SOTW: Renault Vel Satis

What’s this? Two 3-litre French Sheds in a fortnight? Yes, and with good reason. Less than ten years ago, the Renault Vel Satis retailed for around £32k. Now, as confirmed by PHer Drtimbo who unearthed this rare lump of history, they can be seen buzzing lazily into the terminally sticky Venus Shed trap. Oh, how the mighty are fallen.

An oil painting, it ain't...
An oil painting, it ain't...
Not that the Vel Satis was ever really mighty. Along with the even more intriguing Avantime that also came out in 2001, it was the product of a spasm of creativity at La Régie that revolved around the obscure notion of a ‘living room on wheels’. Like many advanced concepts, the Aheadoftime was feared, mocked and then ignored to death. It was put out of its misery in 2003 with less than 9,000 units made.

The Vel Satis, however, survived right up until 2009. It may come as a surprise to British PHers to hear just how many Vel Sati were built: over 60,000 cars mooed their way off the Sandouville line in Normandy. Although that plant was about as close to Britain as it could possibly be, we Brits didn’t take to them at all. Renault UK didn’t even bother taking up the option on the 2005 facelift model, what with the fag of doing the RHD conversion and all.

...nope, nor from this angle either...
...nope, nor from this angle either...
It’s thought that less than 1,300 made it across the Channel in total – only about a third of Renault UK’s expectations. A fairly remarkable 900+ of those are still registered today, reinforcing the general opinion that they were more solidly built than the Matra-made Avantimes.

The VS’s relative success on the Continent was buoyed up by a fanbase of French taxi drivers who liked the monstrous amount of space it offered in both the back and the boot, and who didn’t give deux hootes about the spinal wellbeing of their passengers. It rode like a Roman chariot, its new-age suspension having cleverly substituted jarring choppiness for the old-gen Renaults’ silky compliance. Unsurprisingly, this undermined its intended role as an executive soothe-mobile. In the absence of any other homegrown bargery, long-suffering French Presidents were obliged to crash around in bulletproof Vel Sati right up until 2009. No wonder they were always in a bad mood.

...but those seats look irresistibly comfy...
...but those seats look irresistibly comfy...
As a kind of Citroën DS de nos jours, the Vel Satis was richly endowed with Gallic ‘up yours’ ugliness. It’s a timeless sort of ugliness though, one that looks no worse now than it did then. This example (one of the first to be brought into the UK) doesn’t look particularly well cared for, but half a day with the bucket and shammy should work wonders. Shed reckons that the dodgy-looking shutline on the driver’s door is simply down to the door not having been shut by the feckless snapper, but remembering the taxi connection, who’s to know that it hasn’t done a stint in motoring’s equivalent of National Service?

What is for sure is the voluptuous comfort of those seats. They’re as cossetting as they look, and heated too. The rears fold down to create an impromptu landing field for light aircraft. The interior generally is pleasing, especially that alderwood trim. For trivia fans, that’s the wood Fender has used for its Stratocasters since the 1950s. Somewhat before that, Venice was built on alder foundations that are still good today. Tough stuff; looks nice. And as if that wasn't enough, it even comes with a personalised plate. Of sorts.

...and that alderwood trim is pleasant.
...and that alderwood trim is pleasant.
The Isuzu-sourced 24-valve six-pot DCI diesel doles out 180hp and a handy 257lb ft belt of torque at 1,800rpm, making it good for a top whack of just over 130mph and an official combined figure of 32.5mpg – a number you can boost by 10mpg if you drive everywhere at a 75mph cruise. The auto ’box never gives up in its ceaseless search for optimum torque, an admirable trait in one way but a pain in the backside in another.

As a rolling example of Renault’s cleveritude, the Vel Satis was liberally stuffed with electronic comfort and convenience gubernalia. That’s not always a good idea ten years down the line. The Carminat sat nav system is actually quite decent, but the tyre pressure monitors will probably bail out (at £80 a pop) along with the reversing sensors and possibly the electronic handbrake. The voice synthesiser alerting you to faults might grate over time too, unless it’s broken of course, in which case it won’t tell you that.

Bum deal? We hope not.
Bum deal? We hope not.
As with last week’s Peugeot 406 Coupé, running costs can catch you out. Road tax and insurance aren’t bargain basement, nor are tyres at upwards of £200 each. The cambelt has a 5yr/100k expectancy, which is just as well as Renault main dealers will charge you a four-figure sum to renew it. Aircon systems often don’t work properly; rusty pipes can leak, as can fuel injector seals. On the plus side, parts availability is decent as there’ll often be a Volvo or Vauxhall bit that will do the job if there’s no Renault one.

And just to show that the Vel Satis is certainly no worse than any other French exec, let us consider its successor, the Renault Latitude. The what? Exactly.

Here’s the ad.

5 Doors, Automatic, Hatchback, Diesel, 137,000 miles, Blue. 12 MONTHS MOT, LOTS OF SERVICE HISTORY, 3 FORMER KEEPERS, 2 KEYS, ABS, Alloy wheels, Central locking, Cruise control, Headlight washers, Folding rear seats, Immobiliser, Navigation system, Passenger airbag, Rear armrest, Radio/Cassette, Radio/CD, Rear headrests, Side airbags, Radio/CD Multichanger, Traction control, Metallic Paint, Body coloured bumpers, Drivers airbag, Front electric windows, Front head restraints, PAS, Trip computer, Steering wheel rake adjustment, Audio remote control, Electric door mirrors, Isofix child seat anchor points, Alarm, Remote central locking, Leather seat trim, Rear electric windows, Steering wheel reach adjustment, Space saver spare wheel, Reverse parking aid, Electrically adjustable drivers seat, Heated front seat, Heated door mirrors, Electrically adjustable passenger seat, Front fog lights. Insurance Group:15, LOOKS AND DRIVES WELL FOR AGE, CHEAP PART EXCHANGE TO CLEAR, PRICED TO SELL. £890 p/x considered

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (163) Join the discussion on the forum

  • CarCluster 02 Aug 2013

    Drove one at a Renault test day. I liked the fact that the toggle switch for Cruise control/Speed Limiter was on the centre console (near the handbrake) rather than hidden away on the right hand side with the headlight adjustment and dashboard dimmer where you can't see it.

    A little point but most annoying on my Twingo.
    Only really ever see these in that metallic blue/grey colour...

  • wile7 02 Aug 2013

    Still loving my 3.5 V6 Vel......stunning cruiser. Been to Toulouse and back twice since my last post. Not missed a beat. Had one battery problem (a drain due to a chaffed wiring loom) but now fixed. Great bangernomics car. Very pleased smile

  • swisstoni 03 Jun 2013

    Interesting read but I don't recognise the V6 diesel overheating issue at all. Mine has just clicked over 100k miles and I have done about 40k of those in all
    conditions and not a hint of overheating.

  • morsch 03 Jun 2013

    I love quirky cars and the Vel Satis is a very good one and in many ways quite a bargain. I recommended the VS in the past and the buyers are still happy, but there are a few issues.

    The ride is OK, the VS just hates potholes and bumps, so if you live in an area with bad street conditions, think again.

    The seats and the seating position are great for most drivers, but you really need to test drive the VS. The mix of limousine and MPV means throne-like chairs which are a bit higher than usual. Some drivers just don't find a comfortable seat position despite the numerous electric controls and the leather is of good quality but a bit slippery.

    The VS is big, really big. So even though it looks like a Gran Touring hatchback, the city is not it's natural habitat.

    Comparing the VS to the Avantime is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. The Avantime was Renaults' great looking black sheep and based on the previous generation Espace. The Avantime shares very little with the VS and the then "new" Espace IV. It was Renaults unloved goodbye gift to long-time partner Matra - or a kiss of death...

    The VS and the Espace IV however share chassis, suspension, engines, gear boxes, mechanics, electronics... They are non-identical twins. The VS however is not sharing the chassis dimensions with the "short" Espace, but with the 20 cm longer "Grand Espace".

    The Espace is just a better in every way, ride, seating position, space - and when compared with the normal version, length s well. These 20cm make all the difference.

    Of course the Espace is more expensive, but not so much when the engine of choice is the Nissan-sourced 3.5 V6. And re-selling an Espace is far easier.

    Mechanically both the Espace and the VS are pretty good and reliable. Faults are usually electronics, for example the tire pressure sensors. Some spares are expensive, so most owners simply live with these faults as long as they can just be ignored. The auto-box is another topic, you can read some tips on on, but despite my best efforts, the auto-box always is a bit harsh when starting from stand-still - I found the best way is to choose the manual option for the initial acceleration and then switch to auto.

    The 3.0 V6 Diesel however is a real problem when regularly driving at motorway speeds. In Germany, many company-car drivers have initially welcomed this Isuszu-sourced engine as a refreshing alternative to the Audis, BMWs and Mercs long-distance high speed cruisers. The engine was offered in the Laguna, Espace, the VS, but also in the Opel/Vauxhall Signum/Vectra and the Saab 9-5.

    In all of these cars, this engine was a major source of trouble. Initially the manufacturers just replaced the engines and Isuzu paid the bill. When warranty ran out, owners were faced with huge costs and the problem became very obvious in the mid-2000s. Renault desperately advised dealers to remove the plastic dealer "covers" of the number plates in order to allow better airflow into the engine bay - crazy and ineffective.

    The reason is the transversely mounted engine and the resulting differences in temperatures and material mix for the Isuzu motor. And so far no one seems to have found a solution, for either preventing the problem or repairing the engine. Because Renault and GM ignored and dis-owned the problem (blaming Isuzu). Even the replacement engines hevane't been any better so far and minor modifications of the facelifts didn't help either. GM stopped selling this engine after a few years, but Renault continued offering this crappy motor even after the facelift in 2005.

    My guess is Renault simply played a game of numbers and assumed that
    • in most countries with restricted motorways and owners who don't drive long distances at higher speeds this failure would occur later and over a longer stretch of time
    • and most importantly, it would only become visible when a critical number of owners make their problem public, which is relatively unlikely in most countries due to low sales of that engine.
    In Germany however, the number of angry Isuzu-engine owners and frequency of occurence meant that prices of the few remaining 3.0 V6 Diesels are incredibly low because the owners' risk seems not whether the engine blows, but when!

    Enjoy the Espace and VS and choose the petrol versions, especially the Nissan 3.5 V6. Convert it to LPG / Autogas if regularly used.

    more details of that controversy here

  • WhiteBaron 18 Mar 2013

    Turbolader said:

    Sat here watching Total Recall and can't help but think this quirky old French barge looks not dissimilar to the 'Johnny Taxi', ignoring the additional pair of wheels.

    Or perhaps it's just me

    Now that would take some brave pills............ stickered up Le Mans Transport smile

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