Car reviews - Renault - Fluence - Sedan range
Rear seat room, storage capacity, electric steering, ride and handling, interior ambience, specification level
Room for improvement
Engine performance, revvy CVT characteristic, ride comfort on Privilege model with low-profile tyres
29 Oct 2010
By JOHN WRIGHT
ON THE road, unsurprisingly, the new Renault Fluence feels just like the Megane Hatch on which it is based. This is no bad thing since both vehicles have been conceived with drivers in mind, even though there are no sporting pretensions.
But the physically more imposing and longer Fluence seems a little more under-engined, especially since it is the more likely to be loaded with a full complement of healthy adults and their chattels. With 103kW, it has only 5kW more than the superseded 2.0-litre Megane sedan had when it was launched in April 2004.
With only two adults on board, the Fluence never risked feeling energetic on the launch drive. A steady ascent with the throttle wide open resulted in leisurely progress accompanied by the constant and unappealing commotion of the CVT holding the engine rpm at a high level. No doubt the six-speed manual would be the keen driver’s choice.
More impressive was the Renault’s electric steering. If anything, this arrangement is too light at parking speeds (if that is possible) but is perfectly weighted and delivers lovely feel at cruising speeds.
There were few corners on the test route, but the Fluence feels well-balanced, with no evidence of significant understeer. It serves as a reminder of the advances made in front-wheel drive configuration since the days of the Renault 16 and 12 (from 1965 through to the late-1970s).
The suspension feels well-suited to Australian conditions, soaking up the few bumps encountered, though there was a slight deterioration in ride comfort in the Privilege model with its 17-inch wheels and lower-profile (205/55 R17) tyres.
Not only is the braking system extremely powerful, the pedal feel is nicely modulated, as are all the controls.
Even the long list of standard features does not convey the pleasingly rich ambience of the interior, where five adults can be accommodated in considerable comfort and have room to stow laptop computers, large diaries, big drink bottles and the other bric-a-brac of travel.
Particularly impressive dimensions are the 1420mm of front shoulder room and the similar-feeling 1392mm in the rear. The seats themselves are very comfortable and offer good support, the three inertia-reel belts in the back are welcome and the Fluence rear seat does a fair job of accepting a centre passenger.
The Fluence feels very well engineered, as if closely related to some of Renault’s hero cars such as the Megane Renault Sport 250. Its dynamic competence has the serious driver wishing for a more potent engine with which to exploit the vehicle’s potential.
Of course, it was never intended to be a sports sedan and, in its role as a luxurious, (mostly) quiet, safe and practical larger-than-small family car, the Fluence deserves to sell strongly.
Renault Australia’s challenge will be to get prospective customers into dealer showrooms. Many will never have even heard of the Fluence while nurturing only the vaguest of notions what the Renault brand represents, but once there many will see outstanding value as well as lots of Gallic charm in this keenly priced new offering.
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