WE HAVE a friend who loves to extol the virtues of negative ions. We first heard it some 12 years ago when London was home and we had taken a day trip to Brighton, craving the smell of the sea and that watery English sunshine on our faces. Walking back up the hill to catch the last train home, reliving the delights of the day, we marvelled at how a few hours in the ocean breeze could do wonders for the soul.
According to Kel, our feeling of euphoria had very little to do with our committed support of the seaside town's many pubs and everything to do with the release of negative ions by the crashing waves.
The theory goes that the environment we live in today has far more positive ions, or free radicals, than in the past, creating an imbalance in the air and our bodies. Free radicals steal electrons from healthy cells to neutralise their own charge, causing cellular damage.
Negative ions, on the other hand, help freshen and purify the air. They're naturally found in places like the beach, in the mountains, in the country, in pine forests, near waterfalls – places that make us feel good after we visit them.
It is an accepted scientific theory and would have gone down with less scepticism had it not been delivered by the man who has to sniff and taste everything whether it's food or not, who never remembers the names of family and friends he is introducing you to and who thinks the meat pie is a religion.
Pity, because it seems the negative ions theory definitely has legs. Renault, for one, believe it, putting an ioniser in the air conditioning system of their new Latitude to help eliminate pollen, mould spores and dust from the air, giving you a more energised driving experience. You also have a choice of three fragrances which you can inhale instead.
The new Latitude is the result of Renault's partnership with Samsung Motors in Korea – a car with a French heart and Asian body based on the Nissan Maxima.
At 4897mm in length, it is easy to stretch out in the Latitude and the courtesy of space is extended to those in the back seat as well.
The leather seats are more comfortable than sumptuous but the front two are heated and the driver has the luxury of a two-speed massage as well. Suddenly, the ride home in peak-hour traffic is altogether bearable with five pneumatic rollers working their magic on the back. The cabin has a distinctly European feel, with Renault showing their usual flair in teaming quality materials with good accents and distinguished trims. The main instrument panel looks quite conventional but has interesting quirks.
The speedometer, for example, uses an additional red line to show your cruise control speed while a graphic TFT screen between the two main dials shows oil level, tyre pressure, fuel used etc.
On the road
We drove the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel and on paper it looks pretty innocuous delivering 127kW/380Nm.
But torque is available pretty low down, giving the Latitude that burst of power needed for highway driving. This car demonstrates smooth control, it is laidback and composed, making light work of small irregularities. Steering delivers good feel and the suspension is fairly compliant.
The Latitude uses its length and two-tonne body to give the impression of security preferring to stretch out and take in the view instead of being hustled.
What do you get?
Renault's inclusions are quickly becoming a point of difference.
The Latitude boasts keyless entry, which opens the door when you pull the handle and locks when you walk away, meaning there is no reason to spend hours digging in the bottom of your bag.
There is also Bluetooth connectivity, a premium sound system, power folding mirrors, electronic handbrake, glass sunroof, parking sensors and reverse camera to name a few. Safety features include ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, emergency brake assist, dual front, side and curtain airbags and automatic activation of hazard lights.
A spacious interior and a 511-litre boot coupled with quality fittings and an excellent warranty makes the Renault Latitude a pretty handy choice.
The raised back and thick A-pillars create a few blind spots but the sensors and reverse camera work well to negate the former.
At 6.5 litres/100km the turbo-diesel is particularly generous on the hip pocket especially considering the size of the car. The petrol variant is a lot thirstier needing 9.7 litres/100km. The Latitude comes with Renault's excellent five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and three-year road side assist.
With earlier efforts sporting more edgy designs failing to capture the Asian market, Renault has taken the lead from its South Korean partners, toning down the Latitude so it appears more conventional.
We thought the Latitude had some exceptional features but were not really excited by the exterior. Neither were we offended by it.
Renault believes the V6 petrol will account for 60% of the Latitude's sales but we think the diesel option would be a better buy. That would add some oomph to a stylish, spacious, feature-filled car. If nothing else, those negative ions may do you a world of good.
Model: Renault Latitude.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive mid-sized sedan.
Engine: 2.0-litre, four cylinder turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 127kW at 3750rpm and peak torque of 380Nm at 2000rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 6.5 litres/100km combined average.
Bottom line: $36,900.
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