Text & Tester: Syed Shiraz
Photography: Aariz Rizvi & Syed Shiraz
I am sure that almost everyone, irrespective of their social stratum, has faced a situation where they want to go together in a group, but the number of people always exceeds the number of seats in a vehicle. So there are three of you, but only one bike; you decide to take an auto-rickshaw, but your fourth friend turns up unashamedly with his girlfriend; you’re about to call a cab then, but realize that your friend’s girlfriend has brought along an even prettier friend who is looking at you innocently, thinking of you as the group’s saviour. So you act intelligent, skip the outing, have an impromptu party at your place, and save the day. Now, if you had a vehicle with 6-7 seats, the house party could have waited for some other time, no?
Okay, if not whole, some parts of this fictitious situation might have held true for most at some point or the other. If not, you must have come across this one for sure, “No, don’t bring your car; we’ll hire an Innova.” If you haven’t, you’re probably living somewhere in the Himalayas where your bathing procedure involves a three km trek to the nearest waterfall.
Seriously, you will invariably spot a vehicle with a yellow registration plate whenever and wherever there is a gathering of people for whatever reason. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be driven to a wedding or a funeral, unless it’s my own. Even then, I guess, I would prefer to drive the vehicle up to the banquet hall or to the graveyard, whichever happens to be the case. Anyway, the point is, I hate taxis, and have a strong belief that my family and friends are safer with me in my vehicle than with someone else in someone else’s Innova, or Tavera for that matter. But a hatchback/sedan at best would seat five people, so what to do when there are more people to be ferried? Enter the MPV – short for Multi Purpose Vehicle.
Why? Because a seven-seater SUV is still out of reach for many and so is keeping two cars; well, the latter is more due to the ever-shrinking parking spaces than anything else, but is a constraint nevertheless. Maruti realized this much earlier than everyone else and brought in the Ertiga, and Honda followed suit with their Mobilio. But Renault is aiming to kill (or injure, at least) two birds with one stone by bringing in the Lodgy that promises to deliver much more than the Ertiga/Mobilio while costing much less than the Innova. We drove the top-end 110 PS RxZ variant in Bangalore recently to find out if the Japanese really need to worry about the French or would it continue to be BAU for them…
The Lodgy, unlike most of its competition, is not an extended derivative of a hatchback. This one is a proper MPV folks and, being based on the Duster, is closer to the Innova in dimensions than to the Ertiga and Mobilio. In fact, the Renault has a bigger footprint than even the Toyota’s as the former’s wheelbase at 2,810 mm is 60 mm longer! That simply translates to more in-cabin space, but more on that a little later. The Lodgy measures 4.5 metres in length, which makes it some 233 mm longer than the Ertiga and 87 mm shorter than the Innova (the Mobilio is longer than the Ertiga and shorter than the Lodgy).
That should give you a fair idea about the kind of space the Lodgy will occupy in your garage. Now, let’s see how much of that sheet metal and glass is visually appealing. No, I am not going to bore you with stuff like the shape of headlamps and the number of slats on the grille – neither is the vehicle camouflaged nor is this article written in braille. In other words, if you can read this, you can certainly check the pictures and draw your own conclusions. However, what I will tell you is how I find the styling of this European.
It’s no Grand Scenic, but it’s not a Rodius either. I would say that I found the Lodgy to be a shade better-looking than both the Innova and the Ertiga. The Mobilio is the best-looker of the lot but it loses points on account of not having a distinctive face than the Brio. This is not a comparo, but I guess I will be comparing these four vehicles intermittently throughout the article as prospective buyers would definitely want to know how the newest contender measures up to the established players in this segment.
Back to the Lodgy then. Seen in profile, this MPV looks under-tyred despite riding on five-spoke 15-inch alloys. Also, the Lodgy shouts and comforts the Innova that the Jap is not alone now when it comes to carrying slab-sides. That being said, the Lodgy manages to look quite good from the front three quarters, and even otherwise the elegant face compensates well for the slab-sidedness and the lack of thought in its rear design. Also, Renault would be offering four accessory packs – Chrome, Essential, Sport, and Techno – that you may choose to spruce up the exterior a bit. But even without these packs, the Lodgy definitely won’t be confused for any other vehicle on the roads. In any case, the buyers of MPVs have their priorities in order, and the exterior styling doesn’t usually figure on top of that list. Space, comfort, practicality, and reliability do. And that is what we are going to talk about next.
It certainly helps when you’re a manufacturer that built the world’s first MPV. The Espace came on the scene in 1984, and Renault are still selling it – the fifth-gen model was showcased at the Paris Motor Show last year – so that means they know a thing or two about MPVs… Which is why the Lodgy is not just a rebadged Dacia; the company has made a host of improvements to justify that shiny lozenge insignia that it wears in its Indian foray. And that becomes evident the moment your eyes glance over the cabin of this MPV.
My first reaction was – “it seems premium for the segment!” Of course, being the top-of-the-line RxZ variant, this one gets leather seats, touchscreen infotainment system, cruise control, speed limiter, reversing camera, roof-mounted air-conditioning system with dedicated vents for the second and third row seats, tilt steering, electrically adjustable mirrors, etc., but it’s not just the goodies that contribute to the feel-good factor; it’s the whole ambience of the cabin that’s above the average than what we have come to expect in our MPVs.
I quite liked the dual-tone dashboard and the piano-black finish on the centre console, but I am not a fan of chrome-on-dashboard themes. I believe most people will like it though; however, I still reckon the dash would have looked even classier sans the shiny stuff. Anyway, it is well put together and everything here feels nice and sturdy.
Then, there’s space; lots of it. The sense of roominess is also heightened by the bigger glass area all around, so even the passengers in the third row won’t be feeling claustrophobic at all. Now, it’s actually that third row of seats that comprises the primary reason for buyers to choose an MPV over a sedan, or even over a five-seat SUV. I am happy to report that Renault have got it right and we finally have an MPV, other than the Innova, where the last row of seats can actually seat two adults comfortably. Make no mistake, the Toyota is still the king in this department, but this Renault has come much closer to it to pull people out of Honda and Maruti showrooms if last row comfort is high on their check-list. There’s ample knee and head room, and even shoulder room is adequate for three adolescents, provided they are not regulars at McDonalds…
Again, the size, shape, and contours are fantastic for two adults, and the extra (as compared to the Mobilio and Ertiga) knee room gives you enough space to move your derriere around on longer journeys, alleviating the slight knee-up seating position (due to the high floor). Plus, those two adults will like the armrests at the sides that have two cup-holders each, and there’s a 12V power socket too! In fact, Renault has provided such power sockets for all three rows.
Hopping on to the middle row seats reiterates that headroom will never be an issue in the Lodgy for even the tallest of Indians. The knee room on offer is decent enough as well, but Renault should have provided sliding seats as legroom can get constricted if you’re a family of multi-generation basketball players. Also, while the seats are comfortable and supportive, taller folks might find the under-thigh support to be a bit lacking. I liked the thoughtful provision of trays, with integrated bottle-holders, for the second row, that pop out from the backrests of the front seats.
And those front seats are great. They offer great lumbar and lateral support and the driver’s perch is adjustable for height as well. If comfortable seating for more than five people is paramount in an MPV, the modularity of those seats is not any less important either. The Lodgy trumps all others here as it comes with a plethora of seat configurations. Not only can the 50:50-split third row be folded and flipped forward, it can be completely removed from the MPV to generate 759 litres of boot space. You then fold and tumble the second row captain seats (even the variants with bench-seats for the second row come with this facility) as well to liberate 1861 litres of cargo space if you want to move houses and don’t plan to pay the packers and movers. Otherwise, with all seats waiting for its occupants, the boot space available is 207 litres. And with just the last row folded and flipped forward you get a cavernous boot space of 589 litres.
This is where the Lodgy will leave the competition in the dust. If 110 PS looks better than the Innova’s 102 PS, Ertiga’s 90 PS, and Mobilio’s 100 PS on paper, it definitely is better on tarmac as well. And so is 245 Nm of torque when compared to the, surprisingly uniform, 200 Nm of each of the other three.
Of course, like in the 110 PS Duster, the turbo-lag annoys you in the city, and most would still find the clutch to be on the heavier side. But, get past these minor irritants and you soon realize that it’s the best highway cruiser in the segment! Hundred kays on the speedo translate to the crank spinning at a lazy 1,900 revs in sixth gear, and the Lodgy can effortlessly cruise at 130 km/h all day. From there, you don’t have to wait for seasons to change for it to reach 160 km/h. Commendable! The top speed claimed by Renault is 170 km/h and since we saw 160 on the speedo, without even trying hard, we have no reason to doubt that claim. That also means the provision of cruise control and speed limiter in a 1,461 cc MPV is not preposterous after all!
And this is also the quietest diesel in the segment. In fact, another tester, who was sitting behind me while I was driving, was sharing his feedback on the Lodgy to his boss on phone. Almost at the end of the conversation, looking at the speedo, he asks his boss, “hey, could you guess that we have been constantly doing 130-140 km/h for the past few minutes?” I could hear the loud “what!” that came through the phone followed by my co-passengers’ proud laughter – you know, the sort of laughter that follows when someone actually acknowledges your achievement in disbelief. Only the achievement here was not ours; it’s Renault’s engineers’ or whosoever was directly responsible for layering the sound deadening material in the Lodgy – you deserve a pat on your back chap!
It’s because of this quietness that I would really recommend using the aforementioned speed limiter, both within the city and on highways, because, in all probability, you would always be doing more than the prescribed speed limit, and most of the times it would be unintentional… But when you purposely go through those six gears in boy-racer mode, you get pleasantly surprised on experiencing the superlative stability of this vehicle in a straight line. It’s also equally adept at taking long, sweeping bends at seriously high velocities. The light steering could do with more feel and weight though, but it’s still on a par with the competition. Body-roll is well-controlled in the Lodgy and it sticks to its intended path with such confidence that you start pushing it harder and harder every time the road opens up.
The 185/65 R15 JKs grip the tarmac nicely and that reflects in braking too – the Lodgy comes to a safe halt from triple digit speeds without changing its trajectory – that’s EBD (Electronic Brake-force Distribution) at work. However, I noticed mild vibration while applying brakes from speeds over 90 km/h, and no, I am not referring to the ABS kicking in. Also, while the brakes have a good amount of bite, they lack feel. But, if Renault has raised the bar for the segment in outright power, dynamics, and NVH levels, the ride quality of its first MPV in India for sure will become the benchmark in the segment; in fact, it is so good that it can teach the subject to quite a few more-expensive sedans and SUVs. We drove through tens of XXL-size potholes and the Lodgy just glided over them as they were nothing more than mild undulations on the road! And despite the comparatively lower ground clearance of 174 mm, the beautifully tuned suspension ensures peace of mind and you can take on the rough stuff without slowing down much.
This is just the MPV that we need. It’s not that big that it gets cumbersome to drive in the city, and not that small that the interior space (read ‘third row comfort’) is compromised. It’s better than the best in the segment on the highways, and the ride quality is on a different plane altogether. And people who want to avoid the turbo-lag and the slightly heavier clutch can buy the 85 PS version (comes with a 5-speed manual). Also, in terms of features and creature-comforts, the Lodgy would be the best-equipped MPV on sale in India. The ARAI fuel efficiency figures stand at 19.98 km/l for the 110 PS version, and 21.04 km/l for the 85 PS variant.
Now, Renault clearly mentioned in the pre-drive presentation that they would be placing the Lodgy above the Ertiga/Mobilio and below the Toyota Innova. Product wise, I concur with that thought and positioning because the Lodgy does almost everything better than the Ertiga and Mobilio and a few things even better than the Innova. But pricing would really be crucial here. The base Ertiga diesel carries an ex-showroom (Delhi) price-tag of INR 7.41 lakh and it’s INR 8.19 lakh for the Mobilio’s base diesel. And that price difference has not really worked out in Honda’s favour…
The optimist in me feels that Renault would keep the pricing of the 85 PS variants competitive enough to trouble the Ertiga and Mobilio, and that of the 110 PS variants enticing enough to lure away some Innova buyers. If you do that Renault, try also giving us a bare bones, cheaper-than-base-petrol-Ertiga, Lodgy petrol with zero features but everything available in the options list. There are many who would buy one…
This MPV has really impressed us, and that’s saying a lot considering the kind of company it will find itself in. Let’s hope the pricing also projects the vehicle as The Logical Choice in this segment when it is launched next month.