The recently launched Renault Pulse is the first of the truly mass-market Renaults in India. Following on from the successful introduction of the Fluence sedan and Koleos SUV, the Pulse will in many ways drive the Renault brand into the mindspace of the Indian car buyer. That’s a heavy weight for the Pulse’s small shoulders, but it’s a weight of expectations this made-for-India only baby Renault happily carries.
Design & Engineering
The Renault Pulse is based on the Nissan Micra, which is no secret. Look at it from any angle except head-on and the Micra lineage is clearly evident. However, full marks to Renault for giving the Pulse such a striking face. It’s a characterful design with many elements, yet it still manages to look just right, without appearing overdone. French car designs have always inspired comment, and have variously been called quirky, eccentric, chic or to some, simply over the top. The Pulse is all that and more! There’s a lot going on with the Pulse’s snout, with a grille which seems to be in three distinct parts. The pressed-in Renault lozenge is based on a matte black honeycomb grille, itself underline with chrome piping. This element then mates with the lower half of the front bumper, with vertical slats and chrome-ringed fog lamps at the lower corners. The headlamps, though an obvious iteration of the Micra’s, are a mix of rounded and angular lines.
Run your eyes over the Pulse and from the A-pillar you realise it’s pretty much identical to the Micra, including the indented roof (which contributes to structural rigidity). The tail lamps too are based on the Micra’s, with the contrasting lens elements being the main difference. Renault’s Mumbai-based design team have also made an effort at re-jigging the lower half of the rear bumper, which helps to alleviate the design somewhat.
Under the skin, the Pulse is all Micra, with the same suspension architecture, comprising of McPherson strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear. Renault’s own excellent and versatile 1.5-litre K9 dCi engine does duty under the bonnet, pumping 64 PS of power and 160 Nm of torque. This is more than enough grunt for the lightweight body.
Interiors & Comfort
Clockwise, from left: Comfy interiors, with decent leg and headroom given the small footprint. Dashboard is identical to Micra, except for Renault logo on steering wheel. Boot space is good, but rear seat does not fold flat.
On the inside, the Pulse is identical to the Nissan Micra, save for the fact that it has the Renault diamond logo in the centre of the steering wheel. This is where Renault could have and should have exerted some influence to distinguish the two cars. Differently coloured upholstery and plastics would have been a great place to start; I didn’t like the ‘greige’ interiors of the Micra, and I still don’t like the colour here either. Where’s the French flair when you need it? Gripes about the colour aside, you can’t fault the quality of plastics and level of fit and finish, which remains exceedingly good for this class of car, maybe not in the same league as Volkswagen, but better than Maruti Suzuki.
The Pulse’s seats, like the Micra, provide curious support and cushioning; while the front seat backs hold your shoulders well and are quite supportive in the lumbar region, the same cannot be said about the seat squab. Lateral support is minimal while cornering, and the flat seats will have you slide forward under hard braking.
Clockwise, from top left: Slim glovebox not very useful. Mirror adjustment switches awkwardly placed near driver's right knee and fiddly to operate. Engine start/stop button and smart key access on RxZ variant.
Things are slightly better at the rear, but you can sense that Renault (and Nissan) has tried to save weight and improve interior space by using lighter, thinner seats. Fair enough, for the airy interiors are quite impressive for a small car to be honest.
Boot space is good too, with the Pulse easily taking two large and one small suitcases. At 251 litres, the boot space matches the best in this segment.
Ride quality is impressive in the Pulse, with good damping and well controlled vertical movements over broken and rippled tarmac. If anything, it’s the light build which makes thuds and thumps heard, but not felt inside the cabin.
Performance & Handling
So what’s the Pulse like to drive? It’s an underwhelming car no doubt, with the fixed-geometry turbo producing just enough power to maintain smart progress. The good thing is that the power is delivered linearly, with minimal turbo lag, which makes the Pulse very easy to drive around in city traffic. The good all-round visibility helps too, as does the light steering action. Clutch take-up and progression is good too, and these attributes together combine to make the Pulse a very nice city car. The gear ratios are well-matched to the Pulse’s power output, although fifth is a little too tall to be of use in the city.
On open roads, the Pulse’s strong torque means that it motors very comfortably at 100 km/h with four passengers on board and the AC running. Overtaking is competent, but you do wish response was a little more urgent, especially since there are other diesel hatchbacks in the market which respond better at part-to-full throttle transitions.
If there’s one aspect to the Pulse I did not particularly like, it is the brakes, which tended to feel wooden and a little devoid of feel overall. Perhaps it’s the tuning of the ABS system, but the translation of braking pressure to stopping power doesn’t feel linear or direct, requiring you to rely more on a visual approach to your braking. Definitely scope for improvement here…
The Pulse manages 23.08 kpl in the ARAI-ratified driving cycle, which is identical to the Micra. Of course, this figure cannot be representative of the real-world economy that the Pulse delivers, which in city traffic averages about 14.5 kpl, with the AC on. An unusually warm spell with the mercury hovering in the mid-thirties meant the AC was running at all times, so this figure doesn’t break a sweat for owners. Our test car was brand new as well, and as we know, fuel economy usually improves once an engine has been run-in, especially after the first service and oil change. The easy nature of the engine and the well-matched ratios mean the Pulse manages to be both drivable and fuel efficient.
Safety is important, and the Pulse comes with ABS and a driver’s side airbag as standard, on both the RxL and RxZ variants. A passenger airbag is a Rs 13,000 option on both variants. Since the Pulse is based on the Micra, which is a global car, one can expect it to match similar levels of crash worthiness.
To judge the Renault Pulse, one needs to look beyond its antecedents, namely the fact that it is based on the Micra. This is the car which will lay the foundation of Renault’s fortunes in India. Renault India boss Marc Nassif put it succinctly when he admitted tongue-in-cheek that the Pulse is a ‘Micra with masala’! The bold styling will find favour with buyers, as it surely did during our day with the car. However, the same-same interiors may be a put-off for some.
Renault is banking on the diesel-only approach for the time being, with the Pulse petrol ‘ready’ according to Nassif, pending a final production go-ahead post-budget. Renault is also keen to offer best-in-class warranties, and its service network is expanding too. The Pulse is priced identically to the Micra, so it will be interesting to see which car finds more favour among buyers. The Micra has not been the runaway hit that Nissan had hoped for, and if anything, the Pulse could utilise its bolder styling to capitalise on the investment already made. That’s the power of collaboration for you, which Renault is seeking to leverage in its favour.
The Renault Pulse RxZ variant as tested retails for Rs 7 lakh, on-the-road. The pricing puts it above the Ford Figo, which is the value champion in this segment, but the Pulse RxZ is a good Rs 35,000 cheaper than the Swift ZDi, which makes it better value. There’s no reason why, judged purely on merit, that the Renault Pulse cannot be the sales success it deserves to be.
Ford Figo, Maruti Swift, Nissan Micra, Skoda Fabia, VW Polo, Hyundai i20