Long before the Duster dawned upon Indian shores and made Renault some sort of an urban household name, the French carmaker had been present in India with two more authentic products—Fluence and Koleos. The Indian market however was not ready for them.
Having learnt its lessons and with the momentum of Duster to egg on, the two cars were recently updated for another crack at the Indian market. Mid-size sedan Fluence has an uphill drive coming into a segment that is not only struggling for growth but also has cars such as the Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze and Skoda Octavia. Add an upcoming Toyota Corolla Altis and the mix becomes even more daunting. Is the new Fluence up to it?
The car has a bolder and more aggressive face than the outgoing version, with a single slat grille and a bigger lozenge Renault emblem in the middle. The front bumpers have also been re-sculpted to integrate bigger fog lamps and air vents. It also gets day time running lights — standard now in this category — and better looking alloy wheels.
Inside, changes are minimal. Fluence always had the best cabin in the category—albeit a little stingy on features. The dashboard is simplistic with none of the flair of a Hyundai or a Chevy, but it is very functional. And the quality of materials, be it the seat fabric or the dashboard, is a cut above par. Space is also adequate and three people can be seated at the rear for the long haul without major discomfort. We still do not find knobs behind the steering wheel for audio control appealing, though it seems a Renault favourite.
The Fluence does not offer a petrol variant any more; what we get instead is the 1.5-K9K diesel motor used in so many other Renault and even Nissan cars. The engine is the least powerful in its segment, and it shows. Below 2000 rpm there is an awful amount of turbo lag, making it a chore to drive the car. On the highway though, it is bolstered by a terrific midrange, and coupled with great handling characteristics, the car is decent for long-distance drives.
The main problem with the Fluence is that while it does everything well, it does not do anything exceptionally well. It is a good looking sedan with a decent road presence, but is relatively flat before a Hyundai Elantra or Chevrolet Cruze. It handles much better than those two, but cannot match up to the new Octavia, which also has more engine options.