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Renault Fluence & Koleos - The French Connection

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Fluence. Koleos. Once you get the hang of the names of these two cars, everything is hunky-dory. Heading out of Geneva one March morning towards Paris, I am in a blue funk, wondering whether I am in Switzerland or France. So obviously, I have a disagreement with the satnav display that has popped up from the dash and re-enter the Swiss town again. It could have been an illegal U-turn that I took, but it suffices to say at this point of time that the Fluence smoothly executed it. Further, to get back on track, I jumped the queue at a signal and ruffled a few Swiss (or were they French?) feathers by smoothly accelerating forward and joining the highway. What the hell, Paris, here we come.


Stopping at one of those fuel stations/cafes for a break and to shoot some pictures, I take a look at what I have been driving. Now, the Fluence is supposed to have French flair in terms of styling. If that’s another word to say that it’s unusual to look at, so be it. It will take me some time to get used to the Fluence’s looks, especially the front-end treatment. The thin strip of a grille below the bonnet, the scooped-out headlamps and the huge depression over the bonnet makes it different from any other sedan I have seen! The rear is fine, while the profile tries hard to be curvy and straight at the same time. Overall, it looks like a big enough executive sedan to take on the likes of the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla. Underneath that fancy skin, however, is an honest car.

 

Powering the Fluence is a variant of the same dCi engine from the Logan, but in this application it’s more powerful. The 1461cc common-rail inline-four with substantial help from a big turbocharger, develops 105 bhp at 4000 rpm and

24.5 kgm of turning force at 2000 rpm. Transferring the power to the front wheels is a smooth six-speed manual gearbox. The engine specifications are promising, especially when Renault claims a 0 to 100 kph dash in

11.4 seconds and a top speed of 185 kph. However, when driving it, the engine feels a little wanting, especially in terms of low speed driveability. Getting out of the loopy and slippery hotel parking lot earlier in the day showed that the torque is required much earlier. The bottom end performance, which is where it matters most in India, is lacking. The reason is the turbo lag which you’ll have to get used to or work your way around by slipping the clutch. Anyway, that’s not an ideal proposition. Renault must address this issue for the Fluence that’s meant for India. Once the revs climb however, the engine takes up the slack quite well and it becomes much more manageable. The Fluence cruises quite well and covers kilometres rapidly.

 

Inside, the dash is uncluttered, but as it’s a French car, you need to take time off your daily schedule to see what’s located where. Still, the basic controls for the climatiser and the audio system are well-located, though figuring out the satnav using the audio system’s controls are, well, like taking French lessons. The instrument panel is well marked and the steering is good to hold. The issue is that the quality of the plastics and other materials inside does not feel premium – it feels more rough-and-ready rather than sophisticated. The rear legroom is adequate in a car of this size and the seats are comfortable too – no complaints on that front.

Its underpinnings don’t make it nimble and its tallish stance means it has a tendency to roll. The steering is also tuned for comfort rather than feedback. Though we didn’t get a chance to do some corner-carving with this car, the Fluence came through as a car catering to rear passenger comfort rather than driving pleasure. Which is good for a market like ours, I guess. It’s not a driver’s car (driver as in non-chauffeur, by the way). So, if I were to decide on such things, I would keep the price of the Fluence aggressive, benchmark it with the Japanese rather than the Czechs and the Germans. About Rs 12 lakh for the diesel seems just about right for this car. When is it out? In June. The Koleos SUV

is scheduled to be launched in October, in time for the festive season. CKD kits of both the cars will be put together at Renault’s facility near Chennai.

Meanwhile, I am far away in France driving the Koleos in and around Paris. The Renault SUV was a late entrant in the market, when it was introduced internationally in mid-2008. The Koleos, despite the name, is a promising vehicle indeed – again it depends on Renault’s pricing. If they manage to undercut the Chevrolet Captiva, Hyundai Santa Fe and the Honda CR-V, by pricing it somewhere between Rs 16 and 18 lakh, it would work well. The reason is that it has got a cool crossover look that’s modern, plus a drivetrain that we’ll like.

Like with the Fluence, the front-end is a bit unique for an SUV. It has the kind of smoothness that pays full-blown obeisance to pedestrian safety standards. But that apart, the rest of the Koleos is quite pleasant. The rear-end treatment makes it look quite distinctive, but the best part about the Koleos’ lines are seen when viewed from the side; the profile is car-like while the D-pillars are nice and swoopy. If Renault had accentuated the wheel arches some more, it would have looked quite purposeful and menacing.

 

 

Powering the Koleos is a four-cylinder turbocharged common-rail diesel motor that displaces 1995cc to develop 173 bhp at 3750 revs and 37 kgm at 2000 rpm. It’s a Nissan engine that does duty in the Nissan X-Trail as well and is the highlight of the package that Renault is giving for the Indian Koleos. Paired with the motor is a six-speed manual transmission, and Renault in all likelihood will offer the Koleos only as a two-wheel drive variant, which should bring its price down substantially. The engine has enough oomph to propel its 1,655 kg to 100 kph in about 11 seconds, which makes it mighty quick. But that we’ll leave for a test on our roads. Anyway, the engine is a strong performer and it has a torque spread that’s even. Its passing speeds are also very good and it should be great to drive this one on our highways. Well, on these highways too. The Koleos cruises peacefully with the engine barely feeling strained.

Inside, the Koleos’ dash is a bit flamboyant and Korean for my liking. Korean? Yes, it’s built by Renault-owned Samsung. It has a lot of clutter and it takes time to figure out all the doo-dahs in it. The placement of various controls is also off – as I mentioned earlier, in this case it’s like learning French as spoken in Pondicherry.

 

The cruise control switches and volume adjustments etc are buried somewhere behind the steering wheel. And the bum warmer? Though we won’t get it in India, I should tell you anyway that it is strategically placed below the seat at a hard to reach zone. So when your buttocks are getting toasted and you want to switch it off... all the best, is all that I can tell you.

The driving attributes of the Koleos are car-like, well, as much as a monocoque SUV such as this can get. The steering feel is decent and the ride on those good European roads was also pretty good. However, I really would like to see how it handles our varied road surfaces.

When the Koleos does get launched by the festive season, hopefully Renault would have arrived at a decent price point and loaded it with goodies you’d expect in an SUV like this. But what they can’t change is the name. Koleos. Fluence. Better start taking French classes. The writer was invited by Renault to drive the Koleos and Fluence in Europe.