As a kid, did you ever have that one swimming instructor who, on your very first lesson, threw away your arm floats and flung you straight into the deep end of the pool? Well, that’s sort of what happened to our new long-term Lodgy, except the deep end of the pool was an 800km drive across monsoon-ravaged Maharashtra, and we were the cruel instructors. The arrival of Renault’s massive MPV just so happened to coincide with our shoot with an Audi TT for our Great Car, Great Road feature, set in rainy Ratnagiri.
It was a no-brainer, really. Four seats for the photo and TV crew, and plenty of place for bags and cargo with the last row folded away (in hindsight, we could have removed it and left it in Mumbai). That cargo, incidentally, included not just bags, tripods and cameras, but also 40 litres of fancy 97-octane petrol for the TT; the jungle juice you get out on the highway simply wouldn’t do. And, thanks to large windows, flexible seating and a wide-opening tailgate, there were also lots of, ahem, ‘mounting points’ for our photographer and videographer to shoot from.
It’s not just space; the low lip makes loading the boot really easy.
In early 2014, I drove our tough old long-term Renault Duster all the way from Delhi to Mumbai after the Auto Expo, and though I wasn’t its biggest fan before, it completely won me over after that long highway stint. I’m happy to report that it was much of the same with the Lodgy which, after all, shares its engine, gearbox and most of its underpinnings with the SUV. To drive, it feels like a slightly longer version of the Duster out on the highway. You just have to remember that it’s a fair bit lower to the ground — something that soon became abundantly clear as we tackled the minefield called NH17 just outside Mumbai. Mind you, we also had an even lower-slung sportscar with us, so the Lodgy was frequently sent ahead to, quite literally, test the water and find the cleanest path through. And forge a path it did, the superbly absorbent suspension pummelling through rough patches and broken sections without a flinch, so that the TT didn’t have to; what a trooper!
The other great thing it’s inherited from its SUV sibling is its 108.5bhp 1.5-litre diesel and six-speed manual gearbox. It’s not perfect in every condition, though. The clutch is a bit heavy and bites only near the top of the pedal’s travel, which takes getting used to, and the gearshift action itself is a little rubbery. However, it’s when you’re out on the open road, as we were once we cleared that godforsaken stretch, that this powertrain really shines. Select the tall sixth gear and you seldom have to select another; even overtaking rarely requires you to go lower than fifth gear. And remember, the car was seriously loaded up with people and things, which made this 1.5-litre motor’s smooth effortlessness all the more impressive.
Things that are less impressive? Well, just as the Lodgy’s strengths come to the fore on a highway drive, so do some of its weaknesses. The front seat is comfortable enough on a short journey, but after a few hours non-stop in this flat and unsupportive chair, you will need to break for a stretch and a walk. Also, there’s that really awkward height adjust system that just feels so cheaply executed. And though you might like the glossy black finish on the centre console, spend some more time in this cabin, and you’ll really start to notice the budget bits — the rough beige plastic grain on the dashboard just feels like it isn’t going to wear very well over time. And for some reason, the car came to us with squeaky brakes. I suspect the last Renault marketing event it was used for, evidenced by the stickers it came plastered with, saw it driven a bit more aggressively than it was designed to be driven.
On this trip of ours, however, the aggressive driving was reserved for the Great Car and the Great Road we were going to drive it on. The Lodgy was here to be the sensible, stoic support car, which it did just so well. Forget the deep end of the pool; this thing would swim the English Channel. It was only halfway through our return journey that we had to tank up again, and that too just to be safe. It’s a hard worker, just like our good old Duster was, and like that car, I see it being a part of many a great Autocar adventure from now on.