To say that there was a hint of apprehension on my part when I learnt that I would take delivery of a Renault Fluence for the purposes of conducting a long-term test for CAR would be somewhat of an understatement…
The Fluence 1,6 Expression was comprehensively beaten by the Honda Ballade 1,5 Elegance in the May 2011 issue of CAR, but then again the former was an entry-level model with cloth seats, manual air-conditioning and finished in refrigerator white.
The silver Privilege 2,0 that was delivered to CAR’s offices recently was quite a different proposition. Although the blunt nose and elongated body shape of the Fluence is on the demure side of elegant, the standard 17-alloys are handsome and fill out the wheel arches appreciably. The spacious interior is trimmed in leather and once ensconced behind the wheel, one’s eyes are bound to focus first on the 5,8-inch colour screen of the built-in Carminat TomTom navigation system, which is programmable via a remote control to provide route guidance in a variety of languages – including Afrikaans – with a choice of male or female voice artists! Although the built-in satnav is standard across the range, the Privilege is also equipped with a “3D Sound by Arkamys” audio system. Arkamys sounds a bit like the first name of the leader of the good robots in those Transformers movies, but the system is said to have a 140W output from its eight speakers (four woofers and four tweeters).
On the topic of the car’s audio, it takes a while to become to accustomed to the flipping between audio sources and folders on a USB drive, because it requires using the central knob in the audio interface as well as the barrel selector behind the audio control stalk on the right and bottom of the steering column. However, the digital controls for the automatic air-conditioning couldn’t be more straightforward to operate and the one-touch electric windows, folding side mirrors, electrochromatic rear-view mirror and reverse parking assistance give this family car an otherwise upmarket compact executive feel.
The 2,0-litre Fluence does only cost R249 900, which seems quite affordable compared with conventional compact executives, but then the Renault is based on the C platform that it shares with Mégane III and its driving experience underlines that. The 2,0 litre’s ride quality feels marginally firmer than that of the 1,6 model we tested last year, but its still relatively pliant and anything but choppy. The performance from its 2,0-litre motor, which delivers 105 kW and 195 N.m of torque, is workmanlike compared with the turbocharged 1,4-litre motor offered in the Mégane range, but at least the powerplant is smooth and revs eagerly and the transmission’s slick and direct in action. Rear occupants have remarked on the good levels of head- and legroom as well as ease of access to the footwell, while the driver and front passenger are also seated in comfort, unless both of them are burly, then shoulderroom is a bit tight.
Delivered with 250 km on its odometer, the Fluence recently clocked up the 2 250 km mark thanks to a mixture of town and long-road driving. The test unit has performed well, but we have discovered a couple of quirks and suffered a (so far one-time) glitch. Testers have remarked that the keyless entry and start card is extremely convenient, but bemoaned the fact that when the car is locked using a button on the card, one cannot open the car thereafter by pressing the unlock button on the door handle – only by the card. Evidently a Fluence driver must develop the habit of pressing the button on the door handle to lock the vehicle when he/she leaves the car so that it can be unlocked with the push of the same button later. Also, even when the car’s been unlocked with the key card (double press), the boot will refuse to open unless the boot unlock button has been pushed too… yeah, we’re getting used to that too.
The key card also failed to unlock the car on one particular morning when colleague Kelly Lodewyks was testing the Fluence.
“I pressed all the buttons, but nothing happened and I was locked out. I tried to open the car with the keyless-entry button on the door, but all that happened was that the hazards flashed, but no doors unlocked. I sensed there’d be a manual override slot, but I didn’t know where the key had to go”, said Kelly.
“After a call through to the Renault roadside assistance line and a chat with the technician on duty, I found the override on the passenger side door. The small cap next to the door handle had to be removed. I inserted the key and the door unlocked. The alarm sounded, but all I had to do was insert the key card into the slot and start the car. The technician suspected that the battery of the key card needed to be replaced, but it hasn’t happened again,” she concluded.
So far so good, then for CAR’s long-term Renault test unit! Expect the 2,0 Privilege to appear in a comparative road test in CAR magazine soon.
Mileage (km): 2 258 km
Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 9,36
We like: space, comfort, standard features, relaxed driving experience
We don’t like: relatively firm ride, key card quirks, chunky side skirts