Renault’s Scala, the fifth offering for the Indian market by the French carmaker is an attempt to follow up the thundering success of the Duster with another product with a mass appeal. The Scala is essentially the Nissan Sunny with exterior changes made by Renault’s Mumbai design studio. We took the new car out for a spin on the windy roads from Chandigarh to Shimla and back, and here’s our tuppence on it.
Renault is damn serious about the Indian market, the reason why they’ve set up a design center in Mumbai. It makes tweaking designs of international models to Indian taste simpler as they don’t have to bug their HQs in France for every little update. The designers here have made changes to the front and rear sections of the Nissan Sunny to give it a distinct character – and what a great job have they pulled off!
The front end, thanks to the big hexagonal nose that combines the radiator grille and central air dam lends the Scala a face which is aggressive, stylish and purposeful. The blacked out surface within the Hyundai-ish hexagon adds substantial amount of boldness to the Scala’s fascia. Angular surrounds for the fog lamps contribute their bit to the chiseled, athletic look. Chrome treatment over the radiator grille adds contrast to the blacked out nose, and provides the much needed ‘premium’ feel to the car. The face of the car may have looked a tad too belligerent without the silver.
The swept back, elongated headlamps are a masterful act too. The double barrel lamps are surrounded by chrome, with a contrasting back lining inside. The two elements come together to lend the Scala’s headlamps a pair of eyelids, sexy ones at that. The car looks extremely good when viewed front on from low angles. It reminds me somewhat of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X – smart, sinful and sexy – all at the same time. Raise the level of your eyes a bit, or move a little sideways and the aggression dissolves a bit, to give way to elegance – something which could not be considered a bad thing.
The profile of the car is rather simplistic, and matches the Sunny completely, except for the chrome lining on the window sills and a different design for the alloys. It’s a long car, the Scala, and the length it spans is pretty evident, with a fair bit of overhang after the rear wheels. It’s not the most proportionate car in profile, but manages to not look unwieldy.
At the rear, again, the Renault designers have worked their magic, and made the Scala look substantially better than the Sunny. While Sunny’s rear reminds one of the ubiquitous Dzire, the Scala’s tail-lamps somewhat resemble the utterly premium S 500 Merc, with a hint of Skoda’s C motif on the tail-lamp. The rear chrome garnish is quite huge in size and adds both to the premium feel and the visual width of the car. The posterior of the Scala may not be as alluring as its face, but it manages to look much better than its Japanese cousin.
On the whole, the Scala looks like a premium product – a well designed, purposeful looking premium car. On any given day, the Scala would rate higher than the Sunny in terms of appeal, aggression and desirability. Two thumbs up to Renault for the way they transformed the demure Sunny into the far more glamorous Scala.
Engine, gearbox and performance
The Scala is powered by the familiar 1.5 liter (1461cc) K9K diesel engine with a peak power output of 86PS at 3750 rpm and peak torque output rated at 200 Nm at 2000 rpm. The engine is mated with a 5 speed manual gearbox. There is a 1.5 liter (1498cc) petrol option as well with 99PS on tap at 6000 rpm with peak torque of 134 Nm delivered at 4000 rpm. The petrol engine will come equipped with a 5 speed stick shifter, as well as a CVT auto. The auto tranny would be exclusive to the petrol version.
We chose to drive the 1.5 liter diesel variant, for obvious reasons. The K9K engine is known to be an efficient, reasonably powerful power plant with acceptably linear power delivery – and the traits were amply exhibited by this iteration of the mill as well. The engine noise was surprisingly low within the cabin for a diesel unit. As represented by the specs, the meaty part of torque is available around 2000 rpm and above. The engine begins building momentum from 1500 rpm on, and provides enough thrust at around 1800 to overtake average traffic on level highways. We didn’t quite require playing with the stick too much on the smooth, flat roads of Chandigarh, where all it needed was a dab on the right pedal to surge past vehicles at 80-100km in high gears. There is a slight bit of turbo lag, but there is ample torque past 1600-1700 rpm to let the car build necessary momentum and surge past most of the traffic unless you are in a real rush.
Scaling the uphill twisties leading to Shimla, however, required us to drop a gear whenever we had to zip past the omnipresent taxis on the single carriageway. Unlike the plains, you have to be sure that the rev needle is hovering around the 2k mark for being able to muster enough spunk to surge ahead with confidence.
Gearbox has its ratios well spread out, but isn’t the smoothest unit around. There is a certain degree of notchiness which gets more pronounced when you try to hustle the machine up a bit, working more aggressively with the shifter. It’s not bothersome though, and won’t be noticed by the average Joe.
The Scala is a decent performer, with most of its juice residing in the mid revs. Keep it above 2000 rpm, and it will reward you with brisk acceleration. Take the revs too high and you’ll again be left wanting for more thrust. The Scala, thus, isn’t a car meant to thrill. It’s an everyday car with acceptable driveability and reasonable highway performance. With a claimed efficiency of 21.64, it should turn out to be pretty economical to run too.
Cabin quality features and space
Being a Sunny under the skin, and sharing all its USPs, the Scala too offers unmatched back seat legroom for the segment. For those driven by chauffeurs, the Scala offers one of the best options in its class. From the inside, the Scala is exactly the same as the Sunny, with that circular center console, grey-beige interior, and an air-recirculator for the back benchers. The only difference we could spot was the glossy finish gearstick with leather inserts on the top-of-the-line RxZ variant, unlike the plastic finish on the Sunny’s Shifter.
The quality of plastics within the cabin and the features offered are reasonably good, if not the best. The circular central console however isn’t to everyone’s taste, and comes across as ‘too girly’ for some. Build and assembly quality is of top order with no gaping panel gaps or untidy adhesive marks. The top variant comes with goodies such as keyless push button start and premium leather upholstery. Instrumentation includes analogue speedo-tacho along with a trip computer which delivers loads of useful information. The car comes equipped with a stereo which delivers decent sound, but doesn’t have a USB-in slot. There are four bottle holders for the front passengers, two below the center console (for small bottles) and two in the doors. Rear passengers, on the other hand, have to make do with the two cup holders in the central armrest, available only on the higher variants.
Steering mounted audio controls, twin airbags, tilt-adjustable steering wheel, height adjustable driver’s seat, remote boot-fuelcap-bonnet opener and auto folding electric ORVMS – the Scala’s cabin has ample functional features. It may not have the frills of some other cars in the segment, but if it’s offered at the same price as its Japanese cousin, the Scala would represent terrific value, especially with its better looking exteriors.
Handling and ride quality
As we mentioned earlier, the Scala isn’t a car meant to thrill – the trait is evident in the way the car handles too. The Scala has a light steering wheel which is great for quick, slow speed maneuvers through traffic – not so much for spirited driving around a series of corners. The light steering doesn’t quite have the feedback you require to feel what’s happening under the running board. That said, the steering feels neutral in a straight line as well as around bends. There is no irksome torque steer, and the Scala offers a comfortable steering experience to those who aren’t too fond of hurtling their machines wildly around the first corner they spot. The Scala behaves admirably well for its size around corners and offers a predictive set of four wheels, which could be driven hard without much risk if required.
The Scala rides rather well, absorbing undulations with aplomb at slow speeds. It does, however feel slightly skittish at medium to high speeds over rough patches – we have experienced cars with a better ride-handling combo in this segment. Nothing to complain about though, what with the enormous acreage you get at the rear seat, you could probably build a house there.
Summing it up
Nissan Sunny is a success, for it represents terrific value for money, for it ticks all the right boxes, keeping out only the frills. The Scala offers all that, and then aces its cousin with a far more desirable design. For the same price, given a choice to pick between the two, I would any day get behind the Scala’s wheel. It is decidedly a better car by virtue of its visual flair. But how much extra would I pay for all that makeup? May be a dozen grand or a probably a little more. But any more than that would pinch. It’s important that Renault position the car aggressively and don’t differentiate it too much from its Kimono clothed cousin. If they manage to do that, we don’t see why this lovely car can’t repeat the success of its SUV sibling.
The Scala will be available in three variants – RxE, RxL and RxZ. Of these, petrol powered version will be available in RxE and RxL variants only. The Diesel powered car will be available in RxL and RxZ variants only. Here’s a detailed spec sheet
Some more details about the car, along with images and captions :
Stereo with Aux-in, CD and Radio – No USB-in though
Top end RxZ variant gets leather wrapped gear stick with a different, glossy plastic
ORVMs with blinkers are an accessory
…so is the chrome tipped exhaust muffler
Notice the grille. Lower variants dont get chrome on the inside. Refer the images of top variant to understand the difference
Two-tone fabric upholstery for the lower variants. Top end gets perforated leather.
Ignition key slot for lower variants – top end gets keyless stop / start with push button.
Enormous rear chrome slat enhances the visual perrception of width. Tail lamps look much better than the ones on the Sunny
Various readouts on the trip Computer
Engine start / stop button
Electric ORVMs and folding mirror controls.
Fuel lid / Bonnet opener levers
Remote boot opener lever
Glove blox, with an open compartment above it
Steering mounted controls
Spare wheel and jack
Reasonably capacious boot, with 490 liters of space
Chrome door handles
new design alloy wheels for the Scala. Base RxE variant gets 185 / 70 R14 steel wheels. RxL and RxZ get 185 / 65 / R15 alloys
One of the best back seats in class. No bottle holders in rear doors. Small pockets behind front seats.
Rear air recirculator.
The beatifully done headlamps. Great attention to detail. Notice the use of contrasting chrome and black inserts.
Simple plastic gear knob on lower spec variants