On the face of it, Renault's attempt at taking a short cut to launch a small hatchback in double quick time hasn't fared very well. The Pulse sells much less compared to the Nissan Micra, on which it is based. By cloning the Micra and rebadging it as the Pulse, Renault managed to cut development time and costs and importantly managed to add a small car to its portfolio.

A gap in Renault's line-up was plugged with the Pulse and that was the key expectation. The French car maker was clear that the Pulse wasn't going to outsell its Japanese alliance partner's existing twin. On similar lines and in keeping with the company's target to take its model range to five vehicles by the end of the year, Renault is now priming itself to launch the Scala.

Sudden Sedan

The Scala, which has been cloned from the Nissan Sunny, will fill another void - that of an entry sedan. The Scala (not to be confused with Renault models sporting the same name tag in other markets), will be slotted in between the Pulse and the Fluence. The new car will seek to take on competition like the Volkswagen Vento, the Hyundai Verna and the Honda City. But Renault officials are apparently clear that their expectations from the Scala too are only that it will enable the company to offer more choice to its buyers, though there are going to be a few buyers that the Scala will poach from the Sunny and vice versa.

However, unlike the Pulse, which looked pretty much identical to the Micra if you ignored the bonnet grille and the badges, the Scala is a slightly more elaborate redesign attempt. And that is likely to work in its favour.

Much of the redesign was finalised at Renault India’s Mumbai design studio and it is apparent that the brief for the designers has been to infuse the cloned model with Renault DNA.

Redesign

One of the most prominent changes at the front in the Pulse was the hexagonal bonnet grille design. Unlike the Pulse, however, the hexagonal grille, together with the front bumper redesign in the Scala seems to actually lend more character and individuality to the new Renault sedan compared to its Nissan twin.

Viewed from the side, the Scala’s profile is very clearly like that of the Sunny, but the stubby new front bumper also stands out as a differentiator. The headlamps sport the same overall design as the Sunny’s, but within they now have a variation and the smoked style effect in the Scala headlamps also gives out a new vibe to the onlooker.

The rear of the new Scala is the most distinctive and though all the familiarity is there in plain view, the changes that have been made give it a stronger character than the Sunny’s. The thick chrome strip that runs across the rear and merges into the lines of the redesigned tail-lamp combination gives the Scala’s rear an upmarket feel. There are bits there that seem to have been inspired by a German luxury car brand’s trademark rear side.

Overall, the Scala’s rear design also makes it look more squat and wide. The addition of chrome too boosts its feel of premiumness. More chrome also comes in the form of the metal strip that forms the beltline. The idea of the redesign also seems to have been to up the premiumness of the Scala over that of the Sunny and that reflects in the interior too, with the addition of leather upholstery in the top-end variant. The Sunny is not offered with leather seats.

The Scala’s cabin is otherwise bereft any new bits in it and looks pretty much like a direct lift from the Sunny. The only changes being the badge in the middle of the steering wheel. There is a small change, though, that marginally boosts the feel of premiumness in the Scala’s cabin. The lighter shade of brown (instead of grey in the Sunny) used for the dashboard plastics has improved the feel of the cabin. The rear seat also gets adjustable headrests.

There are some parts of the cabin in the Scala which Renault engineers could have experimented with to distinguish it from the Sunny, without it getting too expensive. Obviously, the redesign has been done with a sharp eye on costs, but some parts like the colour of the LEDs for backlighting, and some controls could easily have been changed with no additional expense.

However, the Scala’s cabin is extremely airy and remarkably spacious just like the Sunny’s is. The one other addition that Renault could have considered is fitting the second HVAC at the rear that the Duster is offered with for rear passenger comfort, instead of carry over the simple air blower from the Sunny.

Performance

The Scala is also offered with the same two engines that the Sunny is offered with and in the same state of tune. The 1,498cc petrol XH2 engine (in the Sunny it is called the HR15) produces an identical 99PS of peak power and a peak torque of 134 Nm. The engine will initially be offered with the same five-speed manual transmission that is currently available in the Sunny. But, plans for the Scala petrol include the addition, at a later date, of a CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic gearbox.

The other engine is the, by now very familiar, Renault K9K diesel engine. This 1,461cc diesel powerplant produces the lower tune level and offers 86PS of peak power and 200 Nm of peak torque (both same as in the Sunny). The diesel mill is only paired with the manual gearbox. The five-speed gearbox carried forward from the Sunny sports the same ratios too.

To drive, the new Scala feels very similar to the Sunny. I chose to test drive the diesel engine variant, which is, going by current trends, likely to be the overwhelming favourite amongst buyers. The diesel engine is as cleanly matched as in the Sunny. There is enough to satisfy most owners in this segment. But, just like in the Sunny, the K9K engine in the Scala too suffers from a bit of turbolag.

Stomp the throttle pedal and the engine takes its own time to spool up and offer a hurried level of torque. As the rpm needle treads past the 1,500 level, there is a hint of urgency in the amount of torque being feed to the wheels. Of course, with the entire load of 200Nm of torque being available to be exploited at 2,000 rpm, the Scala then jumps forward eagerly.

I tested the Scala on hilly roads, the one that winds up to Shimla and beyond from Chandigarh. Buyers may not miss the relatively smaller amount of low-end torque that much, if most of the driving is going to be on city roads and highways. But, keeping the Scala diesel powerplant within the nice sweet spot in the rpm range produces great results and, like I found out, it can be good fun on hilly roads.

Bottomline

In keeping with the move to try and make the Scala a bit more upmarket than the Sunny, Renault engineers have also chosen to endow it with larger 15-inch rims for the RxL and RxZ variants. The lower trim RxE variant will still sport the 14-inch wheels carried over from the Sunny.

The upsized rims shod with 185/65 tyres actually go on to make a delightful difference to the ride quality. The ride is distinctly sportier and the Scala seems to feel more confident taking on turns at speed. Rear ride quality may not be very different from the Sunny, though a marginal increase in road feel cannot be ruled out. The Scala’s suspension is the same set up as in the Sunny with McPherson struts at the front and torsion beam at the rear.

The Scala is likely to be launched by mid-September and will be positioned just above the Sunny in terms of price. I expect the prices to range from about Rs 7 lakh to Rs 9 lakh. The Scala may not be offered with a low-trim variant for the petrol, though the diesel will most likely be offered with three trim variants.

muraliswami@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on August 28, 2012)
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