Renault improves the Fluence diesel's driveability in its first major update. Nikhil Bhatia has the details
For all the Fluence's strengths, the Renault diesel fell short on two fronts. The first was in terms of equipment. Renault scored a self-goal by launching the diesel model only in a basic E2 trim. The car felt sparsely equipped, especially in comparison to the well-appointed petrol model, and this put off many prospective buyers. The introduction of the E4 trim late last year rectified that problem. In the E4 guise, the Fluence received a whole host of goodies including leather upholstery, cruise control, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth telephony, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights.
Even with that upgrade, the job for Renault was just half done — the 1.5-litre turbocharged engine's non-linear power delivery. As Fluence diesel owners would collate, power build-up is slow from the word go and this is followed by a sudden surge past 2000rpm once the turbo kicks in. It is this character that makes the diesel Fluence particularly tricky to drive in stop-go city traffic.
Renault claims to have addressed the issue of driveability by reworking the diesel car's K9K engine. Called the 1.5 dCi 110 and only available on the E4, the engine gets an updated low inertia variable geometry turbo, simplified air intake path and optimised blades for a quicker response from low revs. Seven-hole Piezo injectors have also been adopted to improve the spray pattern within the combustion chamber.
On paper, the changes don't seem to have made much of a difference to the Fluence. There is a 3bhp bump in max power to 108bhp though, as before, it is produced at 4000rpm. The figure of greater interest however is torque. At 24.5kgm, max torque remains unchanged, but it is now produced at 1850rpm. As a result the torque curve is flatter too and this has really worked wonders for the Fluence's performance in town.
You don't have to wait till 2000rpm for the car to pick up pace. Power builds up steadily from a far more accessible 1700rpm and there is also no sudden step-up in power now, just a smooth build. The more linear power delivery also means you need less throttle in stop-go traffic. Gearshifts on the six-speed gearbox are nice but sadly, the clutch is still on the heavier side.
The engine also runs quieter than on the E2's though you can't escape the sharp clatter at idle or how noisy it gets near its 5000rpm limiter. Not that you'd need to explore the top-end because the bulk of the power is still concentrated in the mid-range. There is ample punch here for overtaking slower traffic and the sufficient power also makes the Fluence a relaxed long-distance cruiser.
Save for the engine, all other mechanicals remain the same and the launch drive from Chennai to Puducherry only served to re-acquaint us with the Fluence's better bits. Topping the list would be the fantastic suspension which still remains one of the main reasons to buy the Fluence. The way it steamrolls over the worst of bumps at low speeds and glides with hovercraft-like composure at high speeds is just amazing. Then there is the electric power steering that is hard to fault for its feedback at speed and lightness at low speeds.
The recent updates to the cabin have also added much to the ambience in here. Rear seat legroom remains good but headroom and thigh support are still not the best. There are some quirks to mention too. The steering-mounted phone and audio control buttons positioned behind the wheel are inconvenient to access and many buttons on the centre console are small and fiddly.
The Fluence now is a much better package. In E4 avatar, it is a whole lot better to drive and comes nicely equipped too, both of which make it more appealing, particularly to self-drive owners. At Rs. 15.2 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the Fluence E4 is competitively priced too.