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Review: Renault Scala
Driven November 2012
Life is complicated. And who better to tell you that than those nice blokes at Renault India, which works under the Renault-Nissan Alliance, which works under Carlos Ghosn, who probably works for God himself given his reputation for turning dud conglomerates around. But all that’s too deep for us, so let’s just concentrate on the simple things of life – in this case, Renault’s “all-new” mid-size sedan, the Scala.
Horrible name, if you ask me, and if you do an internet search, you find the name is used for everything from a programming language to a nightclub in London to possibly a deep-sea arthropod. But its origin, as with most car names, is Latin. And in Latin, Scala stands for ‘staircase’, in which case this is apt because it is meant to represent a step up the ladder from Nissan’s Sunny. Interestingly, Renault sells a mid-size car under the same name in Egypt and a few other countries. The Indian Scala looks better.
Better compared to the more horizontally-inclined Nissan Sunny design. The front borrows heavily from the smaller Pulse (which, as you know, is a refurbished Nissan Micra). So, there is that trademark hexagonal grille with bulbous swept back headlamps. There is no way you can mistake the Scala for a Sunny from the front but you may think it’s a Pulse! In profile is where it reminds you of its Japanese sibling.
Things change for the better at the rear where the C-pillar roof tapers elegantly into the boot lid. There’s a bit of the S-Class here with those wraparound tail lamps, so it can’t be a bad thing. Nice effort from Renault’s Mumbai design centre.
The Scala’s less bulbous looking exterior, however, encloses the same amount of interior space. And compared to many other mid-size cars, it has a lot of space. The seats aren’t huge but they’re comfortable. The cushioning is ultra-soft, although we do hope they don’t sag too quickly.
There’s abundant leg- and headroom and it never gets claustrophobic inside even with a full house – full house being five full-size adults, and the three at the back won’t be cursing each other after a long trip. Interior design is conventional, with large-scale copying from the Sunny except for a few chrome bits and that conspicuous Renault badging on the steering wheel. The only noteworthy change is that you can go for a full leather interior trim in the top-of-the-line diesel variant.
Apart from space, the other nice carry-over from the Nissan is the Scala’s ride quality. It’s a bit on the softer side, so the suspension soaks up most of the rubbish surfaces that our roads will throw at it. And it just keeps getting better as speeds build up. This is one of the two reasons the Scala is ideal for inter-city expressway runs. The other being the engine options. To start with, there’s the 1.5-litre dCI unit that we see in almost every other car coming out of Renault-Nissan’s Chennai plant.
This engine is tuned for efficiency so the surge is restricted to lower gears only, after which the intention is just to cruise at decent highway speeds. The turbo lag is noticeable so it’s best to maintain momentum.
The petrol engine is a slightly better drive because once it crosses 1300rpm, it manages to stay awake longer than the diesel. It is also free-revving, which makes it easier to keep the power gates open. This one is also noticeably quieter. But Renault admits it doesn’t expect to sell many of these given the Indian buyer’s intense love affair with diesel cars. Which makes it tricky for the Scala because there are better diesel engine options available from Skoda and Maruti.
Handling is also a carryover, and this time, it’s not necessarily a good thing. The steering is fine but the way the body reacts to quick steering changes means you would rather stick to a straighter line than play rally driver. Which is why the Scala is just perfect for flat, flowing highways rather than a trip to the mountains.
After the phenomenal initial response to the Duster, Renault is banking heavily on the Scala to give it the desired numbers. It wants to pit the Scala against the formidable Skoda Rapid, although considering how closely priced the cars are in this segment, there will be competition from numerous quarters, including stablemate Sunny.
As an Indian family car, the Renault Scala is a fine example of making the most of practical parameters like space and comfort. It is relatively better to look at too. But the whole Renault-Nissan alliance means it will be positioned slightly higher than the Sunny. And the Nissan itself isn’t a bad buy, which makes the Scala look even better. With the Duster, Renault has shown it too can play the price card.
But then, there was no Nissan SUV around to nudge the price up the ladder. For the Scala, there is no such luxury. Which means it cannot undercut the Sunny, despite the fact that the difference between the two – bar the looks – isn’t much. The Scala isn’t necessarily a better version of the Sunny, but if you’re looking for a different version, you’ve come to the right place. Complicated? You think?
Petrol: 1498cc, 4-in-line, FWD, 98bhp, 5M, 16kpl (claimed) Diesel: 1461cc, 4-in-line, FWD, 85bhp, 5M, 21kpl (claimed), Turning radius: 5.3m, Tyres: 185/70 R14 (steel)/ 185/65 R15 (alloy), Ground clearance: 161mm, Boot space: 490litres, Rs 6.5-9.5 lakh (ex-showroom)
Loads of space, comfort and… that’s pretty much it