The Renault Laguna has been around since 1993, spanning three generations, so it's had enough time to time to seep into mass-market consciousness. Unfortunately it never quite has, partly because it competes in a big family car sector already awash with brilliant cars - but also because it's never really been that good.
When the current version came out in 2007, Renault said it would boast quality hitherto unfelt in any of its cars. And while that may be the case, in four years it has still not proven to be enough to put the Laguna into the same bracket as, say, the Ford Mondeo - whose name is, partly thanks to an apocryphal Tony Blair association, synonymous with middle rung family motoring. So what's wrong with the Renault?
What are its rivals?
Obviously there's the Mondeo, and obviously there's the Vauxhall Insignia. They're the two mainstays in the class, and they're also the benchmarks - unless you put the BMW 3-Series (which outsells them both) in the same bracket.
The Laguna is a five-door hatchback (as are the Ford and the Vauxhall) but it competes in a big family car class that's a fairly even mix of hatches and saloons. And there are loads of them: the Honda Accord; Mazda6; Citroen C5; Peugeot 508; Alfa Romeo 159; Hyundai i40; Skoda Superb; Volkswagen Jetta. The Laguna is one of the best value of these - the 150bhp diesel in top-of-the-range GT-line trim we're testing here costs less than £23,000.
How does it drive?
The problem with the Laguna is the only things that really stand out are its irritations - most notably its gearbox and ride quality, both of which are poor. This is a truly misjudged gearbox/engine combination.
It's the ratios that are all wrong, because each shift puts the engine close to stalling. The power band is really narrow, too, resulting in a strange, elastic power delivery in which you've got nothing€nothing€LOTS€.nothing. The gearbox isn't very pleasant to use either - very rubbery.
Leaving aside the odd driving position, which is blighted by a seat set too high, the steering adds to the frustration. Not many new cars have got genuine steering feel, but the Laguna has zero. Some will appreciate its lightness, but anyone wanting this particular car to live up to its GT badging will be disappointed by the arcade game-like artificialness at the wheel.
Which would all be ok if it was offset by comfort, but it isn't. If only the steering was as accurate as the suspension, which transmits every jut and rut on the road into the cabin almost unfiltered. Ok, that's en exaggeration - this is clearly no Lotus Elise - but you're only ever a moment away from being jiggled in the Laguna.
The ostensible quality is good, with soft touch surfaces at the top of the dashboard and a nice, clean design that is in opposition to the fussiness of, say, the Honda Accord.
It's also very well priced given the kit on offer: £23,000 will buy this GT Line dCi diesel with 150bhp and a kit level that would probably cost £10,000 more in an Audi or BMW. It includes satellite navigation, cruise control, all kinds of safety and handling aids, tinted windows, half-leather sports seats, aluminium pedals, parking sensors and proper climate control - you get the caboodle and the kit.
Apart from the whole driving it thing, the satellite navigation and dashboard are frustratingly counterintuitive. It's like they were supposed to look lovely and asymmetrical, and then Renault's designers thought, "hmm, we better assign some functions to these knobs and buttons". For example, the dial that looks like it's for the stereo volume is actually a rotary selector for the satnav screen, and the buttons for said screen are split between the stereo head unit and the centre console. The rear sears are cramped, too.
Should I buy one?
No. Plenty of cars are uninspiring to drive, plenty have practicality issues, and plenty have dashboards that are less than intuitive. However, it's the Laguna's perpetual blandness - its absolute inability to excite - that's its worst quality. Even its fuel economy (54.3mpg) is only average.