The category for large family cars (sometimes referred to as the “D” segment) is a hotly contested one. Every car maker with a volume seller in this segment is guaranteed to do its year-end sales tally a world of good.
The Japanese have traditionally dominated this segment. Recently, however, the Koreans have started to make gradual (but significant) inroads. The continental contingent now also has Honda, Nissan and Toyota in its sights.
Citroen pushed out the C5 this year and Volkswagen introduced the Passat in March – you can now add the Renault Latitude to the list. Local distributor Wearnes Automotive has made it clear that the French marque’s newest model is aimed squarely at the Toyota Camry (Singapore’s best-selling Japanese large family car).
The Renault Latitude is designed by Renault and Nissan in collaboration with Samsung. Like the (smaller) 1.6-litre Fluence, it is also built in South Korea. There is a certain fluidity in the Renault Latitude’s design – so much so that although it is longer than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, it looks sleeker and less bulky.
This is helped by the sloping rear roofline, which extends smoothly to the rump. The front is handsome with its long, slant-eyed headlights and trapezoidal grille, and the rear looks good courtesy of tail-lights that come with LEDs.
With its 2762mm wheelbase, the Renault Latitude offers excellent rear legroom. Rear headroom is above average, too, and three adults will have no issues with personal space (there’s 1474mm of elbow room).
Renault has gone to great pains to ensure that noise insulation is above par – this includes carefully placed inserts in the body’s hollow sections, special seals for the windows and doors, and the use of balancer shafts in the vehicle’s 2-litre, 4-cylinder engine.
This unit is identical to the one that powers the Renault Megane CC – and so is the continuously variable transmission. While gearboxes of this type tend to feel a little strange (the revs stay the same as speed increases), this one functions more as a good companion for the engine.
Outputs of 141bhp and 196Nm might be slightly under par for a naturally aspirated motor of this size but on the move, the Latitude is responsive and will never lag behind whatever the traffic conditions. It handles decently through corners, but really shines on long stretches of asphalt.
The Renault Latitude’s suspension (front MacPherson-type and multi-link rear) settles quickly after bumps and helps the Latitude glide over little imperfections with ease. Together with the quiet cabin, occupants are always kept relaxed and cosseted.
Granted, the Renault Latitude is slightly more costly than the Camry, but it is more extensively equipped. And of its long list of standards is one that deserves special mention – the driver’s “massage seat”.
Perfect for long drives, this fully adjustable seat features five pneumatic rollers and four massage modes – constant, intermittent, soft and firm. There are also three massage “zones” to choose from (shoulder blades, mid-back and lower back).
While the intensity of the modes may be a little difficult to tell apart, this does not detract from the fact that this seat is a winner and a great complement to the car’s comfy ride and noise insulation.
Other standard items in the Renault Latitude include the (rather large) keyless entry and ignition card, push-button engine start/stop, electric parking brake, Carminat TomTom GPS navigation system, Arkamys 3-D audio system (with eight speakers), Bluetooth telephone and iPod connectivity, as well as cruise control with speed limiter function.
The navigation system, operated via a joystick and buttons located aft of the gear lever, is intuitive and user-friendly. Its colour screen is a little small, however, and the graphics lack detail.
Interestingly, the cruise control must be first activated by a switch on the lower centre console – two buttons on the steering wheel then become “live” and take care of the various settings.
Although the Renault Latitude’s dashboard has a nice, modern look and feel, with a fair degree of soft-touch materials around, there is still an abundance of hard plastic. Thankfully, the use of sombre colours makes this less obvious than with the interiors of its Japanese peers, which typically feature faux wood panels.
Nonetheless, whatever niceties the Renault Latitude might not possess become less of a bother when the vehicle stretches out its legs on a long run. As the kilometres whiz by, furrowed brows will smoothen, tense shoulders will relax and sore backs will be soothed.
And the Renault Latitude’s passengers will be just as happy.
Renault Latitude 2.0 (A)
ENGINE 1998cc, 16-valves, inline-4
MAX POWER 141bhp at 6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 196Nm at 3700rpm
GEARBOX CVT with 6-speed override
0-100KM/H 11.9 seconds
TOP SPEED 186km/h
CONSUMPTION 12km/L (combined)
PRICE INCL. COE $134,888 (as of June 2011)