Wednesday, 10 August 2011

RENAULT FLUENCE

After a divorce with Mahindra & the Logan sedan, Renault has decided to continue its Indian operations alone. Nissan (Renault owns a 44.3% stake in Nissan) has had a relatively good start with the Micra hatchback, and has also successfully positioned its Chennai factory for exports to Europe. Nissan's experience in setting a distribution network, and the learnings from the Mahindra alliance, will no doubt influence Renault's future strategies. Now, like Nissan, Renault is also establishing its own, independent dealer network. It's not going to be an easy task, as Renault lost 4 years of time since the Mahindra-Renault partnership launched the Logan in 2007. And the Logan has given it an image of cut-cost, outdated cars. This could be one of the reasons why Renault is starting its second innings in a "top down" manner, with a sedan costing over a million rupees, only to bring in the sub-10 lakh cars later. 

The current generation Fluence was globally launched in 2009, and is based on the Renault - Nissan C Platform; this platform is also common to the Nissan X-Trail & Renault Megane hatchback. It is the first of 5 new cars that Renault intends to bring to our market in the coming 2 years. The Fluence arrives as a CKD from Turkey. However, Renault is quick to add that all future launches will be locally manufactured at the Chennai plant (shared with Nissan). 

Renault is adopting a very curious approach to this segment, at least initially, where the diesel engine is only offered via a stripped down variant. From the engine & variant options, it's obvious that the Fluence is targeting the Toyota Corolla. The Corolla's success in India can be attributed to the car's VFM pricing, no-nonsense nature, practicality, petrol & diesel engines and, of course, the T badge up at the front. However, unlike the Altis which offers a multitude of variants, the Fluence will only be offered in a single variant for either engine. It's noteworthy to mention the Chevrolet Cruze' highly successful positioning strategy here. Chevy knew that competing against the Altis was a tall order. Hence, it equipped the Cruze with a blow 'em away powerful diesel, stunning looks and a full equipment list that included some segment first features. Result? The Cruze is the best selling diesel sedan in the 10+ lakh category. 

After the dated looking Renault Logan, the Fluence's curves bring some relief. The Fluence appears larger in pictures than it actually is in person. Dimension wise, the car has a wheel base of 2703 mm, 125 mm longer than the Skoda Laura and 103 mm more than the Corolla Altis. Renault is famous for making extreme designs, from the good looking Clio to the odd-ball Vel Satis or Avantime. With the Fluence however, they have kept their design principles simple. The looks are nothing to write home about; it's not a great looker, but not ugly either. The front is quirky with its large headlamps, tiny grill and the deep-dish style bonnet. Even the huge logo is embossed deep inside the bodywork. The rear end is typically European, with long wrap-around tail lamps and a large license plate area on the trunk lid. Like most modern cars, the side profile gets a progressively climbing waistline and thick body cladding on the doors. The petrol Fluence gets chrome treatment on the front grill, fog lamps and rear number plate (no chrome on the diesel!). Surprisingly for a CKD, there were inconsistent panel gaps at certain places. You will remember similar comments in GTO's Micra review (
link (Nissan Micra : Test Drive & Review)). Obviously, the Chennai factory needs to be brought up to speed in this area. Gaps aside, the Fluence feels solid & sturdy enough, and should easily withstand the kind of abuse meted out by Indian roads. Paint quality was overall top notch.





At the time of launch, the Fluence will be sold in 12 cities across India via 14 dealerships.

- Anti-rust warranty of 5 Years / 1,00,000 kms.

- The only RHD Fluence in the world to get beige interiors.

- Electric folding mirrors only operate automatically when the smart card is placed in its slot.

- Auto dimming rear-view mirror standard with the Petrol, diesel gets a manual one.

- ARAI Fuel Efficiency Figures: Petrol = 13.42 kpl / Diesel = 21.84 kpl.

- Will be available in 4 colors options; beige, black, white and maroon.

- 4 Years / 80,000 kms Standard Warranty.

- The Fluence which is based on the Megane scored 5-stars in the Euro NCAP Safety ratings. 

- A Zero-Emission (Z.E) Fluence will go on sale by the end of 2011 in certain European markets.
While most switches and control knobs are properly placed, a few still remind you that the Fluence is a French car with flawed ergonomics. For instance, the engine start / stop button is placed toward the left of the console (clearly for left-hand-drive variants). The headlight & side-indicator stalks are positioned at quite a distance from the steering wheel, thus making it difficult to operate on the go. The cruise-control switch is ridiculously placed next to the handbrake. The bonnet release lever is in the passenger footwell, and the handbrake also is planted closer to the front passenger than the driver! 

The steering has tilt & telescopic adjustment. It is just the right size, and is nice to hold. The music system & phone controls are oddly placed behind the steering wheel (on the right hand side). There are seven switches, plus a roller, but the unfriendly positioning makes it difficult to locate the control of your choice. On the steering wheel itself, you'll find the cruise control buttons (including speed limiter). The door armrests are big enough to rest a wide forearm comfortably on, while driving. The instrument cluster, with its big digital speedometer, is very easy to read. The digital speedo console also hosts the engine temperature and fuel level gauges. You can toggle through the MID via a switch on the wiper knob. Data thrown out is standard fare; odometer, trip meter, distance to empty, average speed and average fuel economy. The currently chosen gear also pops up if you are using the manual-mode of the CVT (petrol engine). 

Renault says that they have researched the Indian market and made appropriate changes to the Fluence. I guess they overlooked our love for a big glovebox. The Fluence's glovebox is possibly one the smallest I have ever seen. 60% of the potential space is used by the fuse-box, making the available room barely enough to accommodate two light bulbs and a tiny booklet. Trying to fit even a single soda can will lead to disappointing results!! Either front door gets a deep side pocket and a 500 ml bottle holder. There is one cup holder ahead of the gear lever, and another cubby-hole next to the handbrake area (which holds the removable ash-tray). The center armrest also gets a deep storage compartment underneath. Those at the back won't complain much; they get deep door pockets and large seat back pockets too! The 530 liter boot has a practical layout and will easily swallow airport / holiday luggage. The rear seat can fold down, including in a 60:40 ratio, for when storage flexibility is required. 

The petrol variant is equipped with a dual-zone climate control system and rear AC vents. The system did its job well in cooling the cabin in the hot Chennai heat. I can't comment on the chilling factor though, as it was in the middle of a summer morning without tinted glasses. The diesel only gets basic HVAC controls, and chauffeur-driven passengers will miss rear air-con vents. 
Renault Fluence Price in India
Fluence E2 1.5L Diesel – Rs. 13,07,846 (ex-showroom price)
Fluence E4 2.0L Petrol – Rs. 14,50,372 (ex-showroom price)
Renault Fluence Price in New Delhi /Gurgaon / Noida (on-road price) – Rs 12,99,000* – Rs 14,40,000
Renault Fluence Price in Pune (on-road price) -Rs 13,39,776* – Rs 14,86,228*
Renault Fluence Price in Banglore (on-road price) – Rs 12,96,564* – Rs 14,38,817
Renault Fluence Price in chandigarh (on-road price) – Rs 13,00,767* – Rs 14,41,766
Renault Fluence Price in Kolkata (on-road price) -Rs 13,09,709* – Rs 14,51,962
Renault Fluence Price in Chennai (on-road price) – Rs 12,99,000* – Rs 14,40,000
Renault Fluence Price in Hyderabad (on-road price) -Rs 13,12,306* – Rs 14,55,812
Renault Fluence Price in Mumbai (on-road price) -Rs 13,47,452* – Rs 14,94,586




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