When the futuristic Altica made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, it turned plenty of heads - but, as we can reveal, it's much more than just a pretty face...
Not only does it preview the styling of the all-new Laguna, which goes on sale late next year, but a full production version of this wild coupé is also tipped to hit the road in 2008.
Auto Express got behind the wheel of the show star to see whether it has the potential to knock the TT off the top of the sales charts.
Combining the lithe body of a sports car and the full rear of an estate, the Altica is like nothing else on the road. Its swooping snout and gaping grille are blended with swept-up headlights and yet more air intakes to provide an aggressive appearance.
The plunging shoulder line hints at American muscle cars from the Fifties, but this is mixed with modern touches such as the air vent sculpted into the door and curved, canopy-style cockpit.
There are some extremely clever aerodynamic tweaks, too. In particular, we liked what Renault calls the Synthetic Jet, which acts like an invisible boot spoiler. The system alternately blows and sucks air through a 2mm-wide slit to control flow at the back of the car. The company says the device reduces drag by 15 per cent at 80mph.
Based on a mixture of Renault's B and C platforms - which are used by the Clio and Mégane respectively - the Altica feels surprisingly nimble on the road. Engineers predict the newcomer will charge from 0-60mph in 7.5 seconds courtesy of the same 2.0-litre turbodiesel powerplant that appears in the recently launched GT version of the current-generation Laguna.
It's practical as well, with rear seatbacks that fold flat into the floor, liberating 1,300 litres of luggage space. But the interior isn't only about function - it's just as pretty as the exterior.
The futuristic-looking instrument pod appears to float in front of the driver - it's mounted on four arms designed to resemble the suspension uprights from a Formula One race car. And once you are on the move, the enormous curved windscreen and glass roof further enhance the feeling of speed.
But the Altica is such a stunning-looking machine in the metal that it simply doesn't need these kind of gimmicks to justify itself. If this is the face of Renault's future sporting line-up, the all-new Audi TT could face some very tough competition indeed.
* As with Audi's Shooting Brake concept, the Renault Altica combines coupé styling with the practicality of an estate. The boxy rear makes room for a versatile four-seat cabin and a large luggage bay.
* Engine: 2.0 4cyl, 175bhp
* 0-60mph: 7.5 seconds
* Price: £20,000 (est)