Renault Vel Satis Hatchback 2002 - 2004

Renault Vel Satis Hatchback 2002 - 2004

Review by it
Monday, May 16, 2016


  • It does look different and fresh
  • A high-level safety equipment
  • Very comfortable cabin


  • Unreliable gearbox


French cars are often innovative and good-looking, but the manufacturers often struggle when it comes to building luxury cars. It almost seems like there hasn’t been a single successful luxury model in France since the 2nd World War. Renault is no exception, the full-size Safrane was a complete flop and when in 2000 it was finally taken off the production line, everyone was waiting in awe what would Renault do next. And they did something completely different. Having understood that they couldn’t compete with Mercedes and BMW in the traditional German terms, they decided to outline their own terms and play their very own game, a luxury hatchback with a unique style.

Exterior and Interior

It’s not unusual for Renault to surprise people and come out with what is considered ’a first’. They were the first to produce an MPV in the Espace, the first to produce a compact MPV (the Scenic) and the first to produce a Grand Tourer MPV (Avantime). The Vel Satis in turn, was the world’s first luxury hatchback. Its body proportions take time to understand and the car looks like vertically squashed MPV, but the Vel Satis looks different and it always attracts attention. As for the interior, it’s the strongest selling point of the Vel Satis. You’ll be hard pushed to find an interior layout that is more pleasing than this. The driver’s seat is gorgeous, it has every possible adjustment and you can even configure the back by playing with the separate panels. The rear seat, or should I say sofa, is extremely comfortable and although the Vel Satis is not the longest car in its class, there’s so much legroom and headroom that you have a feeling you’re sitting in a stretch-limo. Only the top materials have been used in the interior with leather, natural wood and top quality soft plastic. The dashboard is very stylish and you can read the dials without effort (unlike the Scenic) and find all the controls you need intuitively.

Performance and Economy

In order to feel like the king of the road, you’d have to go with one of the V6 engine. The large petrol unit is a lovely engine. It allows the car to accelerate to 60mph in around 8 seconds and is ideal for high-speed cruising. There’s not much economy to talk about and the chance is that you’ll be visiting the fuel station more often than usual as only 24mpg is likely to be achieved. A slightly better economy level of 32mpg is offered by the Isuzu diesel. It is not as fun to drive as the petrol version but still provides a decent power and acceleration. With the 4-cylinder engines, the car feels lifeless and doesn’t really justifies its existence. As for the economy, the 4-cylinder engines deliver 30mpg in petrol and 39mpg in diesel version. The car’s performance is somewhat hindered by the fact that it only comes with an automatic gearbox. Although as new it was a good and solid gearbox providing easy and quick shifts, on used cars even with little mileage, the gearbox starts playing up, making the drive jerky and unpleasant.

Like to Drive

It’s such a pleasure to sit in it and is so comfortable. Unfortunately, you feel less elated when you start driving around in the city traffic. The car feels a little wobbly. Similar feelings arrive when you try it on a highway with patchy surface, it’s like a small ship and it will swing and float sideways and even diagonally. The car is quite high and obviously its gravity centre is much higher than in a conventional limo. Driving on your own will make for a better experience, but that’s not exactly the idea of a family car, is it?

Faults and Repairs

Its Achilles heel is the jerky gearbox. On a used Renault Vel Satis it can have a mind of its own - switching the gears at random and lacking any control. The gearbox can be fixed but it’s not cheap. Or alternatively, if everything else fails, you can still use it in a semi-automatic mode by switching up and down as and when you wish. Some of the interior start rattling with time. Because the car’s body has so much movement during the ride, the door locks can become loose with time. The larger engines are not well optimised, the can produce smoke and noise and to finish it off, the Vel Satis is expensive to repair because there are very few people in the country that are qualified to work on such a sophisticated car.