Nowadays, everyone is much gung ho about the car scene in India. This is thanks to the influx of world class material in the name of cars coming here just after the year started. We have already received close to close 8-10 international brands in India and are looking at more and more. That’s good news. However what it adds upto is confusion as to which car is the better one. That all we cover in the comparison section. Now is the time for reviews and the most obvious car which is to be reviewed is the Renault Fluence in India. This car was launched recently and is Renault’s independent foray into the world of Indian cars. Yes, they have put behind Mahindra and quietly shook hands with their world wide partner, Renault. They would be sharing their facilities in Chennai. The Renault Fluence would be assembled out there very soon. We had carried out a preview of Renault Fluence. Now is the time for reviewing this car. Renault were kind enough to lend both the petrol and diesel models for the review. So, we have both of these cars for a detailed report.
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What the Renault Fluence in India aims to do is to offer looks which are palatable by all and not too radical like the Civic or be very somber like the Laura. Infact, the Fluence looks like a shark. Yes, that’s the word which comes to mind when one looks at the Fluence. However one would definitely note the muscle up ahead of the A-pillar which converges into the smoothly sloped bonnet. The half asleep head lamps also complement the shark look of this car. Fog lamps are standard on both the petrol and diesel variants. The outside rear view mirrors are clipped by small turn indicators. The Renault logo is going to be clipped off at a fair pace again as can be seen that most of the Renault Logans pressed into Meru cab services don’t have them. Guess, that this time around as well, they would have a gala time. The radiator grille in an expensive car shouldn’t be such an open one that the internals of the engine are put up on prominent display however Renault have chosen to ignore this fact. Badge apart, looking at the exteriors of this car, one would be hard pressed to say that this is from the same manufacturer which gave us the boxy Renault Logan. The chrome garnishings can be seen only on the petrol variant while the diesel one makes do without one. The doors however get a thick cladding for company. Both the cars get 10 spoke alloy wheels which eerily look like the one in the Fiat Linea. The tyre section is 205/60 R16. The Fluence gets a jacked up for India, 170 mm of ground clearance. In the European sections, the Fluence only boasts of 160 mm ground clearance. How it affects the handling of the car would only be revealed later. As for the rear of this car, it is typical French in its look. The tail lamps look similar to the head lamps and this is a trait which we have noticed in many new cars. The bumpers however aren’t body colored and are capsuled in black plastics. The tail pipe is also a chrome tipped one. However we noticed that upon significantly revving the car, the tail pipe changes its color. We aren’t sure how this would stack up in the future.
As for the interiors of the Renault Fluence in India, a 3 tiered dash welcomes the driver. Before opening the door, one would need to have a smart card access which is Renault’s thinking of keyless entry. A small black fob on the door handle, upon pressure and with the smart card in pocket, opens the car. Once inside, the smart card access can still be kept in pocket or if its too cumbersome, can be slotted into a dedicated section which is placed just below the music system. First up is the petrol car. Now, you would ask us as to why we mentioned petrol car. The reason is that there is a big difference between the interiors of the petrol and diesel model. The petrol is highly specced one whereas the diesel is a bare bones model. So on the good parts which are present in the petrol. There is dual zone climate control whereas the diesel only has the regular AC. There are no rear AC vents in the diesel. Electric mirrors are present in the petrol while the diesel one gets manually adjustable ones. While one inserts the smart key access, the petrol engined car’s mirrors just flip open and once the stop button is hit, they retract on their own. There are rear as also side sun blinds in the petrol model. The steering wheel is leather wrapped and has only the, hold it, cruise control function. Yes, the other regular controls like audio and Bluetooth phone are behind the steering wheel. The switches look like they could do with a lot more of innovation. The horn pads on the steering wheel require a very big finger to reach them from the resting position. The digital instrument console is a segment first. Oh, wait! The speedo is only digital and the tachometer instead of getting a red line towards 7000 rpm gets a yellow one. French cheese, anyone? The petrol’s front seats get lumbar adjustment which, sadly, is missing from the diesel variant. The dash is a three tiered one and one which has black plastic as the upper trim, a slight wood patch in the middle one while the lowest one is the beige colored one. Everywhere, contrary to belief, things are smooth and easy to touch. However things have not been Indianized or for that matter configured for right hand drive use. Some like the confusing wiper stalks and lights thing whereas others like the bonnet release mechanism to the front passenger’s side clearly show that the Fluence was brought to India in a hurry. Moreover the parking brake also slants slightly towards the front passenger and it is more like it that the front passenger would pull the brake.
As far as comfort factor goes, the Fluence is up there with the best in the business. Even for the tallest person buying this car, there is plenty of under thigh support. Moreover with the front seats in position for a 6ft 4 inches driver, the rear seat is still spacious. This is due to the fact that the Fluence boasts of having a wheelbase which is the longest and largest in its class by a fair degree. However rear passengers would have to bear with a slightly lower head room. This is due to the coupe like sloping roofline. One has to be real careful with the ingress and egress part of this car. Seating is a tad lower and in the same ball park as the Honda Civic. The small controls for the aircon and climate control however make one to take their eyes off the road. The dash board is also sun reflective and hence sometimes hinders the vision in broad sunlight. Boot space of 530 liters is at par with the competition though the suspension intrusions do count in as minor deterrents. The seats though split 60:40 and aid in load carrying chores.
Handling and ride quality
With the Logan, Renault had proved that they wanted to capture the ride quality obsessed market segment in India and with the Renault Fluence in India, they have done just that. The Fluence has got a soft spring setting which, even though isn’t as soft as say the Verna, is nicely setup. It absorbs all the road undulations without even a whimper. Just like the Logan which handled the Indian road conditions very well without even asking for a change in the suspension components, it is very likely that the Logan would also maintain the same stature. For the NVH part, the Logan was a fair bit vocal whereas use of extensive sound deadening material has caused the Fluence to be on the quietest cars in its class. This was for the petrol however the diesel does show its roots in a fairly unobtrusive manner. People standing outside the cabin can hear the diesel idling or even starting up via the cheap looking start stop button however inside, passengers would only come to know that it’s a diesel through either the interiors at low speeds or the distant boom sound at higher speeds. As for the steering wheel, it is light in its operation but weighs up sufficiently when the Fluence is asked to take a corner at high speed. It does roll a fair bit but not as much as can be expected from the soft suspension setup. The handling can be called as fairly enthusiastic without giving too much for the enthusiast to rejoice.
Engine, performance and fuel efficiency
Renault has launched the Fluence in India with 2 engine options. One is an existing motor found under the hood of the Nissan Micra and the Renault Logan nee Mahindra Verito. This 1.5 liter common rail diesel engine has now got a variable geometry turbocharger which is bigger in nature than the other vehicles mentioned here. This enables it to pull out 105 Bhp of power at 4000 rpm whereas the torque figure reads as 240 Nm at 2000 rpm. It is mated with a 6 speed manual transmission which feels similar to the one in the Logan except for the addition of an extra cog. At idle, as discussed earlier, there is some pitter patter of the diesel motor. 0-100 kmph is achieved in 14.4 seconds. This is in sync with the performance of the diesel motor in the Micra and Logan. The top speed remains in the regions of 162 kmph. However the clutch felt a bit hard and the gears not as smooth in their operation as one would expect from a car of this class. For the petrol, it is an all new engine by Renault in the Indian market. Renault had also taken help from Nissan for this engine and hence this 2.0 liter engine displays some of the Japanese characteristics. This engine makes 135 Bhp of peak power at a lofty 6000 rpm whereas the torque figure produced is 190 Nm at 3800 rpm. However instead of a manual transmission, Renault have given this 2.0 liter engine a CVT, which is called as CVT 2. As can be guessed, in the city, the Fluence does its work very nicely. There is minimum lag from the engine and transmission whereas in the diesel, a slight turbo lag was experienced. However out on the highway, the transmission changes characters and displays the engine as one lethargic piece. The 0-100 kmph figure was achieved in 12.2 seconds while the top speed was marginally more than the diesel at 176 kmph.
For both the variants, all wheel disc brakes along with ESP and ABS are standard fare. The petrol motor in addition gets ASR as a complement. There are also rear parking sensors available on the petrol. As far as safety is concerned it is right up there with the Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics. The braking distance difference between the petrol and diesel engined cars is almost negligible. As for the fuel efficiency, we got a real world figure of 11.7 kmpl with the petrol and 16.3 kmpl with the diesel. These were overall figures achieved during the test while Renault claims 13.4 kmpl and 21.8 kmpl respectively as ARAI figures.
The Renault Fluence in India is part of the comeback operations for the company post their failed alliance with Mahindra. The Renault Fluence however lacks the French flair which even the Logan lacked. However it has the equipment (petrol) and also the space that a customer in this segment so desires. It is the best chauffer driven car in this category plus when the owner wants to take over the wheel, will equally delight him. Moreover, it stands out amongst the hordes of Corollas and Civics in a parking lot. However the negatives are that the diesel lacks equipment levels which is simply a big no-no as far as this class is concerned. Others include the odd placements of the controls and their inherited left hand drive layout. Fuel efficiency for the petrol is not also class leading. Moreover, Renault has a dealer network which is at par with that of the Audis and Lamborghinis. Renault has proudly claimed that they would setup close to 100 dealerships in India by 2012. Tall claims, eh? Even Nissan aims to step up its dealership network by that time. What can be seen as a good thing or problem is that both the petrol and diesel are available in a single variant with no options thrown in. The Renault Fluence price in India starts from Rs 12.99 lakhs and goes upto Rs 14.40 lakhs. The former price is for the diesel whereas the latter one is for the petrol. All these prices are ex-show room, Mumbai. To this sticker price, Renault should have atleast deducted a lakh from both the variants. It is said that the CKD operations would culminate within 6 months from now and in its place, the Fluence would be built in India, which would actually bring down its sticker price.