Renault Fluence


Debut: 2009
Maker: Renault
Predecessor: No


 Published on 7 Apr 2012
All rights reserved. 


Renault used to offer a booted version for its Megane I and II. It was especially popular in developing countries. Entering the third generation Megane, the strategy was reshuffled. Now the Megane is built in hatchback forms (3 or 5-door) only, targeting primarily at its home market Western Europe. At the same time, a sedan derivative is produced primarily for the consumption of developing countries, most notably South America, Eastern Europe and Turkey. This is Fluence.

The Fluence is actually a stretched and restyled version of Megane III. Despite of a new fascia and headlights, it looks close to the Megane from the nose up to the B-pillar. Thereafter it differs. The wheelbase is stretched by 60 mm to 2702 mm in order to provide more rear seat space. A long boot is introduced to accommodate 530 liters of luggage. All these are enclosed within a sleek body. It should better fulfill the new task as a company car or a graceful mid-size sedan.



Inside, the relationship with Megane is even more obvious as you can see the same dashboard. We have no complaints about the Megane's interior, so you should be pleased with its materials and build quality. The rear seat affords excellent legroom, although 6-footers may find headroom at premium due to the sloping roofline. On the roll, you will find the sound-proofing is up to the job.

While European motorists see all-independent suspensions a must for mid-size cars, buyers in developing countries are not so demanding. They accept the torsion-beam axle on Fluence and its comfort-biased suspension setup. Its combination of large ground clearance and long travel suspension deals well with the poor roads commonly found in developing countries. Inevitably, the car rolls heavily in corners and shows a great deal of nose dive under braking. Turn-in is sluggish, while the electrical power steering is light and lifeless. Other controls are equally feather weight. There is not much fun to talk about driving this car.


Buyers in developing countries are also less demanding for powertrains as long as they are cheap to buy and repair. As a result, the Fluence employs old generation of Renault engines, including the 110 hp 1.6-liter 16V and 140 hp 2.0-liter 16V. We haven't seen them for a long time. Frankly, it is like seeing a good old friend coming back. There is nothing too wrong with their power delivery, although the new generation small turbocharged engines are quieter, more flexible and frugal. The 110 hp 1.5dCi turbo diesel is the only up-to-date engine available to the Fluence. Once it overcomes the rattling startup and rough idle, it delivers superior refinement and passing ability than the 1.6 petrol. Having said that, all Fluences are slow.

Although the Fluence is also available for sale in most European countries, I suppose it is more a statement of "we offer a full range of products" rather than a meaningful seller. Its vision is still focused at the rest of the world. In fact, the rest of the world is so big that Renault is not ashamed to call it a "world car". Production of the car is equally global. It is built at Turkey, Argentina and South Korea (by Renault Samsung under the name SM3).
Verdict:
 Published on 7 Apr 2012
All rights reserved. 
Fluence Z.E.


Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn is gambling big on electric cars. In the past five years, the group invested €4 billion on its EV programs. Most people would think of Nissan Leaf, which is arguably the world's first mass production EV. However, Renault is going to take the limelight soon with the launch of 4 EVs in a row, i.e. Kangoo ZE, Fluence ZE, Twizy and Zoe. The Kangoo van comes first to the market, but to me the passenger car Fluence ZE is more significant since it will let us see how well EVs compete with conventional or hybrid cars in private sector.

We would prefer to see the first Renault EV as a clean-sheet model like what Nissan did. However, there is rationale to derive it from Fluence: it keeps development and production cost down, enabling the car to be more competitive against conventional cars. This is what current EVs, including Leaf, has yet to achieve. You might ask why choose Fluence instead of other production Renaults. Yes, we are not happy with this decision either, but it seems that the Fluence is most suitable to the job, considering its adequate size and the availability of a big boot for installation of battery. Moreover, the Fluence is already a "world car", so it guarantees the new EV to be easily marketable in a variety of countries.



Cosmetically, the ZE, which stands for Zero Emission, differs from the regular Fluence in a few areas, some are modified for functions and some are for looks only. Unfortunately, most of these changes actually work against aesthetic. The most influential of which is the lengthening of its boot by 130 mm to make space for the battery, which sits vertically behind the cabin. This makes the tail unnecessarily long and leads to a funny proportion. Another eyesore is the black rectangular fascia, apparently introduced to distinguish from the regular car, but it only manages to show a poor taste. As the EV demands less cooling, its lower bumper intake is largely sealed by a new panel, which looks like aftermarket treatment. To reduce drag, the Fluence' substantial ride height has been lowered considerably while diffusers have been added to the rear overhang. New taillight clusters and blue tint at head and tail lights look cool, if a bit gimmicky. The design was obviously signed off before the arrival of Laurens Van den Acker.

Inside, the Fluence ZE shares much the same interior with regular Fluence. If you look for a fancy design and sophisticated features like Leaf or Volt, you will be disappointed. This car feels by all means normal. It even starts with a key! skipping the trendy start button. The 3-gauge instrument pod looks conventional, too, although one of the gauges is converted to display charging/discharging status while another shows battery level and range. Well, at least you will get used to it easily. TomTom infotainment system is made standard as it helps to navigate to the nearest charging station. It will even warn you if you set the destination beyond its expected range. The rest of the cabin is just like other Fluences. Space is plenty for front and rear passengers.



Predictably, the big battery behind the cabin hampers luggage space, leaving only 317 liters and a short, irregular-shaped loading area. It also loses the split rear seats.

Now let's turn to the engineering aspect. The ZE has its electric drivetrain, including an AC synchronize motor, inverter, power control module and their cooling sytem, installed in the engine compartment like conventional cars. The combined unit even looks like a four-cylinder engine! The motor produces a modest 95 horsepower at 3000 rpm, while 167 pound-foot of torque is available right from the beginning. At the back, the space-saving torsion-beam rear axle fits perfectly with the vertically stacked lithium-ion battery pack. The latter is huge, weighing 280 kg and has a capacity of 22 kWh.

The battery pack is designed to be compatible with the Quick Drop battery switch system of Better Place. In Israel, Denmark and Australia where Better Place stations are present, you can have the dry battery replaced with a fully charged one in 3 minutes, just like refilling at gas station. The robotic system of the station recognizes the car, unload its battery pack from the bottom of the car, select the right type of new battery and reinstall to the car automatically. The depleted battery will be recharged overnight at the station, taking advantage of the lower electricity rate for non-peak hours. It will then be used on another car. As you can see, buyers of the Fluence ZE do not own the batteries. The battery is leased for a monthly fee like your mobile phone plan. This enable the electric car to lower its price dramatically. In the UK, for example, the Fluence ZE is sold at £23,000 (before the government grant of £5,000 for EVs), much cheaper than Nissan Leaf (£31,000 before grant) and Chevrolet Volt / Vauxhall Ampera (£34,000 before grant). This makes it the first truly affordable EV ! The battery lease fee is not expensive either, costing £81 per month for a 3-year plan. That is cheaper than your fuel bill.


Admittedly, the UK plan does not cover battery switch as it is not available in the country. Buyers have to recharge their ZE at home, which takes 6-8 hours, or other public facility with 3-phase quick charger, which takes half an hour to reach 80 percent full. Taking electricity bill into account, the running cost is still reasonable.

The problem is not financial, but usability. Despite of a claimed range of 185 km (115 miles) according to NEDC standard, in reality it can easily drop below 80 km (50 miles) even though you are driving in normal manner, especially in cold weather or traffic jam. This makes it simply unusable if you live outside urban area.

The driving dynamics also fails to match conventional cars or hybrids. Weighing 1605 kg – that's a massive 380 kg more than the regular Fluence – and offers only 95 hp for your disposal, the ZE is slow. Admittedly, its instant torque gives it stronger acceleration than the 1.6-liter Fluence at low speed, but after 50 mph its torque drops off quickly. It takes 13 long seconds to hit 60 mph. Top speed is limited to 84 mph to avoid abusing the battery.

The handling is equally disappointing, although not so much if you are familiar with Fluence. There are lots of pitch and roll due to the unremarkable chassis and the weight of the battery, which is positioned high, unlike other EVs which place them close to the floorpan or in transmission tunnel. The Goodyear energy saving tires are not very grippy. Like the regular Fluence, the superlight steering delivers no feel, although brake pedal feel is not bad for an EV. Ride still biases towards the comfort side, but it is not as absorbent as the regular car because the rear axle is stiffened to take on the heavy battery. It occasionally crashes on big bumps.

That said, if you do not pursue a fun driving character and good styling, the ZE's quietness, smoothness and easy-going manner may suit you. Just make sure you don't need to travel long distance.
Verdict:
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Fluence 1.6 16v
2009
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4618 / 1809 / 1479 mm
2702 mm
Inline-4
1598 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
-
-
110 hp
111 lbft
5-speed manual
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
-
205/60R16
1225 kg
115 mph (c)
11.0 (c)
-
Fluence 1.5dCi
2009
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4618 / 1809 / 1479 mm
2702 mm
Inline-4, diesel
1461 cc
SOHC 8 valves
VTG turbo
CDI
110 hp
177 lbft
6-speed manual
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
-
205/60R16
1285 kg
115 mph (c)
10.3 (c)
-
Fluence 2.0 16v
2009
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4618 / 1809 / 1479 mm
2702 mm
Inline-4
1997 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
-
-
140 hp
144 lbft
6-speed manual
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
-
205/60R16
1260 kg
124 mph (c)
9.3 (c)
-




Performance tested by: *C&D





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Fluence Z.E.
2011
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4748 / 1813 / 1458 mm
2702 mm
AC synchronous motor
-
-
-
-
95 hp
167 lbft
1-speed
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
-
205/55R16
1605 kg
84 mph (limited)
13.0 (est)
-


















































Performance tested by: -





AutoZine Rating
Click images for latest rating and comparison with rivals:
Fluence general models
Fluence Z.E.

    Copyright© 1997-2012 by Mark Wan @ AutoZine