Do you have a green thumb?

The most efficient way to drive Renault's new Fluence Privilege is via cruise control

The fuel efficiency of a car is often determined by your right foot. In the case of the Renault Fluence Privilege - a refreshed version of the Fluence - your right thumb is the biggest influence.

Firstly, the car is equipped with simple, convenient and responsive cruise control buttons on the steering. If you observe traffic well enough, you will be able to drive the car with minimal pedal contact.

You merely toggle between the Cancel and Resume button, once you have set your desired speed.

Secondly, the Renault's accelerator is as responsive as a French waiter in an uppity Parisian cafe. Nudge it gently and nothing happens initially. Often, you need to jab it hard. Even so, it is unclear when acceleration will actually take place. There is a noticeable lag within the first few degrees of movement.

  • Specs

  • RENAULT FLUENCE PRIVILEGE

    Price: $112,999 with COE

    Engine: 1,461cc 16-valve inline-4 turbodiesel

    Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch with quick shift

    Power: 110bhp at 4,000rpm

    Torque: 240Nm at 1,750rpm

    0-100kmh: 11.9 seconds

    Top speed: 185kmh

    Fuel consumption: 4.4 litres/100km

    Agent: Wearnes Automotive

But the roomy compact sedan is more alert to commands from the cruise control system. Thus, driving it with your thumb is preferable. You get an efficiency that you may not achieve while jabbing at the woolly and wooden throttle.

Renault is rather proud of the Fluence's frugality. Its 7-inch multimedia monitor includes an efficiency screen that tracks how green you are at the wheel.

Over a three-day test-drive, I managed a fairly respectable average of 6 litres/100km, which is about 30 per cent better than the manufacturer's stated consumption of 4.4 litres/100km.

With low consumption comes low CO2 emission. The car qualifies for $10,000 in carbon rebates, even with stricter standards from Wednesday.

The car would have been able to do better if it had a better coasting ability and if its gearbox was more attuned to road and driving situations. Occasionally, the Fluence is in an inappropriate gear. And even if it is cruising at 90kmh in sixth, it sheds speed fairly quickly once your foot is off the throttle (or when you hit Cancel on the cruise control).

Still, 6 litres/100km is one of the best figures I've clocked in any car, including diesels. It is all the more impressive when it is achievable, in real-world conditions, and with a car as sizeable as the Fluence.

The model continues to impress with its spaciousness. It is the biggest car in its price range, with length, width and wheelbase surpassing measurements of rivals. Its 530-litre boot is equivalent to what you find in a Mercedes-Benz E-class.

Small but effective styling changes keep the car reasonably fashionable. A new signature grille with a prominent Renault badge, streamlined lights with LED inserts, LED daytime-running lights integrated with foglamps in a prominent housing, new winkers on the wing mirrors and new wheels are the main changes.

Inside, leather upholstery with contrast stitching are found not only on seats, but on the steering wheel, parking brake lever and gear knob too. Illuminated vanity mirrors, sunroof with sun shade and rear blinds are additions that up the Renault's value proposition.

For its price, the car is exceptionally well equipped. Navigation, cruise control with speed limiter, six airbags, dual-zone climate control, 12-volt outlets (front and rear) and a keyless access and ignition system are standard issue.

There are a couple of things I don't like about the amenities, though. The placement of the Start button - far down on the centre console and partly hidden by the gear lever - is a little awkward. And the radio suffers from poor reception (a rarity these days).

Ride quality and noise insulation are pretty average.

Apart from these, the Fluence is a commendable effort by Renault to lure buyers away from sedan stalwarts such as the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3. It has unbeatable space and fuel efficiency, as well as a competitive equipment list.

It is also among very few cars you can effectively drive with your thumb.

christan@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'Do you have a green thumb?'. Print Edition | Subscribe