' was the sharpest comment about a car that offers good value for money but lacks flair.

Specifications

Renault Safrane RT 2.0, pounds 19,250. Engine: 1,995cc, four-cylinder, 135bhp at 6,000rpm. Four-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive. Top speed 119mph, 0-60mph in 12.8 seconds. Fuel: 23-27mpg on unleaded.

Comparisons

BMW 520i, pounds 20,795. Is a hatchback essential? If not, will the budget stretch to this six-cylinder, 24-valve, 150bhp saloon? Strong performance and excellent handling are big assets.

Citroen XM 2.0Si, pounds 17,601. Clever suspension and slightly 'different' styling are links with Citroen's trailblazing past. Performance similar to the Safrane's. Adding the optional air-conditioning and ABS removes the XM's apparent price advantage.

Ford Granada 2.0 GLX, pounds 20,820. Still a popular choice for the middle-flight executive. Air-conditioning, an expensive option, underlines the Safrane's appeal.

Rover 820SLi, pounds 20,785. Stylish, well-equipped hatchback with a dash of character. Polished walnut adds class to the interior. Reasonable performance and economy from 2.0-litre, 136bhp engine.

(Photograph omitted)

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
premier league
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Fury's Spring/Summer 2015 London Fashion Week roundup
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

    £70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

    Nursery Nurse

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

    SEN Teaching Assistant

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam