For a start, Renault has to shake off the styling stigma it acquired with the Logan and show Indians that it can make some really good looking cars. The Fluence looks quite chic and very French, which is a refreshing change from the stoic shapes of the Germans. Also what gives it road presence is its size. The Fluence is bigger in every dimension than its rivals and clearly looks a notch above. The 16-inch alloys with fat 205 section tyres nicely fill up the wheel arches to give the Fluence a strong stance and balance to its generous proportions.
Fluence will come with two engine choices, a 1.5 diesel and a 2-litre petrol but it’s the latter which gets all the bells and whistles. Renault is offering the petrol with only a six-speed CVT auto transmission, there’s no manual option yet. There’s a huge amount of kit in the petrol to tempt you and this top-end Fluence has generous features like twin-zone air-conditioning, automatic headlamps and rain sensing wipers keyless start-stop, an on-board computer, leather seats, four airbags and anti-whiplash headrests. But while Renault has lavishly equipped the petrol, it has stinted on the diesel in equal measure. Cabin quality is pretty impressive and though the plastics don’t have the richness or texture of a Jetta or Laura, there’s a hardwearing feel to the insides. And again, the interiors have more character than the purely functional design of its German rivals.The Fluence’s 2703mm wheelbase is way longer than other cars in this category and this translates into fantastic legroom inside the cabin, but under-thigh support is not great and the sloping roof results in a rear seat that is lower than we would have liked. Also headroom at the back is restricted.
More impressive than the diesel is the twin-cam, 16-valve petrol engine, which pumps out a respectable 135bhp. It’s responsive, smooth and free-revving, and feels like a Japanese motor as it was jointly developed by Nissan and Renault and launched as recently as 2006. Snick the gear lever into D, prod the throttle pedal and the responsiveness of the petrol motor takes you by surprise. The Fluence scoots off from a standstill with a nice spring in its step and it feels perfectly suited to the cut and thrust of city traffic. The CVT works well in a low speed, stop-and-go environment.
The Fluence’s 1.5-litre diesel is essentially the same K9K motor that powers the Logan (now Verito) and the Micra but comes with a variable geometry turbo (VGT) which bumps up power to 105bhp. It’s a modest output by class standards but the K9K’s trump card promises to be exceptional fuel economy, if the official industry figure of 21.8kpl is to be believed. The six-speed ’box with its carefully chosen ratios makes good use of the 24.5 kgm of torque. There’s a distinct turbo-whistle and an audible rasp at around 3000rpm which makes you acutely aware that this is a diesel. But the biggest weakness of the diesel Fluence is a lack of low-end grunt.
Renault Fluence offers a magical blend of ride and handling. Firstly, the steering is the best example of an electrically powered system as it offers all the feel of a hydraulic unit. The best bit is that it feels delightfully light at low speeds and weights up in a fantastically linear way as speed builds. But though the steering gives you an amazing sense of control, the Fluence isn’t exactly sporty, easing into corners rather than darting through them. The suspension has been tuned for ride comfort which is easily the best in class. Unlike the hard-edged ride of the Laura and Jetta, the Fluence feels soft initially and body roll is gentle but not excessive. In fact, the suppleness doesn’t come at the expense of body control and even at high speed on an undulating surface, the Fluence felt incredibly stable, the long wheelbase playing some contributory role.
Customers will be impressed with its combination of style, practicality and engineering. It does have its shortcomings like a sluggish diesel engine and no manual transmission option for the petrol. In fact, Renault’s strategy of launching the petrol only with a CVT and with the highest trim level is baffling, especially since the demand for automatic petrols in this country is still marginal. But for now, there will be just two versions: the top-end petrol CVT for around Rs 13.7 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) and the base diesel for around Rs 12 lakh.
© HaymarketSAC Publishing (India) Pvt Ltd; 2011. All rights reserved.
Watch our Renault Fluence Video review
Also read: Renault Fluence saloon previewed