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'DNA' drive: Renault sculpts a Scala Automatic

Monday, 14 January 2013 - 10:30am IST
Team DNA drive puts it through the paces, and comes up liking it a lot.

Almost 18 km per litre. Petrol. Automatic. And, hopefully, a killer price.

With its latest offering, Renault India certainly has got the math right to enact chartbuster Duster redux.

The French giant entered the new year with a 50% jump in market share in four months in the A3 premium (sedan) segment, thanks to the refurbished Fluence and the Sunny-rebadged Scala.

Last week, it took the wraps off the Scala Automatic, a concept the company has been working on for Indian roads for a while now.

Although petrol automatic is a very niche segment, has slower growth and smaller market share, Renault is banking on fabulous fuel efficiency to sweep the stakes.

And the stakes are indeed high in this sharp, expensive arena.

Interiors
The car is no different inside from the Scala manual, for it continues the form factor first floated by cousin Nissan through the Micra and the Sunny. It’s all about functionality with leather seats, remote audio control in one of the three gearing spokes, start-stop switch and the rotary design of the air-condition controls.

SPEC-SHEET
RENAULT SCALA

Price: Expected to start at Rs8.5 lakh, ex-showroom
Kitna deti hai? 17.97 kmpl, per Arai test
Engine: 1498 cc, 4 cylinder petrol
Max Power: 97bhp at 6000 rpm
Torque: 13.6kgm at 4000rpm
Transmission: Automatic CVT
Steering: Rack & pinion, electric
Brakes: Ventilated discs in front, drum in rear
Dimensions in feet: L/W/H: 14.52/5.56/4.94
Wheelbase: 2600mm/8.53 feet
Suspension: Macpherson strut in front, torsion bar in rear

Thigh support is excellent in the front row, while there are acres of room in the rear. Simply, the best in class.

Looks wise, there is little to distinguish between the Nissan Sunny and the Renault Scala. And between the Scalas themselves, a small CVT badge in the rear is the only distinguishable external feature.

The drive
The car automatic comes with a different kind of transmission -- called the Continuously Variable Transmission or CVT - in which there are no set number of gears, but an infinitely variable gear ratio. Ergo, the car doesn’t ‘shift’ gears per se. The main advantage of this is light weight, compactness and, most importantly, great fuel efficiency.

We took the Scala on a rather long spin through the heart of Mumbai to the beaches of Alibag last week.

Switch it on and the 1498 cc Nissan engine thrums well, and the outstanding X-tronic continuous variable transmission or CVT technology gets ready to show off its epaulettes. Slot it and veer into office-going traffic. The first feedback is the cogs seem perfectly in sync with urban stop-start traffic. The refined mill delivers the same 97 BHP of max power and 134 Newton Meter of torque. This, mind you, is version 2.0 of the old CVT that Nissan has improved. CVT gearboxes use belts to keep the revolutions per minute at optimum levels as the car accelerates, which cause the rubberband effect. Remember the gearless scooters which yell and scream as you twist the accelerator? Same thingy.

On long stretches of the highway to Panvel and beyond, the engine noise increased significantly to intrude the cabin and the culprit is the very same CVT transmission – that’s because the engine revolutions remain constant as gear ratios are changed – unlike in manual where take the foot off the accelerator to enable the shift.

This improved CVT is now looped on a steel belt which makes the transmission longer lasting than the one delivering the rubberband effect.

Marc Nassif, head of Renault India, was all geed up about its supersmoothness and we must say he was on the ball there.

Nissan plants this gearbox in the Almera and Versa that it sells abroad. Renault seems to have used its elder-brotherly influence to make its Japanese kin part with it and hit the Indian roads first.

Indeed, rush-hour traffic became far less stressful with the car happiest at 1000-1500 revs, while a zippy response and light steering egged you to gun for the open road, wherever it may be, no matter the Scala’s long-tail profile. Merging in and out of traffic was a breeze and that was the best part of the whole ride.

In case you didn’t know, this is one of the few automatics that give better mileage than its manual counterpart (which gives 16.95 kmpl). And it’s also 2 kmpl more than what the Hyundai Verna Automatic delivers.

There is great ease of acceleration and deceleration without a constant toggle of the right foot between the accelerator and the brake, making in a fun ride. If you need better engine braking, slot the shifter into Sport mode, and for torquey inclines, there’s the L-mode.

The verdict
While it’s not the first CVT-transmissioned car in India (think Honda City), it promises to be the most affordable one out there. Renault is offering the model in two variants – RxL an RxZ with an extended four year warranty. They will be launched by the end of this month. Three words of advice: Go for it, cityfolks, if it’s priced right (say less than Rs75,000 to Rs1 lakh over the manual variant). The segment is already crowded with automatic variants of Skoda Rapid, Maruti Suzuki DZire and the Hyundai Verna. Renault showed with the Duster that it can innovate and also keep the price down. That’s the only winning formula in India.


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