RENAULTâ€™S NEW FLUENCE plays out just like a Megane sedan, so why the name change? Itâ€™s simple; the French manufacturer has taken the opportunity afforded by launching their new C-segment entrant by installing new verve, new technology and new levels of refinement. So why not give the marketing department the opportunity to flex their creative muscle too? Cue new levels of quirky in the pursuit of volumes. Which is why once again weâ€™ve got a polarizing Frenchie on our hands thanks to a slightly oddball exterior and the kind of ergonomics that require a sense of humour.
I have to admit that while I appreciate the Fluenceâ€™s slippery shape in an otherwise dull three-box segment, my first impression was that it looks like a boiled sweet. In car parks I also kept losing it among scads of Nissan Almeras for some reason and, letâ€™s be honest, in white livery it does look as if Alliance engineers took the old Nissan and simply hit the â€˜Make Frenchâ€™ button, then flipped the â€˜Update for 2011â€™ switch.
Still, I like it, along with many observers, although our panel of testers called it boring on one occasion and something unprintable on another. That white spray job is hardly appliance-spec though, boasting an impressive pearlescent sheen alluding to Renaultâ€™s premium aspirations for its flagship 2.0 Privilege model. The rear end is a tidy job, and its front end is easily its strongest aspect, though viewed in profile it seems a bit too long for its own good â€“ unresolved even. Yet it does all promote the illusion of copious amounts of cabin space.
Hop in to the driverâ€™s seat and in typical Renault fashion, marvel at how much sunlight they manage to cram into their interiors thanks to a generous greenhouse. Youâ€™ll need that extra illumination when hunting for dials, knobs and switches: this is no pure logic German arrangement. Still, if youâ€™re used to the marqueâ€™s vehicles everything should fall to hand â€“ even the companyâ€™s trademark cluster of audio controls lying in wait behind the steering wheel like a land mine. This top spec model is packed to the gunwales with safety technology and modern conveniences, giving Renault much needed clout to take on the mighty Japs and Krauts. Interestingly, the satellite GPS controls now take the form of a remote control instead of that spindly and much criticized controller mounted between the front seats of Meganes and Scenics. So thatâ€™s an improvement if youâ€™re an accomplished DSTV watcher. The seats are comfortable enough, but about as grippy as a church pew. Ultimately, in terms of premium feel the cabin is a let down, though it scores high for ambience and space with leather in abundance.
The two-litre heart that beats beneath the Fluenceâ€™s bonnet is a bit of a gem. Sure, 105kW and 195Nm from a 1997cc normally aspirated 16-valver is no breakthrough in terms of power, but the tractability of the Renault item is superb, pulling convincingly from any of the six gears. So itâ€™s a pity that it has the soundtrack of a stressed mule when taken closer to redline. Manually stirring through the transmission presents no issue however, this being a very competent drivetrain combination. We manage a respectable race to the quarter mile in 16.73 seconds with 100kph achieved in just 9.3 seconds. Regretfully, no ear plugs were on hand for our test driver.
Boats donâ€™t handle, they float, and the Fluence is in the floating master class. The electronically assisted steering is par for the course too. In fact, Iâ€™d nominate it as the best steering offering from Renault in this segment thus far as it remain light at trundle pace and weights up sufficiently at highway speeds. Pitch it into a series of lefts and rights and the car inspires confidence largely due to the plethora of safety kit on board which includes EBD, dynamic ESP with ASR (and in a case of an intrusion of the laws of physics, airbags aplenty) rather than sheer dynamic ability. The body leans a fair amount on turns but remains manageable. Bumps are convincingly soaked up by the softly sprung MacPherson strut/lower wishbone combination upfront and torsion beam rear axle without breaking stride. So itâ€™ll navigate choppy waters with ease, helped by its trim 1195kg kerb weight.
Renault is confidently leading the charge when it comes to a resurgence in the reputation of French cars. Its RS-badged performance hatches lend the brand street credibility and the rest of the metal is attractive if somewhat controversial. Iâ€™m not going to harp on about a previously poor aftersales reputation, but will mention instead that the Fluence comes with Renaultâ€™s Confiance five-year/150 000km mechanical warranty and five-year/100 000km service plan and thatâ€™s pretty much as good as it gets. Also, Renault guarantees spare part availability which is half the battle won. So if youâ€™re in the market for a midsize family car that is not a Corolla, you can now shop Renault with confidence â€“ especially if youâ€™re looking for something with more flair than your old Almera.