In June 2011, we tested the Renault Fluence petrol, pitting it against the Toyota Corolla Altis and the Skoda Laura. Back then we had reported that the Fluence's styling is better than the competition and that on the inside it boasts of well-appointed, class-leading interiors, bettering the competition in terms of space and comfort. The petrol engine is a bit of a let-down though, with rivals sporting slightly more powerful powertrains, but the Fluence makes up for it with its frugality. Apart from that, the car boasts of several convenience features and has four airbags and ESP. In short, the petrol Fluence did not fare badly at all. This month, we managed to lay our hands on its diesel sibling.
From the outside, it is next to impossible to distinguish the diesel from the petrol, except for the dCi badge next to the rear number plate. But step inside, and as Sirish pointed out couple of months ago after driving the petrol and diesel variants back to back at the media drive, Renault has stripped down the interiors heavily for the diesel, which is bizarre. The difference in trim levels is huge, and the diesel has to make-do with interiors dominated by black and grey plastics. It does not even get a leather-wrapped steering wheel, forget climate control, AUX, USB, Bluetooth connectivity, leather seats, rear sun blinds and rear air-conditioning vents that the petrol variant has. This gets further baffling on finding out that this is the sole diesel variant. The engine is the same 1.5-litre, in-line four cylinder dCi motor seen on the Logan previously and on the Micra diesel more recently. The Logan diesel was a runaway success for the Mahindra-Renault joint venture, and the car's highlight was its engine. The Logan diesel was immensely popular as an entry-level sedan given its highly frugal nature. This is the engine Renault plans to use in its future models in the country such as the Duster though the Koleos will get a 2.0-litre diesel.
For the Fluence, Renault has given the engine a power boost, given the car's positioning as a D-segment sedan. The 1.5-litre engine makes 106PS at 4000rpm in this guise, which does not sound like much, despite the hike in power. But this is still better than the Corolla diesel's 88PS. Maximum torque produced is 240Nm at 2000rpm. This tried and tested mill feels smooth under the Fluence's hood, and is not noisy either, with diesel rattle staying low. With the Fluence diesel, the French manufacturer is hoping to capture the attention of those looking for a frugal D-segment sedan and the car gets a six-speed manual gearbox with tall ratios. The gearbox feels good as gears slot in well, but shifts have a slight rubbery feel. Given the fact that the engine focuses on returning fuel efficiency rather than performance, it is not exactly a delight to push to its limits.
There's massive turbo lag below 2000rpm to begin with, and in order to keep moving you need to keep the yellow tachometer needle above it. In fact, the turbo lag coupled with the tall gear ratios is a major disappointment when it comes to spirited driving. In our performance test, the Fluence diesel managed to hit the ton in 13.5 seconds from standstill, going on to cover the quarter mile in 19.38 seconds at 121.72kmph. Registered top speed is 167.5kmph, but the Fluence takes forever to get there. What the Fluence diesel is good at is returning impressive fuel efficiency numbers. In our city run, the car covered 13.8km on a litre of diesel, the number stretching to 22.4km on the highway. This translates to an overall fuel efficiency figure of 15.7kmpl.
The Fluence petrol has impressed us with its ride and handling, and the diesel is not any different. Ride quality is plush, and the suspension gobbles up bad roads without any fuss. It makes for impressive handling and has a planted feel even while cornering at high speeds. Straight-line stability is good, but just the like the petrol the missing feedback and weightlessness of the steering wheel is a deterrent to high speed runs. But, the Fluence is highly impressive in terms of providing comfort to its occupants.
With the diesel variant, Renault is trying to offer a D-segment sedan not too expensive to live with given its frugal nature. And unlike most other manufacturers, Renault has priced the diesel cheaper than the petrol. The Fluence diesel retails at ` 13.47 lakh ex-showroom Mumbai, about a lakh and half below the petrol that retails at ` 14.94 lakh. One of the reasons is the lack of creature comforts in the diesel variant, apart from the cost of manufacturing the diesel engine being lower than the petrol for Renault. Overall, the car makes sense being a comfortable sedan that is easy on the wallet as well. And given its styling, build quality and frugal nature the Fluence diesel should definitely eat into the share of the Toyota Corolla Altis diesel and the Skoda Laura diesel.