The D segment has seen many new entrants recently. Some refreshed ones while the others are still chugging along with their old virtues. The only worthwhile all new launch was that of the Renault Fluence in India. Needless to say, it has stirred up quite a few things. The reigning segment leader is the Skoda Laura and in a bid to nullify the Fluence effect, Skoda dropped prices of its Laura petrol version and made it even closer to the Fluence. Now, the Toyota Corolla Altis in India is one good produce whichever one in here wishes to dethrone from its pedestal. It recently underwent a facelift and some engine revisions and is almost good as an all new product or that is what Toyota wants us to believe. Now, the fourth competitor is the Honda Civic in India. Since its launch in 2006, the car has seen some minor facelift and addition of a sunroof. Both the things not withstanding, the Civic was the ultimate choice for many since its launch. So, has the Renault Fluence launched the right assault or is it still being sidelined by the others here. Read on to find out if the D segment has found out a new heir to the throne.
To say the truth, we still think that the Honda Civic is the best looking car in its category. That said, Honda are trying to bank on the Civic’s looks much in the same way Maruti are trying with the Swift. Cut to the newest member of the D segment, the Renault Fluence in India. It has got the corporate face of Renault, which would be visible in all the future cars from the French manufacturer’s stables. The eyelids of this car feel a bit devilish in their looks from some angles. Somewhat like a snake in motion or ready to spring on its prey. From the rear, the Fluence feels a tad more stylish than the others in this class. If style is what one wants from their car, then the Honda Civic in India provides that in oodles. Even after so many years, a Civic in white color tends to draw attention to it. The new square headlamps have an element of black in them. While the twin tail pipes at the rear amply demonstrate its sporty intentions. As for the side look, the Civic seems real boy racer tool. Now, the Toyota Corolla would be made out to be a fresh model from the Toyota stables and infact for a wink or two, Toyota would make one believe so. However, that is not the case here. Some slight tinkering in the grille and a new alloy theme and that’s all. However, these changes have brought it much closer to the much bigger Camry. For the Skoda Laura, there are no good styling details. Even the alloys seem kinda boring. For the aspect regarding the overall stance, the Laura wouldn’t offend someone and nor would someone prefer to call it as boring enough. It is just a slab of brick which has been redesigned into a car. Skoda offers the option to change the single tail pipe of the TSI variant to twin ones.
It would be the Honda Civic which should be the ramp queen followed by the nonchalant Renault Fluence for its unique factor, then the Altis and the Skoda.
The interiors of all the 4 cars here are different as are their badges. The Corolla Altis has got familiar interiors but then the entire dashboard has been given a revamp and which ranks now very closer to the one in the bigger Camry. The half spoke half leather steering wheel however still persists. Long gone are the optitron meter dials and a more conventional ones find their presence here. Unfortunately, there is no navigation system provided but a touchscreen audio system is now standard. Electrical adjustment is available for the driver’s seat as also for the front passenger. Backseat comfort is what the customers in this class usually demand and the Corolla has always being the choice for the chauffer driven. But then the Renault Fluence with its all digital instrumentation is the new benchmark as far as rear seat comfort is concerned. It has got the perfect seatback angle with lots of leg space and there are many goodies also present in the cabin. It also has got leather seats as standard fare. For the Honda Civic, it is all kind of digital fare inside the cabin and it is a good thing that the cabin looks after even being in the eye for a good 6 years. However, seating is at its lowest in this Honda and hence the elderly wouldn’t appreciate the ingress and egress position in this car. However, the seating has a good front and back seat but then the entire thing is so low that one would feel that they are in a sports car. The middle hump at the rear is however less in the Civic than the other cars in this comparison. The Skoda Laura always has this sporty pretension and so rear seat comfort has been suitably compromised to make way for a better sculpted front seat. The front seat in the Laura is very comfy. The interiors are Spartan though and there are no audio mounted controls for this car here. The Fluence, by the way, has a strange contraption for audio controls and those are on a stalk mounted behind the steering wheel. Speaking of the Laura, Skoda are very reluctant to provide the petrol engined car with any goodies just like the way Renault are doing with its diesel engined Fluence. Boot space is more or less the same in all the cars here with the Renault boasting of the lowest figure and the Laura the largest boot.
For the interiors, it would be the Renault Fluence with its all beige and loaded trim levels followed by the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and the Skoda Laura.
Handling and ride quality
The Skoda Laura has got a good servoed steering wheel which is quick geared and is a delight to use. Its European character is revealed due to the suspension being on the firmer side. However this firmness which gives precedence to the handling of the car rather than its ride quality, isn’t so over the top. Stability in corners and minimum body roll in this comparison are what define the Laura’s handling finesse. The suspension does soak up the potholes and bumps in its way nicely but it also lets the occupants know what is going on beneath the cabin of the car. However, here the Corolla trumps the Laura with a near carpet type ride quality. It has a long suspension travel and this demonstrates in the way the car goes over potholes with the least murmurs. Moreover, its ground clearance also poses no threat of scraping over the speed breakers. Its only when one tries to push the Corolla harder that they come to know that this car is best for chauffer driven usage only. Lots of body roll compounded with a steering wheel which seems the least enthusiastic in this competition seal the Corolla’s handling prowess. But the new champion as far as the ride quality stakes go is the Renault Fluence. It has got a suspension which soaks up all but the worst potholes. Unlike the Corolla which announces the details of the proceedings, the Fluence just glides over them, much in the same way that the Logan does, but in a much more sophisticated manner. The steering wheel is one of the lightest units in this comparison and it is a breeze to pilot the Fluence in city speeds. On the highways, the steering loses out on the feel factor and its only here that you would miss the Laura’s steering feel. Handling is also at par with the Corolla but with a bit more of finesse and less aversion to corners. As for the steering wheel feel, it is the quick turning Honda Civic which closely matches the steering wheel of the Laura. Moreover, it is the only car in this competition that comes with paddle shifts behind the steering wheel. The Honda Civic has got a suspension which seems to be on the harder side so the handling of the car is a good thing but then it tends to understeer around corners. Body roll, like the Laura, is well contained. Its only in the ride quality stakes that the Civic loses out on. Fully loaded, the foot wheels would almost touch the wheels and all those potholes and stuff get directly relayed to the cabin. For the NVH factor, all the cars here posses a finesse which is worthy of their class bearings. The Laura’s engine however wins our vote for being one of the quietest ones followed by the Fluence, Toyota and then the Honda.
It’s the Laura which has a good mix of ride and handling which wins this stakes followed closely by the Fluence, Corolla and the Civic.
Engine, performance and fuel efficiency
The engines of all the cars here are 4 cylinder ones and most of the units are 1.8 liter ones with the exception of the Fluence. The Fluence has got a 2.0 liter engine which has an output of 135 Bhp and 190 Nm of torque. It has got a 6 speed CVT transmission. 0-100 kmph comes up in only 12.5 seconds while the top speed is 174 kmph. The transmission is a pretty relaxed unit and does relative easy work of everyday driving chores. However, the new updated Corolla Altis has a trick up its sleeve. The 1.8 liter motor now puts in 3 Bhp more than the Fluence but then the torque figure is down by a good 23 Nm. The new Altis gets a 7 speed CVT transmission and this unit is much more refined than the Renault unit. 0-100 kmph is .1 seconds faster in the Corolla than the Fluence and top speed is also higher by 2 kmph. The Honda Civic has got a 1.8 liter motor which puts out 130 Bhp of power and 172 Nm of torque. It has got a 5 speed auto with paddle shifts behind the steering wheel. It races from 0-100 kmph in 12.3 seconds while the top speed is higher at 183 kmph. The engine or rather the powerband is peaky and one needs to really cane the engine to extract performance from it. The paddle shifts are a real delight to be used. Now comes the real powerhouse, the Skoda Laura TSI. Its 1.8 liter motor produces 158 Bhp of power and 250 Nm of torque. It is the only car in this comparison which has got a 6 speed manual transmission. The shifts in this car are real quick and the Laura races from naught to 100 in only 8.6 seconds and achieves a top speed in excess of 180 kmph. Brakes on all the cars are fantastic however the ones in the Fluence really take the piece of cake with ABS, TCS and ESP for company. The Corolla is the one which gets only ABS for company. The Renault Fluence is better kitted out on the safety front as well with 4 airbags as opposed to the 2 in the others.
For overall fuel efficiency, the Corolla delivers 15.22 kmpl, the Fluence delivers 13.5 kmpl, the Civic has 12.3 kmpl while the Laura delivers 13.4 kmpl.
The Corolla doesn’t have the most exciting engine, it however proves to be quite frugal and hence tops the list here. The Skoda Laura mixes performance with fuel efficiency and hence is number two while the rest of the spots are shared by the Fluence and the Civic , in that order.
The test proves that being most powerful doesn’t mean losing out on the critical fuel efficiency factor and the reigning king, the Skoda Laura shows it. The new entrant Renault Fluence does everything well but nothing exceptionally so. It has got a nice interiors coupled with very good equipment levels and also superior ride quality. It however lacks the fun to drive factor and the Renault Fluence price in India of Rs 14.40 lakhs is a bit on the stiffer side. On the contrary, the 2011 Toyota Corolla Altis has also got everything going for it including the legendary Toyota badge up its nose. However its lackluster driving dynamics let it down. The 2011 Toyota Corolla Altis price in India is Rs 14.77 lakhs and the Corolla has grown pricier post its facelift. If you prefer Japanese driving dynamics plus an engine which loves to visit the redline too often, then the Honda Civic in India should satiate your needs. However, the ride quality is not upto the mark and also interiors apart from the sunroof don’t boast of much features. Like the Altis, it also has got the much in same ball park “H” logo upfront. The Honda Civic price in India as tested was Rs 14.27 lakhs. For the Skoda Laura, its all about German finesse coupled with nice interior, good engine and transmission combination and also the enthusiastic factor going for it. It is the most powerful car in this comparison and the only turbocharged petrol in its class. However, its ride quality is a bit stiff plus the Skoda aftersales is just not upto the mark. The Laura petrol is also not available with an auto transmission. The Skoda Laura price in India is Rs 13.34 lakhs. At this price, go on adding the equipment from the Fluence into this car and you would almost get the same trim levels and maybe at Rs 2-4k less than the Fluence’s price.
Well, we wouldn’t be able to confirm which would be the best car amongst these cars but if it is driving pleasure that you are looking after, then the Honda Civic and the Skoda Laura would thrill you. If its fuel efficiency, then the Altis and for backseat comfort it would be the Fluence.