In the summer of 2011, at the cusp of its re-entry into India, French carmaker Renault had promised five launches by end of 2012 and 100,000-unit sales by 2013. The market was buoyant then, with no sign of an impending slowdown. Even then, it looked like an ambitious target.
With the launch of the Scala last week, Renault has kept its promise, at least on launches. Sceptics may point out that at least two of their five cars, Scala included, are just Nissan models rebranded and rebadged, and are not really new cars. But in a market where this is becoming the norm (remember the Rapid, the Vento?) this is no longer valid criticism. But Renault has suffered at the hands of Nissan, and the Pulse still does not find as much traction in the market as the Micra. Will Scala be any different?
Yes, though Renault has tried hard to differentiate the Scala. The dimensions are exactly the same, so this is the second 'caaaar' to hit Indian roads. The front is inspired by the smaller Pulse with identical hexagonal facia and grille: a Pulse with a boot? The Sunny is not quite a Micra with a third box, incidentally. There is generous chrome at both ends to give an upmarket feel, but Renault offers one variant less (on entry level petrol) than the Sunny. From the rear, the two cars look much the same, with slight variation on tail lamps and boot lid chrome not doing enough to alter the shape. Lack of novelty notwithstanding, the Scala does not look too bad - but in a crowd of distinct looking cars such as the fluidic Verna and the aerodynamic City, the Scala is striclty part of the crowd.
There is no attempt to look different from the Sunny, inside. The cabin is a replica of the Sunny, with a few minor modifications. So the dual tone interior gets a lighter shade of brown, in the place of the Sunny's grey. Space and functionality will remain the USP of this car too: rear legroom is generous, seats comfortable and thigh support good. Beyond that, there is little to excite. It still does not have rear air conditioning, though a blower does transfer air from the front vents to the rear. None of the cars in this category offer even this much. Sadly, there is no chilled glove box or rear parking camera, even in the top-end variant.
Performance, ride and handling
The car is powered by the same 1.5 litre petrol and K9K diesel engine that drive the Sunny, so performance is the same. At 99 bhp and 134Nm torque, the petrol version is clearly in the shadow of the Verna, Rapid and SX4. But the sales lie in diesel, and here the figures are comparable. For over 20 kmpl, 86 bhp power and 200 Nm torque are adequate. The torque is well spread, and in city driving, the absence of turbo lag makes it sprightly. For a car that looks big, it moves along nicely. It does run out of steam on the highway when revved hard, and makes a little noise as well. Designed for fuel economy, this was only to be expected.
Handling is better than an average Japanese car, better than a Korean and par for the course for a European make. The steering is responsive and precise, and the car holds its line well provided you are not on the track. If you are, keep an eye on the rear-view.