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The automatic automotive

Renault has been riding a wave of success ever since its Duster SUV hit Indian roads in July. Sales are touching new highs, and India is set to become one of Renault’s top 10 markets in terms of sales. The last quarter of the 2012 calendar year was particularly good for Renault India, with 25,000 cars delivered during the period.

While the Duster is unquestionably Renault’s star performer, the Scala saloon has also played a small part in the Indian success story. The mid-size saloon, available with petrol- and diesel-engine options, has sold over 3,000 units since its launch in September. A modest figure no doubt, but to further the car’s appeal, Renault has just launched the petrol Scala with an automatic transmission.

The Scala automatic comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) which is quite different from the torque converter systems found on the majority of automatic cars in the mid-size segment, or even the dual-clutch mechanism of the Ford Fiesta automatic. CVTs use a belt-and-pulley system to continuously alter gear ratios to keep the engine at the optimum speed for a corresponding road speed. The prime advantage of the Scala’s CVT system is efficiency. For the record, the Scala automatic delivers an Automotive Research Association of India (Arai)-tested 17.97km per litre, which makes it the most fuel-efficient automatic in its class.

But efficiency isn’t the sole reason you should be interested in the Scala automatic. The gearbox is genuinely well suited to stop-start, rush-hour driving, with easy access to the 1.5-
litre engine’s 97.6 bhp of power. Even at ambling speeds, you won’t have much reason to complain, with the gearbox keeping the engine in the 1,000-1,500rpm band for maximum efficiency. Press on the accelerator and the Scala rewards you with a nice and linear build of speed. However, this is accompanied by a corresponding increase in engine noise. The problem is accentuated at max throttle, where the engine sounds strained. There’s not much performance when you rev it either so, if anything, this is a car you will prefer to drive in an unhurried manner.

In reality, the Scala automatic is a car that is at its best in the low-to-medium-speed confines of city driving. Apart from the engine and gearbox characteristics, the Scala’s light and city-friendly steering only helps with this impression. On all other counts, the Scala is identical to the manual gearbox-equipped version.

The styling is quite attractive and, on the whole, it looks far more striking than the Nissan Sunny on which it is based. Remember, Nissan and Renault are alliance partners. Apart from the restyled front-end, the chrome highlights at the front, on the window sills and on the boot lid also help give the Scala a more upmarket image. A spacious and well-styled cabin adds to the Scala’s appeal. If there is a complaint, it would be that the seats are a tad too low, and this affects thigh support.

Renault will launch the Scala automatic in two trims. Our fully-loaded RxZ version came with leather seats and an engine on/off button, though the RxL will be fairly well equipped too, with power windows, steering-mounted audio controls and an Aux-ready audio player.

The Scala automatic is likely to cost in the region of 8.70 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the top-end RxZ version. For the money, you get a comfortable and stress-free urban commuter that should also score for efficiency. Now isn’t that a nice combination?

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