Four years ago, at the Frankfurt motor show, I saw a concept car from Renault that shamed most others on display.The Laguna Coupe came to prominence as a design study to coincide with the launch of the sedan back in 2007. It wowed visitors to the Johannesburg motor show a year later.After the re-acquaintance (in showcar form locally) I doubted if the concept’s striking styling and simple detailing would be left untouched by road car homologation. When a Laguna test unit arrived for evaluation at the Wheels24 office, I was immediately taken by how faithfully the original Frankfurt show car’s proportions and design harmony had been retained. Ignore the Renault badge and it is nearly inarguable – this French two-door is one of the most stylish cars in production. Pretty stunning outsideDetractors may point at the grille and unpack traceable Aston Martin plagiarism, yet the rear-three quarter view is epic - especially those minimalist illumination strips (instead of conventional, rectangular light-clusters) contrasting perfectly with the sheet-metal surfacing. Well proportioned and tastefully executed the Laguna Coupe cues classic long-nose GT styling – despite its front-wheel drive architecture. There is an inherent dilemma when producing a vehicle with such rapture inducing styling on a simple front-wheel drive sedan platform, as is the case with the Laguna two-door. The result is often a disappointing discrepancy between dynamic promise etched out by the styling and actual driving deliverables.Pretty average insideAccess the Laguna’s cabin via one of its oversized coupe doors and you are greeted by an alarmingly underwhelming design. The interior architecture is simply not commensurate to the car’s exterior styling drama. Plainly, there is too much Laguna sedan instead of exotic coupe feel about it.The Laguna Coupe’s Carminat TomTom SatNav takes pride of place atop the fascia, with a controller residing in the centre-console. In terms of layout it is very minimalist, contrasted with some odd trim coordination. Silver insets around the transmission gate - and two horizontal strips running outwards from the navigation screen - clash quite pronouncedly with the sombre, black interior ambience. Slip the keycard into its fascia slot, start the Nissan derived V6 engine, take hold of the helm and things go even more awry. The oversized, oddly proportioned three-spoke steering wheel looks wholly out of place in a car as stylishly conceived as the Laguna Coupe – it really debits the already lacking cabin environment even further. Ease away and the complete absence of feedback rendered by the over-assisted, artificially geared, electric power-steering system depreciates any dynamic expectations.Mechanically the Laguna Coupe is a curious mix. The car remains, for all intents and purposes, a Laguna sedan trimmed with outlandish coupe bodywork. Renault does not retail the current Laguna four- and five-door range locally. I have driven the car in Europe and it is quite good - as a family sedan. Customers in the aspirational coupe market have markedly different expectations from your average family car buyer though. Powering the 1 522kg three-door is a long-stroke 3.5l V6 engine, profiled for mid-range urge and a low vibration signature. Transferring the V6’s 177kW worth of power and 330Nm of peak rotational force to the front wheels is a rather unsophisticated six-speed dual-pedal transmission. The cogs are planetary geared, not dual-clutch actuated. This design renders a drivetrain bias very much skewed towards relaxed progress, instead of an adaptable twin-shaft character typical of most contemporary dual-pedal coupes.At urban speeds the Laguna Coupe feels like a hapless compromise. Courtesy of its torsion beam tracked rear suspension it lacks the all-round wheel oscillation control of rear-wheel drive competitors, whilst the six-speed transmission’s shift regime is always frustratingly out of synch with your driving intuition. As smitten as I was with it back in September 2007 - orbiting the Laguna Coupe concept at the Frankfurt motor show - my infatuation was (rapidly) being tempered by road testing reality.Besides being very pretty and loaded with kit (essentially you can only specify the colour) the Laguna Coupe initially felt like an average front-wheel drive sedan hidden beneath fetching, coupe bodywork.All-wheel steering The Laguna Coupe had one saving grace dynamically - its four-wheel steering system. A design fad popularised during the early 1990s amongst Japanese manufacturers (notably Honda and Mazda), the idea of four-wheel steering has fallen completely out of fashion during the last decade. In principle it remains rather clever though. By actuating a steering angle on the rear wheels, an all-wheel steering system enables a car boasting a generous wheelbase (and cabin space, such as the Laguna Coupe) to trim its turning circle, whilst sharpening up high-speed steering responses.The Laguna Coupe’s four-wheel steering system operates via an electric actuator on the rear axle, which analyses slip angles and steering input to calculate the degree of rear-wheel opposite steering required. During an emergency avoidance scenario the Laguna Coupe's four-wheel steer system can enact an opposing aft axle wheel angle of 3.5 degrees. Supplying the four-wheel steer system’s technology to Renault is Japanese component specialist Aisin – who co-incidentally make the Lexus LF-A’s transmission too. Does it work though?Well, it doesn’t turn the Coupe into a Twingo when navigating claustrophobic underground parking facilities. What four-wheel steering does is endow the car with very quick-witted steering responses at speed – without the necessity of too much actual input from the helm. Despite the Laguna’s Coupe’s maddeningly artificial steering feel, it does change direction very smartly. In fact, it is quite a fluid handling car – only let down by a drivetrain lacking outright power and gear ratios spaced with cruising in mind. Once I became accustom to the lack of heft and tangible feedback from the helm and came to trust the car’s inherent dynamic balance when powering out of corners, there was a mixture of admiration and disappointment in my attitude to the Laguna Coupe.I admire its balance, especially as it is a fairly large car both steering and powering via its front-wheels and trailing a torsion beam rear wheel linkage. Disappointingly the lack of outright power left me wishing for an additional 25kW and a manual or dual-clutch transmission to exploit it.As a cruiser the Laguna Coupe is admirably comfortable, buoyed by every imaginable cabin trinket and comfort feature you could hope for. Rolling European specification tyres, it does not ride with exemplary comfort over testing local roads though – a state of affairs exacerbated by the car’s lack of all-wheel independent suspension. DesignLooks distinctive without being contrived. Very unique. You will be noticed, even parking it at the far end of the clubhouse carpark.Inside Spacious, well equipped. Let down by trim coordination and dowdy steering wheel design. Driving it Four-wheel steering dynamics undone by indecisive transmission and lack of ultimate urge. Quick steering and inherent chassis balance could easily cope with more power.VerdictLarge French cars, no matter how festooned with standard equipment they may be, have never been successful locally. Peugeot’s phenomenally stylish 406 coupe was never sold in noticeable volumes locally – and it was perhaps the best looking coupe of its time.Is the Laguna coupe doomed to similar fate? If you are a brand neutral buyer the specification comparison tallies it as a high value package. Spec a comparative German alternative similarly and the pricing discrepancy becomes quite noticeable, in favour of the French car. Dynamically the German alternatives have the edge though – due to their larger range of drivetrain options, especially the more responsive transmissions and all-wheel independently suspended rear-wheel drive architectures. If you are at that stage of life where driving a beautiful car with agility is more important than driving a dynamically well-rounded car with contrived (German) styling, the Laguna coupe will have an appeal all of its own. Is the Laguna Coupe a French Aston Martin or not?