WHY is it that everything French seems so chic? Their women are more stylish, the pastries more mouth-watering and cities so much more romantic.
It is difficult not to fall in love with France: the seductiveness of Paris, the cosmopolitan allure of Biarritz, the jaw-dropping beauty of the Chateau de Versailles and, of course, the decadent opulence of the French Riviera.
Perhaps it is just rose-tinted glasses but most things French seem to hold a special allure, a promise of style, finesse and quality. The Renault Fluence, a new arrival to our shores, may be no different.
The Fluence is a genuine five-seater offering generous shoulder room as well as space to stretch out.
Seats are supportive and comfortable and the rakishly angled dash and layout of the instrumentation and associated buttons and knobs makes it apparent that ease of use was at the forefront of the design remit.
Interestingly, the start button has been placed on the centre console, a European quirk but easy enough to use once located.
At 530 litres, the cargo area is close to the largest in its class and will carry a surfboard if the 60-40 split back seats are lowered. The chrome accents on soft touch plastics combine well with the leather upholstery for a quality feel.
On the road
The Fluence is smooth, very smooth, and oh-so-quiet. Our four-cylinder petrol engine with CVT transmission is perfect for everyday driving, delivering a flowing comfortable ride and performing well in a variety of conditions. The suspension shows good manners over road imperfections, while steering is nicely weighted and braking is responsive without being jolty.
While the Fluence is quite masterful on the open road, the CVT transmission can sometimes take a moment to catch up if pushed without warning. There is also the feeling that with just 103kW at its disposal, the engine would feel the strain of a full load. If you are a driver who needs a more sporty, responsive feel, the manual option may be a better bet.
What do you get?
The Fluence is offered in two trims.
The entry level Dynamique comes standard with keyless smartcard entry, dual-zone climate control, auto headlights and wipers, cruise control, four-speaker sound system with MP3 and CD player and steering adjustable for reach and rake.
Our Privilege test car added 17-inch alloys, upgraded audio, sat nav, rear parking sensors and electric glass sunroof, among others.
Renaults are equipped with an impressive range of active and passive safety systems including six airbags, ABS, electronic stability control with understeer control feature, EBD with emergency brake assist and five inertia-reel lap sash seatbelts.
The Fluence has a host of rivals to contend with in this segment, chiefly, the Mazda3 ($21,330), Holden Cruze ($20,990), Mitsubishi Lancer ($21,490), Toyota Corolla ($20,990) and Ford Focus ($21,490).
Space is often a large factor when buying a car and the Fluence comes well-equipped in that area.
Aside from the huge boot, there is also a chilled nine-litre glove box, 2.2-litre centre console and 2.6-litre storage bin in each front door. Visibility is excellent with thin A-pillars and a large rear window, but the angle of the sloping back necessitates careful entry and exit for taller back seat passengers and more care from unsuspecting mums after doing up baby seats.
Renault is still working on integrating a reverse camera into its sat nav system which will be handy when it comes. Perhaps it can also do away with the sat nav remote control and opt for a more user-friendly touch screen option instead.
Interestingly, the CVT transmission makes the automatic (7.8 litres/100km) slightly cheaper than the six-speed manual (7.9 litres/100km) at the bowser. The Fluence also comes with Renault's five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and three-year free roadside assist.
With its defined lines and elongated headlights the Fluence presents a somewhat feline feel. The tilted boot sits proudly, adding interest to the overall package. It certainly looks more stylish and fancy than the price tag suggests.
There is little doubt the Fluence offers value for money and a host of features, making it attractive for families as well as business use. Renault's challenge will be to get the word out to a cautious Australian public. If it can do that, the Fluence will sell itself.
Model: Renault Fluence.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive compact sedan.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-step CVT automatic.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 103kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 195Nm @ 3750rpm.
Consumption: 7.8 litres/100km combined average.
Performance: 0-100km in 8.2 seconds (m); 9.2 seconds (a).
Bottom line: $22,990 (Dynamique), $29,990 (Privilege).
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