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Mahindra Renault Logan GLS

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Ever driven a Peugeot 309? If you have, you already have an idea how the Logan drives. The 309 looked oddball and too square-ish for comfort when it came to India in 1995. The petrol version was powered by the Tu3F2 engine and the diesel by the famed TuD5 which was seen in a host of cars like the Maruti Zen, Esteem and the Hyundai Accent. The 309 was robust, well-built and possessed the handling and ride quality meant for Indian road conditions. And yes, it had engines that were ‘adequately’ powerful. All these attributes – the boxy lines, excellent ride (the laid-down dampers of the 309 are missing, still), lukewarm motors – are applicable to the Mahindra Renault Logan too. That the 309 was also the result of an Indo-French joint venture means you get the feeling of a rather scary déjà vu.

Alas, the PAL-Peugeot combine couldn’t become the success it was meant to be. And I cannot escape a tinge of sadness every time I drive by the PAL-Peugeot factory on the outskirts of Mumbai, now under receivership. But as far as I know, Mahindra is in a different league from Premier Automobiles and Renault, now headed by Carlos Ghosn, considers success in India very important. The future looks promising but who are we to predict things? What we can do, nevertheless, is to take a test car and put it through its paces.Most of the design, space, aesthetics and ergonomic issues have been tackled in the test-drive of the diesel model elsewhere in this issue. Here is a quick walk-around and we will then get on with the petrol power pack and its performance.Looks are a personal thing, and to me, there is no escaping the fact that the Logan is not a stunner in this regard. Sure, it looks handsome in a very square-jawed way. The minor facelift means a new front-end treatment and a few nice light-catching folds that try to make it all look contemporary. This is a car that was designed to look sturdy to the eye of prospective buyers in developing markets and hence the boxy silhouette. It must have been hard work for the design team at Renault, going by the current Megane range. But what you cannot ignore is the thinking process that has gone into the car. Every bit of the Logan was conceived to be easy and cheap to build, yet that does not translate to inherent cheapness, inside-out, and that is the triumph of the design according to me. Never mind the grey plastics, they won’t fade in our sun and you will get used to them soon.

It is a nice thing if you have driven the diesel first before cranking the petrol up. That will ensure that you appreciate the definite difference in refinement that good old gasoline brings with it. The engine is as basic as it can get, with just two valves doing the job of feeding the combustion chambers and sucking out exhaust gases. While most of the 1.6 engines today are capable of belting out 100-odd bhp, this one manages a modest 84.5 bhp at 5500 rpm. That 0.5 bhp is there to remind us that this four-pot will need every ounce of power to propel the Logan. The torque figure won’t translate to raging bulls in the pen either, at 12.8 kgm at 3100 revolutions. But we are all wise enough to know that what does not show on paper might come through on tarmac, right? Come along.

Acceleration of the 1.6 motor cannot be termed quick by today’s standards. C’mon, we have had the last generation Honda City VTEC that cracked the 5-second barrier with ease six years back, right? A careful launch without over revving the Logan motor (easy to do thanks to a sensitive right pedal)
will return a figure of 6 seconds to reach 60 kph and 14.71 seconds for 100 kph. While the first gear maxes out at 45 kph and the second at 84 kph, the Logan starts moving appreciably in the third to post 120 kph. Given a clean stretch of road this machine can do 165 kph and the car feels pretty composed while at it. It takes all of 18.89 seconds to get the car to reach 140 kph from 100 kph and that, let us say, is not awe inspiring.

If you are looking for good driveability in traffic, then it is the diesel that should get your attention.The petrol motor is gagged to return 11-12 kpl even in traffic and the car bogs down heavily in stop-go situations with the airconditioner running. The mileage figure can get better on the highway if you can stay steady and easy on the accelerator pedal. Brakes (a disc-drum combo) are very surefooted and the car stays poised even when you stand on them. That said, a surprise omission is ABS, even as an option. As an important active safety feature, ABS is a must-have on Indian roads but strangely the car maker has given the nod to a driver-side airbag (standard fitment in GLS and DLS models). On enquiry we were told that ABS will be offered as an option once the vendors are ready. 

That said, the Logan does behave like a car bigger than its contemporaries while going through spirited acceleration runs and slalom runs. The ride quality (how many times can one emphasise this?) is nothing short of brilliant and unlike the diesel version, this one does not have a tendency to pitch heavily under heavy braking – not ideal when you are apex hunting your way up a mountain road. Similarly, body roll is almost non-existent and the car kept an even keel as we flogged it through slalom runs. The monocoque feels as if it can handle another 25 bhp easily and the tyres can cope with the power increase too. I am certain that the aftermarket industry is going to have a ball with the Logan – trust me, there is nothing a nice filter, exhaust headers and a free flow pipe cannot do. But before you start thinking twin-turbochargers, please consider the fact that this was meant to be the car the average Romanian bought to do school runs. 

In a world where cars are getting slippery to look at, are powered by lean yet mean motors and smothered with safety and luxury bits, the Logan stands out. If you are looking for a three-box sedan (this one really is) with lots of interior space, an enormous boot and a price tag that does not ring alarm bells at a time when interest rates are going through the roof – then the Logan should be your next car. The car we were testing costs Rs 5.68 lakh ex-showroom Mumbai and was well equipped for that kind of money. It may not be as frugal as the Honda City nor as involving to drive as the Ford Fiesta 1.6, but the Logan can do almost everything else that its far more expensive contemporaries can do. 

As for me, I am glad to see the return of French nameplates on Indian roads.