big cars gave us these impressions: cosseting ride, tasteful interior,
comfortable seats. These qualities characterized the late Citroen CX,
Renault 25 and Safrane. Unfortunately, in the past 10 or so years they
were progressively outclassed by German prestige sedans, to the extent
that most people now regard them as the alternatives if one cannot
German products. However, while the German brands are enjoying huge
their 5-series, A6 and E-class are getting more and more similar to
other, so close that car journalists can use to the same phrases to
them without thinking.
the new Renault Vel Satis, it’s time to have something special again.
of all, let me remind you that the Vel Satis is no cheap alternative to
its German rivals. In fact, in the top-spec Initiale trim it costs more
than a BMW 530i. Although it does pack more extra equipment, it does
have a brand name as prestige. Lexus and Infiniti, for example, would
lower their price by 10% to avoid direct competition with the German.
contrast, Renault is much braver with the Vel Satis. It believes
of lowering price it would be better to offer something different to
German in order to attract the rest of the buyers and those opt for
MPVs in the past. This result in the world’s first MPV-like luxurious
first thing notice when you see the Vel Satis for the first time is its
height - some 142mm taller than a 5-Series. Not only the roof is taller
but the waistline and bumper level are also higher. The second thing is
that it looks like a hatch, just enlarged in every dimensions. Yes, it
IS a hatchback. French does not care about the stupid rule saying
sedan must be 3-box. Renault 25 and Safrane already proved that
can be just as fine to look, while with better practicality. Talking
the hatchback, you may notice that its wrap-around rear window
the lovely Renault 25, but what you might not notice is that the
is now made of composite in order to reduce weight, or compensate the
weight of the big glass window.
is obviously a strong card of Vel Satis, at least Renault design boss
Le Quement thinks so. He said the car follows the theme set by the 1998
concept car bearing the same name, but what I find is a beauty against
a beast. Calling the production car a beast might be too hard, but the
angry face with louvred grille and diamond-like headlights is not
acceptable at first sight. It grows on you with time however. It has
elegant details, such as the bumpers with recessed square patterns and
topped by a fine chromed line. Most important, the Vel Satis looks
compare with any other executive sedans on the road.
Satis Concept (1998)
Said to be the
inspiration for the
production car. It's far more handsome though.
the door and you will find a seat locating much higher than usual. You
sit on the seat easily rather than drop onto it. You get off even
The MPV profile also benefits headroom, making the car extremely
Rear legroom is also vast, but that is more out of the 2840mm wheelbase
rather than the MPV profile. Passengers enjoy considerably more space
than in a E-class or 5-Series. Boot space is also very generous, thanks
to a compact suspension design (we’ll discuss that later) and the fact
that the Vel Satis is a front-wheel-drive machine. Rear bench is 60/40
split, although it does not fold flat.
is a really tasteful cabin. Big windows give it light and airy ambience
unfound in German cars. Light wood trim (with recessed square patterns
like the bumpers), high quality plastic and cream leather result in a
yet warm environment. The design of dashboard and console is perhaps
biggest success among all Le Quement cars. In other words, they are
styled. Fit and finish is also up to German standard, which is quite
Better still is the front chairs with double hinges at backrest to
a perfectly comfortable support that will please elderly having back
Rear passengers enjoy a LCD screen displaying DVD movies. In short, the
Vel Satis has the most comfortable yet beautiful cabin in executive
Mercedes sells 300,000 E-class in just a little more than 1 year,
plans to sell the same number of Vel Satis in its 6-year life span.
it cannot afford a unique platform thus cost sharing is inevitable.
the Vel Satis shares platform with Laguna and the forthcoming new
and to lesser extent, the Avantime. This allow the car to be produced
the same plant of Laguna and Espace, sharing 80% tooling. However, the
Vel Satis has its own rear suspensions instead of Laguna’s simple
axle. Renault calls that a "Trigonal linkage", a patented design. The
is compact size while providing good compromise in ride and handling,
it is unlikely to trouble rivals' more sophisticated multi-link. The
carrier and upper link are made of aluminium to reduce unsprung mass,
better ride comfort. Front suspension remains to be MacPherson struts.
Both rear and rear suspensions are mounted on subframes to reduce noise
Vel Satis is a big car. Measuring 85mm longer, 60mm wider and 142mm
than a 5-Series, it tips the scale at up to 1735kg. This has already
the aluminium engine and aluminium doors into account. What will happen
when you throw such a big piece of metal into bends ? especially with
center of gravity ? will it handle like a van ?
Vel Satis is pretty competent in handling department, although it does
not inspire the driver. The suspension setting is stiffer than usual
of French cars. On most roads it damps beautiful enough, but on really
bumpy roads it will be unsettling. This may be disappointing for a
car, but in return it resists body roll well. It does not understeer
much. It has plenty of grip and adequate steering precision.
it lacks is a sharper edge that lifts BMW 5-Series above everyone else.
The Vel Satis handles safely and solidly. It is easy to drive. It is
nimbler than its size and weight suggest. However, its steering needs
feel, although already better than Safrane. Drivers are unlikely to
it into corners in the way like 5-series. If so, it will understeer
any front-drive cars.
about on straight line ? with 1720kg to pull, Renault seeks help from
big capacity V6 to power the flagship Vel Satis. This VQ35DE, an
3.5-litre V6 with continuous VVT at both intake and exhaust cams and a
resonance variable intake, came from Altima and Maxima. With 245hp and
85% of its 243 lbft maximum torque from 1200rpm, it is the best thing
can dream of. The VQ is also renowned for its smoothness and
sound. Renault claims this Vel Satis accelerates from 0-60mph in 7.8
and tops 146mph. Good enough considering the comfort bias of the car.
top diesel engine also comes from Japanese - this time by Isuzu. This
a 3.0-litre V6 with an odd 66° angle, 24 valves, an unusual
block, common-rail injection and variable nozzle turbo. It pumps out
and 258 lbft from 1800rpm. Yes, it is the same engine serving Saab 9-5
V6s employ an intelligent Proactive 5-speed automatic with Tiptronic
It shifts smoothly and reacts keenly to driver input. Other engines
a new light-pressure turbo 2.0 four-cylinder (165hp) and a 2.2dCi
turbo diesel (150hp). They works with the superb 6-speed manual gearbox
from Avantime. However, the budget choices fail to deliver satisfactory
are some exec sedans look prettier. Some ride better. Some go quicker.
Many handle sharper. Nevertheless, the Vel Satis has a place of its
In the homogeneous world of luxurious automobiles, it brings us fresh
and a really interesting idea of what a luxurious car could be. Yes,
started from France.