The D-segment of the automobile market consisting of mid-size saloons is one of the most competitive and is the toughest for a new entrant to crack. With old-timers like the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima accounting for majority market shares, and relatively newer models like the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima sharing the rest of the spoils, it’s an impossibly uphill task for an upstart badge to claw its way in. But French carmaker Renault is intent on doing just that with its all-new Talisman saloon.

The Talisman name isn’t exactly new, as the French brand had slapped its logo on a Samsung SM7 back in 2012 to sell it as Renault’s flagship in China. However, the current generation is not a mere badge-engineering exercise. It’s a proper Renault built on the Common Module Family (CMF) C/D architecture that will underpin many Renault/Nissan models of the future. And design boss Laurens van den Acker and his team have done a brilliant job in giving it quintessentially French lines that are quite distinctive from the rest of the crop. With broad shoulders, a high beltline, a low roofline, and relatively wide track, the Talisman looks more muscular and brawny than all the other cars in this segment with the exception of Volkswagen’s Passat.

Even the cabin shows significant improvements in design and workmanship compared to earlier Renaults, with mostly soft-touch materials used on the dashboard and door trims. The instrument cluster behind the steering wheel is a 7.0in TFT screen, while an 8.7in portrait-oriented infotainment screen takes centre stage on the dashboard. Must be the influence of van den Acker’s brief stint with Volvo; there’s no mistaking the uncanny resemblance the centre console has with those of recent Volvos like the XC90 and the S90. There’s plenty of space for the driver, as well as the front and rear passengers. The Talisman’s relatively long wheelbase of 2,808mm frees up a class-leading 262mm of knee-room at the back. The ride quality is also well-settled and smooth, with road and engine noise in the cabin kept to a minimum.

However, Renault knows well that good looks and a well-designed cabin alone won’t get it too far in this segment. That’s why, along with the base 138bhp 2.0-litre normally aspirated engine, the carmaker is offering Middle East customers the option to get a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-pot that’s good for 187bhp and 260Nm of torque. A variant of the block that powers the Mégane GT and the Renaultsport Clio hot hatch, the force-fed motor is thankfully mated to a quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Incidentally, the 2.0-litre mill can only be had with a CVT. So it’s a no-brainer as to which one you should pick. The turbo motor also gives the Talisman an edge over rivals, as except for Hyundai, no other player in the segment offers a forced-induction engine in our market at the moment. But don’t expect anything exceptional in terms of dynamics, as the electrically assisted power steering isn’t the most responsive and the chassis doesn’t take abuse very well. Also, the brakes are a bit grabby on and off.

Overall, the new Talisman, particularly in the top-spec LE trim, has all the right attributes to break into this segment and snatch a piece of the pie from established players. And it’s got the pricing right as well. The model starts at Dh67,900 and goes up to Dh102,900 for the top-spec LE. This makes it a solid alternative for those looking for something more stylish than Japanese and Korean cars, but don’t have the budget for German models.