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2014 Renault Fluence test drive review

  • Apr 14, 2014
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Introduction:

Launched in the Indian market on 23rd May 2011, the Fluence got off to a respectable start in the D segment, selling 773 units in the first 4 months itself, ie, from June 2011 to September 2011. However, soon, sales figures of this French beauty started going down-hill due to improving rivals and the fact that Renault didn't really have a dealer base as wide as others which gave it limited coverage among prospective customers.
From June 2011 till February 2014, in 33 months, the company sold a total of only 3824 units at an average of 115 per month. However, with the new refreshed and improved model now on sale, sales chart of this comfortable and loaded sedan has once again started going northward with as many as 149 units being sold in March 2014. So what exactly is new and improved in the Fluence? We drove the car from Ooty to Bangalore to understand the changes deeply and here is our impression of what the car delivers.



Exteriors - subtle changes have made the difference

The Renault Fluence is a substantial car for the segment. At 4618mm, it is longer than the Hyundai Elantra and the Chevrolet Cruze and at 1813mm, it is the second widest, being only a millimeter narrower than the new Skoda Octavia. It is the tallest though and towers over the rivals at 1488mm. But this car is not only about being visually big - changes have been done at the front end to make it more appealing and premium, keep up with moving times. For starters, the new Renault logo now sits boldly  and more prominently and the front bonnet lip / grille has been revised as well. The lower air-dams are new and so are the fog lamp housings - these also have the new daylight running lamps. The new Fluence also gets revised 16-inch alloy wheels. The headlamps of the Fluence see a minor update with the inclusion of projector lamps and shiny black mask with chrome eye lashes.



The rest of the car remains more or less unchanged and the Fluence continues to impart a premium and an upmarket feel with a hint of an under-stated design. The latter will go down well with those who are looking for a car that is polished yet sober in someways.



Interiors - old wine in a slightly new bottle



Step into the Fluence and at first glance, you will be hard pressed to figure out the changes. However, spend some time and you will notice half a dozen updates. For starters, the classy looking digital speedometer now gets blue illumination with chrome surround - trust us, this display looks fabulous from a driver's prospective, especially at night. Unlike say the Hyundai Elantra, the Fluence comes with a comprehensive driver information display as well. Next, your eyes do notice the relative absence of too many buttons on the steering wheel as controls for the audio system are placed behind it, on a stalk. As far as user interface is concerned, once you get the hang of it, it works perfectly well. Talking of which, the audio system on the Fluence gets an upgrade as well, both visually and acoustically. The car now sports an all-new head unit with compatibility for  USB, Bluetooth and Aux-in along with 3D Surround Sound by Arkamys. While this unit, with 4 speakers and 4 twitters sounds good, we certainly felt that the system could do with a deeper bass effect.



Interiors get a dual-tone theme with the upper part being darker. There is enough usage of light colored materials to impart an airy feel with premium touches like silver inserts in the steering wheel, around the gear lever housing, door opening handles and that lovely horizontal high quality insert running in length from the left air-vent to below the central vents. There arent many cubby holes though and even the two cup-holders up front are small ones. The front arm-rest though has a good amount of storage space underneath it. At 530 litres, the Fluence has the second biggest boot in the price band.



As far as space is concerned, the Fluence has always scored high marks and this version is no different. Seats are really comfortable and space enough for well sized adults. With the front seats adjusted for my height, the rear seats had ample space with more than a couple of inches of space between the knee and the back of the front seat. Talking of which, rear passengers get manual sun blinds for both the side windows as well as the rear windscreen. There are vents at the back and the central arm-rest gets cup-holders too.  The E4 version gets standard leather upholstery and a dual zone climate control system.



How does it drive? 



Unlike the older Fluence, the new version comes with only a diesel option. There are two versions to choose from, the E2 and the E4 and both get a similar tuned 1.5dCi motor. It produces the same amount of power and torque as the older version and even the ARAI approved fuel economy figures remain unchanged. This means the Fluence is the least powerful of the rivals here (the new Corolla Altis is yet to be launched) and likewise, it also produces the least amount of torque. To put things into perspective, the Elantra diesel is 16% more powerful while the Cruze puts out a good 50% extra power.



On the move however, you immediately appreciate how good the overall NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels really are. At speeds, its hard to guess the motor at work and the 6-speed gearbox is a joy to use. There is no automatic option on offer though and this may be a problem for self-driven cars as the heavy clutch can get tiring in start-stop traffic. The 1.5-litre dCi motor is known for its flexible nature but only once the engine starts revving above 1800 rpm. Turbo lag is evident and though it isn't a big issue most of the times, in traffic if you want to make use of an open space, the Fluence will require a down-shift.



At high speeds, the Fluence shows its true self. Holding high triple digit speeds isn't an issue and its remarkable how you easily forget the small motor under the hood - it is a very able cruiser as well. It suddenly transforms itself into a fuss-free and easy to drive car once you go over to the wrong side of 100km/h.  An ARAI rated economy of 20.4kmpl puts it ahead of cars like the Volkswagen Jetta and the Chevrolet Cruze.

Renault engineers have clearly tuned the suspension for comfort and further, road noise is really well damped. Even going through broken roads or pot-holes doesn't result in suspension noise filtering into the cabin and the car gives the driver a lot of confidence at high speeds. True, it isn't an enthusiast's car but will serve most of the customers' needs pretty well.

Feature loaded?



The new Fluence comes with features that are more or less expected in the segment. While the E4 version gets a standard cruise control system, front and rear parking sensors, 3D surround sound, push button start, dual zone climate control system etc, the car misses out on a sun-roof. We particularly love the key-less system which automatically locks the car with an audible beep once you stop the engine and step out, provided the key fob is in your pocket. Clever.

Safety is taken care of by front and rear disc brakes, ABS, ESP (on the E4 model), ASR and chest level airbags (E4 only). The car also gets an anti-rust warranty of 5 years / 1 lac km. Renault also offers what they term as best in class warranty of 4 years / 80,000km

Pricing and verdict



The Fluence E2 model retails at Rs 13.99 lac while the E4 demands an extra lac and a half. In comparison, the Elantra offers a lower price point (both base and top end versions) and so does the Chevrolet Cruze. While the Fluence has improved in certain areas and is a very comfortable car to be in, the fact is that the segment has rivals that are either ahead in performance or offer better peace of mind with a wider network and/or better re-sale value.

The Fluence will appeal to the heart and this is where it will find takers, but not in numbers large enough to shake the leader of the pack.



 
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