The Renault brand is striving to re-establish itself as a stylish alternative to more mainstream machinery in NZ with its success relying on three key models. There’s the well-known Megane hatch, the seen-it-round Koleos crossover and now, a small/med sedan named the Fluence. While the Megane is pegged to be the volume seller, it’s booted brother the Fluence has been given the tough task of pulling its weight in a market segment that’s recently become more dynamic and much more competitive. Can this Euro four-door trouble more established foes like the Mazda3 and Holden Cruze? Renault wants to find out and gave Car and SUV a test drive in the Fluence for a taster of French motoring in Aotearoa.
The Fluence is based on the Renault/Nissan C platform (like the Megane) and is manufactured in South Korea by Samsung. It’s available in NZ in one specification – petrol engine with an auto CVT transmission. At 4.6 meters long it’s large for the segment and offers more passenger and cargo space than most key competitors.
Visually, the Fluence won’t scorch your retinas with burning hot rakish lines, but there is an understated elegance to its old school saloon proportions. At the front, chrome work gives an executive feel. Character creases run down the bonnet and recessed fog lamps flank a wide lower air dam. At the back, a curved rear deck sits up high and a strip of chrome runs between wide two-piece taillights. There’s distinctive detailing at the bottom edge of the doors and some class touches like indicator repeaters in the side mirrors and colour coded door handles. Standard wheel fitment is 16-inch alloys that look smart in a multi-spoke design but struggle to fill the burly sedan’s wheel arches. Overall the Fluence doesn’t possess an intensity to its design that screams out for attention but won’t offend sensitive tastes and has conservative appeal.
Get inside the Fluence and your greeted with a light and airy space thanks to its large exterior greenhouse. The dashboard and controls are shared with the Megane hatch and mix expansive areas of black plastic with contrasting silver trim. The quality of materials is solid, giving a genuine Euro-feel, the fit is also hard to fault. The Fluence switchgear won’t take months to learn how to use but there are more ergonomically simple systems around. The main audio and climate controls are small and are placed quite low on the dashboard tucked in behind the gearstick. Basic audio controls and cruise buttons are also available on, or behind, the leather wrapped steering wheel. The main instrumentation is a highlight with a large, bright three dial arrangement that includes a small digital screen offering trip and vehicle info. A second, larger control screen sits high on the dashboard and displays info on entertainment and menu functions.
The standard equipment level on the Fluence is high for its price tag with Bluetooth audio streaming, auto lights and wipers, keyless entry, dual zone climate control, CD stereo, speed limiting cruise control and a chilled glovebox all included.
Cabin comfort is a strength of the Fluence with acres of space on offer for a small sedan. The seats are trimmed in a textured cloth that’s a good compromise between softness and durability. While the seats aren’t heavily bolstered they are wide and have a variety of adjustments for getting best positioned. In the rear pew there is genuine space for three passengers with fair legroom and plenty of headroom that isn’t restricted by a coupe-like roofline. In the boot there is a capacious 530-litre luggage capacity and a very wide opening for getting bags in. It only loses marks here for using the old-style gooseneck boot hinges that encroach on available space.
Under the Fluence’s creased bonnet is a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol motor producing 103kW of power and 195Nm of torque. The engine is mated to a CVT auto transmission with a manual shift available at the gearstick. It’s a modest but smooth powertrain that won’t win any drag races but has typical 2-litre adequate performance. The Fluence gets up and moves just fine and is well settled on the open road with enough in reserve for overtaking movements. Push the sedan high in its rev range and it can sound stressed but this is a cruiser and performs best at a sensible pace. The CVT transmission works very smoothly and doesn’t flare up like some CVT units can. It also helps keep fuel economy down, with Renault quoting a combined consumption of 7.8l/100km.
Dynamically, the Fluence is characterised by its pillowy ride quality that adds to its relaxed persona. It’s quiet, composed and has the driving feel of a much larger car. Bumps and dips are easily ironed out by the Fluence’s suspension arrangement with only intensely broken roads affecting occupants. Naturally the trade off for the luxury ride quality comes with some body roll when cornering. While it’s never unmanageable the Fluence tends to lean into corners during spirited driving so it may not suit those who regularly push their vehicle hard on back roads. Around town and on the motorway its ride is elegantly compliant and more refined than you’d expect in a small/med sedan. The power assisted steering is very light which is welcome in the city but it never firms up enough at higher speed for the driver to feel intimately connected to the front driving wheels.
Keeping the Fluence safe is a range of passive and active features. There’s an electronic stability programme with stability and traction control, ABS brakes and emergency brake assist. In the cabin there’s front, side and curtain airbags and three-point belts for all passengers.
In conclusion, the Fluence makes for an interesting proposition. Priced at $34,990 there is definite value here and the Fluence is an accessible entry point for European car ownership in NZ. It’s priced comparatively with Japanese, Korean and Aussie opposition and is better equipped than most. Dynamically, its far more a comfort-focused saloon than a sports sedan but is capable around town and on the open road. The styling is certainly French but without any ostentatious flamboyance, it won’t suit all tastes but is modern with an element of class. There is plenty of space in the cabin and it’s well appointed with a quality feel. So, if you’re in the market for a keenly priced small/med sedan and you desire something away from the norm, the Fluence warrants a closer look.
What we like:
- Comfortable ride
- High standard equipment level
- Interior space
- Well priced
What we don’t like:
- Body roll during cornering
- Fiddly switchgear
- Vague steering
Who will buy this car: It’s ride quality and understated styling may appeal to older buyers, it could find fleet applications as well.
Cool Factor: Low/Medium, it’s not exactly a head turner but as an alternative choice to more common models the Fluence earns some cred.
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo