A French brand trying to win over hearts and minds in a “Japanese” heartland was always going to be an uphill battle, some would even say mission impossible. Renault would have been well aware of the monumental task. So when the Fluence was launched last year, it came with a first-in-kind after-sales package that aims to calm any nerves arising from having to look after a French car, at least for the first five years. Yet, almost a year on after its launch, the Fluence is barely finding as many buyers in a month what class-leader Toyota Corolla Altis is doing in a day.
So who buys the Fluence?
The Fluence is clearly talking to those who seek a no-fuss, non-emotional relationship with their daily rides – a paradox when you think of the perceptions a French car typically conjures. Consider this though: the Fluence owner gets five years of warranty from the manufacturer (no insurance scheme here) and pays nothing (except for fuel and tyres) over the same period, with no mileage limitations. And when it’s time to send it in for service, the dealer will pick up and return the car at no charge.
Magnifique! But is it enough?
To tempt customers away from a “Japanese-first” mindset is going to take some doing. There’s no magic pill or a quick fix, but being a locally-assembled CKD model, Renault has little choice but to hang in there for the long haul. It could be that this is the only way to win over hearts and minds, to keep at it over an extended period until risk-averse buyers (the majority) begin to trust the brand.
It doesn’t hurt that the Fluence is comprehensively equipped – the full complement of airbags and active safety, leather seating, keyless entry with push-to-start button, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone auto climate control, rear camera, cruise control, even an OEM-spec navigation system. OK, the body overhangs don’t do much service to the Fluence’s aesthetics, but its C-segment rivals aren’t really looking drop-dead gorgeous either. Now, with its newly reconstructed snout featuring a darkened, slim grille that joins the headlamps (it’s the trend these days), there’s much to play for.
The Fluence also has the level of spaciousness where you never need to worry if the passengers at the back have enough knee room or that the boot can accommodate long items like an IKEA flat-pack (it’s a class-leading 530 litres, and the rear seats fold down too). And once you have deciphered some of the cryptic icons and labels (if you are coming from a Japanese) and unusual button locations, everything works as they should. The Megane-derived cabin isn’t unattractive to lay eyes on, and most definitely a comfortable place to be in.
Power is derived from a Nissan-Renault Alliance powertrain (a 2.0L four-cylinder with a Continuously Variable Transmission) offering adequate performance. delivered in a smooth but forgettable manner typical of CVTs, not a bad thing when you consider who the Fluence is being pandered to.
Will the Fluence make it?
The four-door family saloon, the default choice of middle class families for generations, has been under threat for some years now. Instead of a Corolla Altis, families on tighter budgets can now choose a Vios. Then there are the SUVs and crossovers such as the CR-V and HR-V, luring Civic-type buyers away with a “lifestyle-changing” promise, so it’s not just other sedans that the Renault is up against. However, there are certain attributes that never go out of fashion, namely value-for-money and the promise of top-notch customer service – this is where we think the honest Renault has a fighting chance to grow its own piece of the C-segment sedan pie, one car at a time.
(This review was conducted on a pre-facelift unit, however, technical and interior specifications remain unchanged)
Renault Fluence (Dynamique)
Price RM119,888 (without insurance)
Engine 2.0L petrol, 4-cylinder
Output 143PS, 195Nm
Transmission Continuously Variable Transmission w/ manual mode, FWD
Performance 0-100km/h in 10.1sec, top speed 195km/h
Wheels/tyres 17in alloys, 205/55R17