2011 Renault Fluence – First Impressions and Video walkaround

Renault India today launched its first car in the Indian market after its breakup with Mahindra a year ago. Renault’s first offering for the Indian market is in the midsize sedan segment with the Fluence.

The Fluence is available in two variants, priced at Rs. 12.99 lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi) for the diesel variant and Rs. 14.40 lakhs (ex-showroom Delhi) for the petrol variant. This puts the Fluence directly in competition with cars such as the Chevrolet Cruze, Skoda Laura, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla Altis and Volkswagen Jetta.

How does the Fluence stack up against the competition? That’s an interesting strategy that Renault is undertaking here after driving into a space that is getting quite competitive.

Says Marc Nassif, managing director, Renault India, “We wanted to straddle the entire segment, and hence we are offering a fully-loaded petrol and a competitively priced diesel version of the Fluence that also has many safety features.”

Adds Sudhir Rao, deputy managing director, Renault India, “We have given safety a high priority to safety. Both cars come with ABS, EBA and stability control, with four airbags in the petrol version and two airbags in the diesel version.”

2011 Renault Fluence – First Impressions and Video walkaround
Marc Nassif, MD, Renault India and Sudhir Rao, deputy MD, at the launch of the Renault Fluence in New Delhi.

Interestingly, Renault is one of the only carmakers in India to come with a diesel variant that’s priced lower than the petrol. That’s because Renault expects more volumes from diesel as it’s the cheaper fuel and with the recent price hikes the gap between petrol and diesel has widened further. Also read: Renault Fluence launched in India.

The petrol variant of the Fluence is fully loaded in terms of equipment. It comes with a 1997 cc MPFI petrol engine that develops 136 bhp of power at 6,000 rpm and 190 Nm of torque at 3,700 rpm. It has a claimed mileage of a meager 13.4 kmpl. The car comes with snob-value features such as leather upholstery, push-button start, electrically folding mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlamps and dual-zone climate control. The transmission on offer is only a CVT (automatic) transmission with six preset speeds. There is no manual transmission.

Rao says this is because, “we feel the petrol variant would also be driven by owners on weekends and at night, while it will be chauffeur driven during the day.” That is indeed an interesting market observation.

But what about the diesel? Rao says the diesel variant will be for buyers who are seeking value and want a car that is practical, competitively priced and does not compromise on safety. The diesel variant comes with a six-speed manual transmission mated to a familiar 1.5 litre diesel engine (the same one that is present in the Nissan Micra diesel and Mahindra Verito), which has been upgraded to produce 105 bhp of power at 4,000 rpm and 240 Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm. Mileage will be a key attraction of the diesel, as it has a claimed fuel consumption of 21.8 kmpl. The diesel does not get rear AC vents, no-push button start, no rain-sensing wipers, no automatic headlamps. But it has ABS, EBD and a stability program, besides two airbags.

The car itself looks attractive, but not too flashy. It has an elegant, sober look to it, which should go down well with buyers seeking a bit of class and comfort. However, it is not without it’s quirks. The stop-start button for instance is designed for a left-hand-drive car, and is towards the left of the console. The steering buttons are only for the cruise control, while the audio and Bluetooth controls are actually located behind the steering, on a little stub. The speedometer is wholly digital, along with the fuel and temperature gauges, while the tachometer is an analog one.

However, we think Renault’s strategy would work better if it had a couple more variants in the line up between the base diesel and top-end petrol Fluence.

Renault, as a brand, is not unfamiliar in India. The Mahindra Renault Logan (now Verito) was a good value-for-money car, but it sorely lacked image and was seen as boxy. But it did attract plenty of buyers in the commercial vehicle space, with Mahindra now selling about 1,000 units a month of the Logan, now rebranded as the Verito. Very few would also know another interesting bit of trivia. The petrol engine that’s being used in the Fluence has been in India before – in the petrol Mahindra Scorpio REV 116 that has since been discontinued.

But this time around, Renault has come all set to dig its feet in for the long haul alone. It has a design centre in Mumbai and a research centre in Pune, with its plant in Chennai, which it shares with Nissan (Renault owns 44 percent of Nissan). Also read: Renault to launch Duster SUV in India for Rs. 7 lakhs.

Renault has a planned annual capacity of 400,000 units a year. The company sold 130,000 units of the Fluence in 60 countries last year. As for India at the moment it’s focusing only on domestic demand and will think of exports to right-hand drive markets later. Also read: Renault’s upcoming launches.

Renault plans to launch five vehicles between now and end 2012, including the Koleos and Duster SUVs and a small car based on the V platform. At the moment the Fluence will be available from June in 14 outlets, and in 40 outlets by December 2011. Renault plans to open 100 dealerships by end 2012. We’ll get you a detailed test report and video soon.

Meanwhile, take a look at the embedded launch videos in this story.