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SOUL FUEL

Jonathan recalls the quirky benefits of growing up in the back of a spared no expense company car

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ack in 2001, my father put our ageing Ford Mondeo out to pasture and purchased a Renault

Laguna. Looking back on it now, I can just about wrap my head around that decision, in spite of the smug hindsight that many a keyboard warrior now uses to lambast French metal from that era. This was, after all, when Renault was making waves with fearless designs; a period that

brought us the Avantime, Vel Satis and that Megane.

I can only assume that the bold substances consumed at Renault HQ at the time also found their way into the coffee of my father’s local dealership, given that he ordered the otherwise hum-drum hatch with nearly every option ticked. 3.0 V6 with 205hp, 17-inch alloys, cruise control, tyre pressure sensors, voice control functionality…the full works. To this day, I cannot think of a single good reason to go so overboard with the spec of a humble Renault Laguna, apart from the not insignificant satisfaction of having the absolute best of an otherwise quite unremarkable item. Like owning the world’s finest marble set.

The initial impressions of the car remain vivid in my memory: it felt warp-speed fast compared to our old Mondeo, the ride was seriously plush, and the five-speed auto buttery smooth. My father was, understandably, chuffed to bits. And so was the rest of the family. Yet, the Laguna’s real party piece was none of the above, but rather its Cabasse sound system. It wasn’t just above average; it was truly brilliant. It was the first time I had heard a car stereo so good that it was actually preferable to the one in our own house - a feat that previously seemed unthinkable. It truly breathed new life into all my favourite songs, and helped stunt the boredom of longer journeys in the car.

It’s potency also refused to be blunted by age. Over the fourteen years or so in our family’s custody, many of the Laguna’s standout features began to feel weary. The once rampant pace started to gradually feel more pedestrian, further kneecapped by the now-spluttering gearbox. And truth be told, in practice, we hardly ever used the voice control functionality as buttons proved far more convenient (manufacturers, please take note!). However, the impact of the car’s stereo remained completely undiminished. Years after getting my driving license, I even used it to great effect to drown out the car’s mechanical wheezing on a shotgun blast across Scotland’s central belt to make it in time for a night out with a good friend. Even now, it remains one of the best in-car stereo systems I have come across in an everyday hatch-back, or any car for that matter.

 

My admiration was further fortified in light of the offering from the unit in my 997 Carrera, which has all the clarity of someone piping music from behind a moderately thin pillow. Even “Appetite for Destruction” sounds neutered on it, and I’m not entirely sure how that is possible. I primarily use it to add some vague semblance of tune to the white noise generated by the massive rear tyres on motorway jaunts. Luckily, I don’t believe it is too difficult to upgrade - to say nothing of cost - but I must confess to be disappointed that an allegedly “premium” marque thought it acceptable to fit a sound system appreciably inferior to the one fitted to a Renault Laguna a full nine years earlier.

Some may argue that I’m simply the victim of a decades-long campaign of cultural badge-snobbery, resulting in some kind of weird, reverse-Placebo effect. However, Mr Toone, of this very magazine, informs me that even the stereo in his 2010 Clio 200 is surprisingly impressive. On that basis, I think there is wider discussion to be had here, around the cars with factory-fitted stereos that defy exceptions - for better and for worse. You have my contribution, but I’d be curious to know if there are others.

As for the ultimate fate of the Laguna? My father ended up paying someone twenty quid to take the car as scrap. Needless to say, I mustered all the reserves of smug hindsight to tell him he should have expected nothing less for daring to buy a French car from that era. Funnily enough, he hasn’t since.