The chances of sighting a Renault before sunset has at least tripled in the recent days. Yes, Renault has been doing a good job with its aggressive marketing, but hey, it’s not like all those buyers don’t have any sense. On the contrary, what a Renault Safrane buyer certainly has is plenty of common sense that places value above all else.
As the more popular between its two versions I tested – the 2.5 L V6 and 3.5 L V6 – I have chosen the former to begin the story (another reason is that for most car reviewers, this one is a blind spot) . But let me warn you at the onset, not to judge the latter by its sibling – for that’s another car altogether. I’ve saved it for last.
Unlike many smaller engines that come turbo-charged, the Safrane’s 2.5L powerhouse isn’t. Providing 162 hp@6000 rpm and 211 Nm torque at 4000 rpm, passing acceleration on a gentle drive is amply sufficient for this well-behaved car. But if you want to play naughty for a change, it just might not keep up. Nissan’s 2.5 L V6 engine is a lame-runner on the Safrane. It’s surprising how the car remains totally composed at cruising speeds but when you sort of rush things a bit, pushing its throttle wide open, you’ll feel like in an encounter with a gagged soprano.
Overall, the ride is pretty comfortable and lane changing smooth and steady. And the overzealous steering of the Safrane manages to stay in control even on sharply turning interchanges, despite the tendency to be slightly off the mark in corners.
As the flagship sedan of Renault, the Safrane is “large” in every department – be it the head or tail lamps or the rear legroom, or the sheer parking lot presence and of all the things, the boot – which can carry the weight of the entire family’s whims and needs.
In styling, the Safrane comes across as a blend of the Japanese and the French. The grille is solid and European in character while the rear lip-spoiler and the profile bring to mind the Subaru Legacy or Honda Accord. Everything about the Safrane suggests sobriety and good sense, rather than sporty showmanship that most flagship models these days offer a slice of.
Cabin and controls
The air-conditioning inside a Safrane is quite effective, and it wasn’t the late December thing. Not surprising, for Renault’s air-conditioners for the worldwide market are tested against the challenges of the UAE. The fabric seats in my primary test model were comfortable enough and went well with the rest of the design. Something you can’t blame the Safrane for is overkill. Elegance and functionality make a perfect match here. I should add an exception was the bulky control stalk hiding behind the steering wheel.
The entire in-cabin controls are placed on a long panel of buttons on the driver’s door. Convenient. While the linear buttoning on the console just saved itself from being cluttered, you got to familiarize yourself with what’s where initially. The in-dash info-screen is thoughtfully indented, assuring visibility even on a blindingly bright day. From tyre-pressure to the upcoming service and mileage records, all you need is there to browse.
The rear view is narrowed considerably by the three headrests, especially when propped up. What the optical parking sensor leaves to be desired in the 2011 edition has been fulfilled by the 2012 imports, complete with a rearview camera and navigation screen where the radio screen now belongs.
The cage feels pretty strong on touch and is reassuring of the good material that makes up the Safrane. The trims aren’t cheap-looking though a bit dull and dated. In-cabin storage is not Safrane’s forte; especially when compared with the laudable size of the boot, it just scrapes through as “essentials”.
Safety is paramount to the Safrane and it will ping you in the ear till you wear your seat belt! One good thing for the driver is that the blind spot is seen in the dotted area in the driver-side mirror. For the times you drive without a wary backseat driver, the Safrane comes with a speed-limiter switch next to the cruise control (it’s a French norm – Peugeot has it too in many of its models).
A sensible choice
Nothing too strong can come the Safrane’s way… be it favour or flak. Which makes it sound quite plain but that’s what makes Safrane a safe buy, (haven’t you heard that about a Camry before?) and what has enabled it to quietly eat into the share of Korean rivals. It doesn’t attract much attention, and by the time the competitors sit up and take note, Renault would have laid siege on a few of their vital camps.
Pleased with pretty much everything, the Safrane seeker will now only have to tide over the last frontier of doubt as the rpm climb overtakes the car crawling through mid-range speeds. That’s when price seals the deal with the 2.0 L version. At AED 69,500, sans the frills and two cylinders, the car offers undeniable value. As for the frills and the strong flavour of premium, the levelheaded owner of a Safrane won’t even notice what’s missing.
The 3.5 L would probably deliver it to him but 30 grand is a far cry from sanity for the sagacious Safrane seeker. And that brings us to what I saved for last…
Renault Safrane 3.5L V6 Review
For those who appreciate the Safrane’s comforts and largish frame and believes in paying more money for even more value, the 3.5 L offering 237 hp at 6000 rpm and 330 Nm of torque at 4200 rpm is highly recommended. The drive experience both the cars offer is entirely different, as in sluggish versus sprightly.
The 3.5L six-cylinder Altima-tested engine is quick to react – albeit too quick – and on pedal prompt picks up impressively to 5000+ rpms without straying at any point. The car does 0-100km in a sprint that feels quick enough though it’s well above the 8.5 sec mark, and adeptly changes lanes in the passing.
Where the drive doesn’t match its European rivals is in the road grip or balanced weight management while strutting over 3 lanes or more, when you warily watch the car hurtling down nervously fast. The tyres screech tellingly while attempting sharp corners or roundabouts at speeds that doesn’t fit its recommended gentlemanly demeanour. Consequently, the braking too isn’t all that smooth, reflecting on the general road connect, though the tyres hold on without shifting in its course.
The 3.5L Safrane has a silent cabin with negligible wind noise and what we hear of, is an almost pleasurable and distinctive burble of the V6. The Cabin is well equipped for a luxury drive, from leather seats to the Bose system (which is not as great as a 10-speaker system should be but decent still!) and ample lumbar support. What really does impress in the economy car’s cabin is the massaging driver’s seat with the option of electric heating and cooling as well. Which other car that’s remotely in its price range can claim to pamper its driver thus? For those who behave, and value the bucks, Safrane offers absolute satisfaction.
UPSIDE: Great value, Comfort features that belong in a class above, Good cabin comfort with ample legroom, Effective air-conditioning
FLIPSIDE: Engines other than 3.5 L are sluggish, Hurtling feel during quick manoeuvres, The rear headrests narrow the rear view, Mediocre cornering accuracy, Clumsy placement of a bulky control stalk behind steering
Drive Courtesy: Arabian Automobiles
Picture Courtesy: Madhu Kunhappan & Supplied