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Concept Car of the Week: Renault Vel Satis (1998)

Thu, 04 Apr 2013 00:00:00 -0700

The approach to the design of top end models varies greatly depending on the manufacturer's heritage and the cultural differences of each country. It might be a conventional combination of wood and leather for some, power and technology for others, but it is generally packaged into a three-box four-door sedan or two-door fastback. Renault on the other hand had a much more cutting edge vision of what a luxury automobile could be.

To celebrate its centenary, Renault treated itself with the creation of an elegant and dramatic four-seater coupé that would become a milestone in the evolution of the brand's design language. Unveiled at the 1998 Paris Motor show, the Vel Satis concept landed like a UFO in front of an undoubtedly dazzled crowd.

Named after VELocity and SATISfaction, the radical concept penned by Florian Thiercelin has a rare level of simplicity and clarity in its architecture. Stretching from the edge of the bonnet all the way to the rear, the roofline is cut by a wraparound rear glass that sits on a bulbous rear end.

While the front overhang is perhaps a little too long, there is almost no rear overhang, shifting the weight forward, but still well balanced thanks to the vertical rear glass. The face takes its inspiration from pre-war models such as the 40CV with an upright pointy nose ornamented by a proud diamond.

The concept was also used as a technology demonstrator. The excessively large doors (1,780mm) are double hinged to move out and forwards. With this mechanism the doors open to a width that is less than that of the little Twingo. Simply pressing the ‘A' button opens the doors, moves the front seats forwards and lowers the rear windows. The wide opening makes access into the rear seats easy and graceful.

Inside, the design is a combination of traditional values and a modern vision of a ‘motoring habitat'. Firstly, the four armchairs with sliding headrest are an invitation to get in. The car is loaded with DVD players, foldaway screens and GPS but the dashboard remains free from any superficial details, refusing to showcase overrated technology.

When the car is switched on, the speedometer unit lifts up from the steering column and folds completely when switched off. The steering wheel has a fixed hub and the glove box slides like a jewellery box's drawer to reveal a keyboard controlling the interface. Passengers were also offered typical French luxury with a Mauboussin clock and Saint-Louis crystal champagne glasses.

Combining vast interior space and the styling exclusiveness of a coupe, the Vel Satis is a true GT. There is, however, nothing particularly exciting about its engine. The 3.0 V6 24V lifted from the Laguna Initiale produces a shy 210bhp.

As a vision of a different luxury, the Vel Satis remains one of the boldest moves made by Patrick Le Quément during his time as head of Renault Design. It was more successful and harmonious than the Initiale concept, still very unique and French but less quirky. The clean and innovative construction of this concept would influence the entire Renault range for more than a decade, with its most obvious sibling being the extrovert Megane II.

Exterior Designer Florian Thiercelin
Interior Deisgner Dominique Marzolf
Length 4,859mm
Width 1,859mm
Height 1,577mm
Wheelbase 2,840mm
Engine V6, 3,000cc
Power 210bhp
Transmission Five-speed auto, FWD

Your author, Flavien Dachet, is a UK-based, French-born car designer. You may know him as the purveyor of KarzNshit, a photo blog that if isn't already in your bookmarks, certainly should be.

By Flavien Dachet