The last time a French car company was in India, the results were less than spectacular. Renault has no previous experience of the Indian market, and it is experiencing slow sales in its stronghold, the European market. It has nowhere to go but up, and its partnership with Nissan has helped it launch the Pulse, a sister car to the Nissan Micra. Is it any good? Does it make any sense to pick a French car over a Japanese or even a German one?
The Pulse looks like nothing else from the front… except the Micra. The ‘gaping mouth’ grille is aggressive but doesn’t gel very well with the headlamps. The fog lamps are present on the top-spec variant which our test car isn’t, and therefore are missing here. Ninad thinks it looks bigger than it really is, and that’s a very good thing. The front three quarters reveal the Micra’s shape, as does the view from the side. The top-spec variant gets tasty alloys, but they’re missing on our test car.
At the rear you’ll find that the tail-lamps are the same shape as the Micra, but the detailing is different from the Micra’s. There are round elements that go well with the organic shapes on the rest of the car, but the rear still doesn’t look homogenous.The paint shade on our golden-brown car is good, a few shades lighter than other cars using a similar colour. Badging is very large – the word ‘Pulse’ is written in large lettering across the back. Part of the brand awareness program, no doubt, but also a nice target for the badge stealers in cities like Mumbai.
The similarity of the design originates from the need for cost-cutting. Renault and Nissan are companies with joint management, and the similar design stems from them using the same base for the vehicle. This similarity doesn’t extend to the service, however; both the companies have distinct brand identities in the markets they have been in for a while now, and they plan to do the same in India. As such you cannot service your Renault car in a Nissan service centre, but if you’re an anorak you can possibly find out what parts are common, so that in an emergency you can use what is easily available. This will void your warranty, though, so make sure you do it only when necessary.
User Experience Review
The interior is of the Pulse is, again, very similar to the Micra in terms of basic design and space, but our test car didn’t seem as upmarket as the top-spec Micra we got for testing. That impression is probably because this is a mid-level variant and not the top-spec one.
The dashboard is functional and is dominated by the silver of the CD player, and the circular element at the bottom holds the neatly-designed climate-control system in the top-end variant. Over here, it has a slightly out-of-place set of knobs to control the air-conditioning – which is more than adequate for our hot conditions. Those circular vents have an extremely simple design but help a lot with circulation and direct the airflow extremely effectively.
The Pulse’s door handles weren’t chromed (or silvered), and the vents have a dull silver finish rather than a chrome surround, which gives it a low-rent feel. The gearshift lever is all black, as is most of the cabin which can be depressing. The roof and pillars are light colours and the bottom is black, which helps alleviate some of depressing feeling. The dashboard, part of the door trim and the seats are colour-co-ordinated. They are a new colour in the small-car market, a combination of brown and maroon which is interesting but not to my taste.
The front seats are a little uncomfortable due to odd lumbar support, and the pedal heights are all different, which makes the driver’s feet uncomfortable after a while. There was no seat height adjustment for the driver, but it is present in the top-spec variant. The rear seat base is improved compared to the Micra’s, with better under-thigh support. Renault has also provided the Pulse with rear headrests that can be raised and lowered, unlike the fixed barely-there headrests of the Micra. Boot size is appreciable, and the mid-level RxL variant has power windows all around.
The Pulse has the same chassis and engine as the diesel Micra, but the suspension settings are slightly different. The ride/handling compromise is extremely well judged – it keeps bumps out of the cabin, but at the same time handles really well; it only loses its line around a corner when provoked.
Performance is average from the 64PS, 160Nm 1.5-litre turbocharged diesel as is expected. During testing we encountered something unique in today’s cars – upshift in a hurry and you’re met with an almighty jerk from the driveline. For best results, do not hurry the Pulse and use
the broad, thick layer of torque instead. The engine opens up at around 2000rpm thanks to the turbo and retains a very linear, if unexciting, pull all the way to the redline.
ABS isn’t even an option on the Pulse, a very big no-no in the premium hatchback segment where the likes of the Jazz don’t leave it out at all. However, the car retained its line really well during the braking test but took VERY long to stop – 40-odd metres. I suspect the fuel-economy-biased tyres are to blame for the inordinately long stopping distance. Bottomline, it needs ABS, so how about giving at least the top-end variant that option, Renault?
The Pulse should be a very efficient car at highway speeds – it sits at 2000rpm at an indicated 80kmph and at 2500rpm at 100kmph. Despite driving really hard and fast on a highway section, the onboard computer said that the car returned an efficiency of 15.9kmpl, which is amazing.
Renault is an unknown brand in India. As such it starts with a clean slate, and the Pulse is a great start for an otherwise unknown French company. However, to those in the know, it lacks the quirkiness that French cars are known for. It lacks the fizz, the excitement that the ‘RenaultSport’ brand has managed to garner for itself worldwide. The Pulse is a logical offering from a quirky company, and that’s what makes us wonder why we wouldn’t buy what is essentially the same car from a logical company like Nissan, which has a bigger service network in India. At the same time, both variants offer airbags (like the Micra) but no ABS at all, even as an option! At nearly Rs 6 lakh for the RxL and Rs 6.5 lakh for the top-spec RxZ variant, Renault will have to think hard and give people a very good reason to draw them out of the competition’s showrooms and into their own.