All Safranes were five-door liftbacks with transversely mounted engines. Front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions were available, with a range of petrol or diesel engines and manual or automatic transmissions. All petrol engines were fuel-injected and were fitted with three-way catalytic converters, as required in Europe after 1993 for engines of all sizes. The Safrane was also the first Renault to be equipped with air bags.
The Safrane carried over the Renault 25's five-door hatchback design that had gained wide customer acceptance in France. Despite the traditional preference for sedan bodies in the executive car segment, Renault decided to compete on the base of added practicality of the rear tailgate and split-folding rear seat (not available from most sedan-bodied competitors), as well as originality. Given the preference for German sedans from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz of many executive car buyers, this can be viewed as good marketing tactics, allowing Renault to draw the buyers looking for alternatives, rather than compete head-on. The Safrane featured slightly (but visibly) different front ends in different versions, in an attempt to emphasize the unique status of more upmarket models.
The Safrane's design was a deliberate effort to overcome the R25's main weaknesses - insufficient chassis stiffness and poor build quality. Renault was also keen to take noise reduction to best-in-class levels. These constraints resulted in a much heavier car than its predecessor (+200-300 kg / 440-660 lb.) due to a heavily reinforced chassis and the liberal use of sound-proofing materials.
At launch in 1992, the Safrane offered six engines including one diesel:
- 2.0L (1995cc), 8v I4, 107PS (79kW; 106hp) (in markets where engine size was a factor in yearly registration costs)
- 2.2L (2165cc), 8v Douvrin I4, 110PS (81kW; 108hp) (in other markets)
- 2.0L (1995cc), 12v I4, 140PS (103kW; 138hp) (in markets where engines above 2.0L are heavily taxed)
- 2.2L (2165cc), 12v Douvrin I4, 140PS (103kW; 138hp) (in other markets)
- 3.0L (2963cc), 12v PRV V6, 167PS (123kW; 165hp)
- 2.1L (2068cc), 8v I4 turbodiesel, 90PS (66kW; 89hp)
- 2.5L (2499cc), 8v I4 VM turbodiesel, 115PS (85kW; 113hp)
The Safrane's launch was free of the build quality problems that ruined the Renault 25's reputation. Critics praised the car's comfortable and spacious interior, excellent noise insulation, and incisive handling. However, the manual transmission's cable-actuated shifter (a first on a Renault) drew heavy criticism for its rubbery, uncommunicative feeling that spoiled the driving experience - a significant issue in the European market where more than 80% of cars sold are manuals.