Jerome often bashes the French for being a bit boring. He’s not very wrong when it comes to driving Renaults. This is about the Renault Fluence test drive and lest you are overwhelmed with the gloomy start, let me assure you that though the Fluence is plain-Jane, it is indeed a brilliant overall package.
Lets look at the good things first. This is Renault’s first vehicle for the Indian market (let’s forget the Renault-Dacia-Mahindra Logan) and the company’s enthusiasm is apparent. The dealers are motivated and you do get to see the Fluence on a couple of billboards.
The car looks smart and simple. It can put up a show better than the Skoda Laura and the Jetta, but that’s about it. The profile is smooth and nothing outrageous so to say. The curves are just right, the prominent headlamps surrounding the small linear grille with the huge Renault logo make quite a sight.
It is difficult to distinguish between the petrol and diesel from the outside but once you step in the cabin, there is a huge difference. The Petrol offers interiors which is leagues beyond the diesel. The diesel does not get the display, the beige interiors and the snazzy dash. Don’t get me worng, the quality is top notch. Once you touch that dashboard plastic, you would be confused as to whether to classify it as leather or plastic. The soft compound is something I’ve never seen before. But at a cursory look, it seems that it is similar to a car that comes for 1/5th the price. The music system is quite ordinary and the steering mounted controls are difficult to access. The steering system is European with controls on the wrong side stating that this is just makeshift engineering from a left hand drive vehicle. The cabin noise is negligible and the clatter of the oil burner can be sensed only at lower RPMs. The seats are very comfortable but again I’m not sure if its leather I’m looking at. When I expressed my reservations about the interiors, the sales executive suggested a Rs. 80,000 upgrade to ape the petrol’s interiors sans the display.
The car is quite a decent performer though the engine generates only 106bhp. The word only is necessisated in this case due to the competition from the Chevy’s 140bhp diesel rocket called Cruze and the Laura. The motor is mated to a 6-speed transmission which is a pleasure to operate. The turbo kicks in a little beyond 2000 rpm and is a bit gradual. (Some turbos give me jitters as they seem to multiply power beyond 2500 rpm). I thought out aloud: “This ought to difficult in the city, shifting gears and waiting for the turbo to kick in.” The sales execute immediately responded: “But that’s your chauffeur’s problem isn’t it sir?” Well err… he does have a point. But aren’t there any individuals who still love driving when they move up in life?
However, once the turbo kicks in the drive is pleasurable if not spine breaking. The braking is a bit sudden as you take time to get used to the vehicle avionics (EBP, ESP and ABS are standard). The steering is firm and you get ample feedback. I loved the overall feel of the car. Lighter products like the Civic maybe powerful and luxurious but do not like being thrown around corners the way the Fluence does. You do not cringe in the Renault when you corner it hard or take off a speed breaker. There are not many that inspire you to drive this way. The doors close with a reassuring thud and the metal is top notch. Renault offers a 5 year warranty on the finish.
Renault, please give us better interiors. Not to forget, we love delving upon the variants and accessories. Choosing from LXi, Vxi, Emotion, Tum-tum or yoyo models gives us a high which cannot be explained. Perhaps we take it as an extension of bargaining. So Renault, if you are serious about us, please offer us more configurations. Ever heard of that company called Maruti? If offers Swift Vxi, Swift LXi, Swift Automatic, Swift LDi, Swift VDi and maybe even a Swift Eco-Green (CNG) soon..
As much as we Indians love high mileage diesels, we cannot do without pomp and show. My friend rightfully pointed out: If I were to shell out that kind of money, I’d like to be surrounded by something more graceful.