Renault Fluence Initial Thoughts

This is not a complete review of the car, but rather some quick thoughts I have after owning it for a month and having driven it for a little less than 2,000 km.

I previously had a Fiat Grande Punto. I’ve always loved small hatchbacks and I never thought I’d buy a sedan, but I grew out of my B-segment Fiat and I felt that it’s time to upgrade to a C-segment car, and the best choice for my budget happened to be a sedan.

Quality

The car is generally well put together except for the gaps between the body panels and how they fit together, which could benefit from some improvement.

The quality of the interior is quite satisfying. The model I have comes with half leather upholstery and wherever you put your hands you feel nice soft-touch plastics and leather trim. Even the hard plastic parts feel solid and not flimsy.

I have one concern though. There’s a clicking noise the comes out of the steering column when turning the steering wheel. Nothing alarming, so I’ll just wait for my first visit to the service center to have it checked.

Ride

The difference between the ride quality between my previous Grande Punto and the Fluence is night and day.

The Grande Punto had a much harder suspension which makes it seem like both the suspension and my spine are going to shatter into pieces when passing over potholes. The Fluence on the other hand feels much softer and less noisy on potholes, with no significant change in how the car grips around corners, probably due to the bigger wheelbase.

Performance

The 1.6L engine is good. Definitely not built for sporty performance, but good enough for decently-fast acceleration and quick overtaking.

What really makes driving the car so special is the CVT transmission. I won’t go into details about how CVT transmissions work but simply put, it’s a transmission without a gearbox. Instead of the gears, the transmission has a pulley system that gives you an infinite number of gear ratios. The pulleys are constantly changing their sizes to match the engine speed.

When driving the car, this results in a really weird-behaving RPM gauge. Put your foot hard on the gas pedal, and the engine will rev up to 5,500 RPM and just stay there till you lift your foot. You don’t feel the gear changes at all because, simply, there aren’t any. The engine revs will just keep jumping up and down or stay on the same number of revs depending on how hard you’re accelerating.

This kind of transmission might not appeal to everyone, but I really love it.

Equipment

The model I have is really well-equipped. It has auto this and auto that, and quite a lot of sensors.

The Renault Key Card is a joy to use. You just keep it in your pocket and you’re able to unlock and start the car. Walk away from the car and it will automatically lock itself.

I just wish it had bigger wheels because the 16″ ones look hideous with too much rubber around them.

Little Annoyances

The car has a number of little annoyances. First world problems that definitely aren’t deal breakers but make you wonder why couldn’t they just do them properly.

The trip computer has a number of these. It doesn’t calculate trip time, you can only track one trip at a time, it displays fuel consumption in the wrong unit (KM/L rather than L/100km) and the fuel range indicator is wildly inaccurate. All of these are things my much cheaper Grande Punto had/did better.

Another thing is that the steering column-mounted media controls don’t have a way to start a phone call. You can pick up a phone call from there but to start one you’ll have to reach to the central unit.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m happy about my decision. My Grande Punto was an awesome little car that was really fun to drive, but the Fluence is not making me miss it.

Hopefully I’ll be posting a more detailed review later on after I’ve driven the car more.

Shopping for a new hot hatch – Ford Fiesta vs. Seat Ibiza SC

Choosing a new car is always confusing and takes a lot of time, but it’s also a hell lot of fun. I have been checking a lot of cars in the past few months and I have narrowed my choices to 3 cars: Ford Fiesta, Seat Ibiza SC (3-door “Sports Coupe” model) and Opel Corsa, then later excluding the Corsa which I wasn’t a big fan of.

In this post I will be doing a detailed comparison between the 2 contenders based on facts about them and also based on what I’m feeling about each one, but I will leave the final verdict to you.

I will also add my current ageing Fiat Grande Punto to the comparison to see how it fares against its modern rivals.

Engine/Transmission

The Fiesta has a 1.4L engine that generates 96 hp and 125 Nm of torque that is mated to a 4-speed automatic gearbox with sequential shifting control. Seriously, who still uses 4-speed automatic gearboxes in 2012?!

The Ibiza is definitely the winner here when it comes to both the engine and transmission. It is equipped with a 1.6L engine that generates 105 hp and 153 Nm of torque, mated to VW’s hi-tech 8-speed DSG gearbox.

Ibiza’s 8-speed DSG gearbox

The Grande Punto comes with a lazy 1.4L 8v engine that generates just 77 hp and 115 Nm of torque. The moment you step on the gas pedal you will feel that the car is underpowered and you will always have to work the engine hard by shifting above 4000 RPM to get half-decent acceleration. My Grande Punto has a regular manual transmission so nothing to talk about here.

Exterior

Both the Fiesta and the Ibiza look fantastic. The Fiesta is more on the cheeky cute side while the Ibiza has an angry looking front and back with some bold lines going across the car. I like both so much but I think the wide rear end and the lower roofline of the Ibiza won my heart.

Ibiza SC angry looking rear lights

While the Grande Punto looked gorgeous when it first came out in 2005, specially with its Maserati-ish front, it looks outdated now.

Grande Punto’s Maserati-ish front end

Interior

The interior of the Ibiza is very disappointing compared to how good its exterior looks. While everything is well-put together, the materials are on the cheap side and everything feels so plasticy. Also most of it is gray which makes it even worse.

The interior of the Fiesta is much better. Actually it’s a lot better than I would expect of a car in that class. I fell in love with the dark red soft-touch dashboard with silver accents around the instruments panel and the center console, and soft lights above the glove compartment. Also the trim of the door and the seat matches the red color of the dashboard which looks quite cool.

Fiesta’s interior

The Grande Punto falls right between the Fiesta and the Ibiza when it comes to the interior. The quality is good with some soft-touch parts on the dashboard. And while some parts feel plasticy and cheap, the overall feelings is good.

Equipment

All 3 cars are generously equipped with safety features and gadgets. ABS, EBD, driver and passenger airbags, 15″ alloy wheels and cruise control all come standard on all of them. The Fiesta also has side-impact airbags and a driver knee airbag.

Ibiza’s large sunroof

The Ibiza is equipped with a big-sized sunroof but lacks bluetooth and voice commands which are available on both the Fiesta and the Grande Punto. Also the Fiesta has climate control which isn’t available on the Ibiza or the Grande Punto.

Price

The Ibiza is the most expensive here at 140,000 EGP followed by the Fiesta at 133,000 EGP. My Grande Punto cost me 91,000 EGP but it wouldn’t be fair to add it to the comparison since it doesn’t have an automatic transmission like the others and also because I got it 2 years ago and cars got a lot more expensive since then.

There’s a 7,000 EGP price difference between the Ibiza and the Fiesta, but which do you think offers a better value for money? Leave your opinion in the comments below.

What I don’t like about my Grande Punto

I got my Grande Punto 4 months ago, it was one of the few examples still available as the dealership stopped importing it to make room for the face-lifted model, known as Punto Evo. You might be wondering what’s the point of writing a review about the Grande Punto if it’s not available for sale anymore. Well, I just feel like doing it, isn’t that a good enough reason? :)

My Grande Punto at the showroom before picking it up

I got the far less practical 3-door model for several reasons, including that it was 2,000 EGP cheaper than the 5-door model. At 91,000 EGP, I think it’s the best value for money for its class, specially when compared to the hideously priced rivals available in Egypt as the Opel Corsa, VW Polo, Seat Ibiza and Skoda Fabia.

My Grande Punto’s odometer just before driving it out of the showroom

This Italian beauty is outstanding from several aspects, although there are a few things that I’m not very happy about. So instead of repeating what every car reviewer is saying about where the car scores points, I’ll just talk about the things I don’t like.

  1. Fiat is offering numerous engines for the Grande Punto, ranging from a tiny 1.2L to a much bigger 1.9L diesel. Power outputs rise up to ridiculous numbers, such as the 180 BHP generated from the 1.4L turbo-charged Abarth edition. Unfortunately, in Egypt we get the second weakest engine, with only 77 BHP and outdated valve control technology compared to the completely computer-controlled Multijet engine. You feel the engine laziness once you step onto the gas pedal, which gets even worse when accelerating above 120 Km/h.
  2. Blue & Me is amazing. Actually it’s a great advantage for Fiat and Alfa Romeo over their rivals. For those of you who don’t know about it, it’s an integrated communications/entertainment system developed by Microsoft. It enables you to play the music library on your iPod or USB drive, and make phone calls through bluetooth. It also offers voice commands for activating several functions. It works as it should, although there are some small things that make it a bit annoying. First, Blue & Me has a stupid was of overtaking your dashboard screen with messages that you can’t dismiss. So if, for example, you are cycling through the trip computer info or editing the car settings and the music track you are playing ends, the track that plays next will overtake your dashboard screen with its name, and there’s no way to get back to what you were doing except waiting 15 seconds till it goes away on its own. Another thing, if during a phone call you want to take a look at the trip computer info, there’s no way to dismiss the caller’s name off your dashboard.
  3. Obviously Fiat doesn’t have strict quality control measures at their factories. There’s a visible difference in spacing between the hood and the front quarter-panels. There are also a few minor flaws in the interior.
  4. The hatchback is so flat which makes it very soft. All it takes to dent the hatchback is someone to rest his body on your car! In a country like Egypt where your car is mostly parked in second rows and constantly being pushed to make ways for other cars, expect to find 3 to 4 dents on your hatchback every week.
  5. I was expecting better quality from the audio system. The door speakers and the output from the head unit aren’t that good. Also there’s no MP3 playback in the CD player.
  6. There isn’t a lot of cubby holes or storage areas, also there are only 2 cup holders with a rather stupid design. Place a tall mug in any of the cup holders and you wouldn’t be able to shift to the 1st, 3rd or 5th gears.

Despite all I have listed above, I’m still very satisfied about the car, specially when you take into consideration that it was build by mad drunk Italians! :D