Renault’s promising MPV Dacia Lodgy scores with its performance and practicality

It seems that after the not-so-impressive design of the Logan, Renault is taking the aesthetics of its cars a lot more seriously. And that change in perspective has reflected in its productions that have followed.

So it’s quite refreshing to see that Romanian company Dacia and parent Renault have done a stellar job with Lodgy. Walk up to it and initially, you are struck by its aircraft carrier proportions. This car is both tall and very, very long. The next thing that strikes you is that it really isn’t all that bad-looking; despite the ungainly proportions, there are quite a few attractive features.

The best-looking bit is the nose. Its wide, smiling grille and neat black overlay blend really well together, and the large, high-mounted headlights look good too. The Lodgy also has a neatly executed protruding chin finished in matte black. Also matte black are the pillars that hold up the roof and the pair of roof rails that sit atop it. The sculpted bonnet, subtle wheel-arch flares and descending roofline all contribute to make the Lodgy pleasing, and the tail-lights look pretty neat as well. Built on a massive 2.8-metre long wheelbase, it’s surprisingly nice to drive as well. It uses the 108bhp version of the ubiquitous K9K 1.5-litre common-rail diesel that powers everything from the Verito to the Sunny and the Fluence, and in the Lodgy, it is both smooth and punchy in the mid range.

Once past 2000rpm, the torque comes in thick and fast, and it’s difficult to believe that this big MPV is being pushed by only a 1.5-litre motor. You can gather a lot of speed, even when the car is driven in a relaxed manner, and it has more than enough pace for country roads and state highways. The strong mid range also means performance is actually quite good, as long as you are willing to use the gearbox to keep the motor between 2000 and 4000rpm.

There’s a fair bit of turbo lag, though. Be anything but gentle with the throttle initially and the Lodgy will slump instead of taking off smartly from rest. Let the revs fall below 1200rpm and you will have to drop down to a lower gear if you want to get a move on. But that’s the price you pay for using a highly charged small-capacity motor. The upshot is likely to be much better fuel economy.

It’s light and easy to drive, though. The steering does not have too much feel, but it is quite accurate, so driving this ‘mini bus’ is pretty easy. Then the clutch is light and gears slot in without complaint. It is reasonably stable at speed as well and also turns without too much fuss into corners, which makes it quite friendly to drive. Go a bit faster around corners, however, and there is a considerable amount of body roll. This is not a car you want to hustle, but it doesn’t intimidate you, and that’s exactly what is needed.

The Lodgy’s greatest strength however is the space. There’s ample room in the cabin for even large passengers and space in the first two rows is all but unrivalled.

Even tall passengers can stretch out and be comfortable on these massive seats. The third row has a surprising amount of room as well, and it’s relatively easy to access.

Dacia is a low-cost brand, and that means luxury takes a back seat. Still, the fit and finish is similar to that of the Duster. The buttons and switches feel durable and hard-wearing. The dash is pleasing to look at and Dacia has equipped it with an interesting touchscreen on the centre console.

The Dacia Lodgy is expected in India sometime in 2014. Renault officials confirmed that the SUV will be adapted to Indian conditions, with equipment such as a new rear air-con system. Many parts are expected to be produced locally as well. What it lacks in appeal, the Lodgy makes up with its capable performance and practicality. And this very well could be the SUV’s secret weapon.