Renault couldn’t have asked for a better setting. During the week of the inaugural Indian F1 Grand Prix at New Delhi, Red Bull Racing driver Mark Webber and Team Lotus-Renault’s Karun Chandhok unveiled the Renault Pulse, using the occasion to highlight Renault’s strong and successful F1 story. While it’s no secret that the Pulse is a rebadged Nissan Micra, platform sharing is not a new thing. Take the example of the Volkswagen Group. The Skoda Rapid and VW Vento, the Skoda Fabia and VW Polo and even the Skoda Superb and the VW Passat, are twins but not identical. While VW has tried to differentiate between the two cars, with the Pulse and the Micra, this effort is missing. The Nissan X-Trail and the Renault Koleos are another example of platform sharing between the Renault and Nissan alliance, but both vehicles have their own identity. Renault however isn’t too worried about customers thinking that the Micra and the Pulse are virtually identical cars because the manufacturer believes that it have done enough and has given the Pulse its own look and the Renault hatch will be marketed and positioned differently. For the moment the Pulse is available only with a diesel engine and prices start from Rs 5,87,668 to Rs 6,49,678 ex-showroom New Delhi.

2012 Renault Pulse

After its debacle with the Logan, the French brand wants to show India another side of it. One that showcases Renault’s motorsport and road-car history and Renault plans to launch five new vehicles by the end of 2012. “India is an integral part of our global growth strategy and we are gratified with the way Indian customers have accepted Renault products. The successful launching of three quality products within 8 months is a milestone for Renault not only in India but globally. Renault India is all set to take another firm step towards its commitment and pleased to announce the launch of Renault PULSE in India,” said Katsumi Nakamura, EVP Asia, Africa, Renault s.a.s at the launch of the Pulse.

Design

2012 Renault Pulse
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From the styling there is no hiding the fact that the Renault Pulse is a cleverly rebadged Nissan Micra. Renault has used its Design Centre in Mumbai to change the front end and add new tail-lamps to the Micra to develop Renault’s first small car for India. It’s a short cut for sure but it works for the Pulse. The biggest change is the large, aggressive grille which lends the Pulse a purposeful stance. The rear bumper features a blacked-out section which looks like a diffuser and the hatch has a pair of sharp creases. The front bumper is new as well with the Renault badge nailed on it and the headlights have been redesigned and look sharper. There is also an optional spoiler at the rear. If you ask us, the Pulse looks better in flesh and its styling has more going for it than the Micra.

Interiors

2012 Renault Pulse
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Interior design is exactly the same as the Micra with the oval and rounded theme carried inside. The buttons on the central console are round and so are the air con vents. The dash, instrument panel and even the steering wheel are the same as the Micra. Storage area inside the cabin is good and ergonomics and the packaging of the hatch liberates plenty of room for passengers. The front and rear passengers get good leg and head room and boot space is good as well. The quality of plastics are not the best in class but aren’t poor and the seats are supportive.
Equipment level is good and the Pulse is equipped quite well. Standard features include power steering, front and rear power windows, tilt adjustable steering, follow me home headlamps, electrically adjustable outside rearview mirrors, start-stop button, trip computer, central locking, keyless entry, air con and an integrated audio system with CD and MP3 player. Also standard is a leather wrapped steering wheel, rear defogger and wiper, driver airbag and front fog lamps. Automatic climate control is available only on the top of the line variant. Passenger air bag is optional but ABS unfortunately is not even an option.

Engine and performance

2012 Renault Pulse
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Renault is only offering a diesel engine to begin with which is the familiar Renault-Nissan 1.5-litre also used on the Logan and the Micra. The 4 cylinder, 8 valve, SOHC engine produces a meager 64PS@4000rpm and 160Nm of torque@2000rpm. On the Pulse the engine feels impressive and you get good initial response and there’s little turbo lag. Throttle responses are also good with good mid-range performance. Acceleration however isn’t anything to boast about with 100kmph taking 16.2seconds which is slightly slower than the Micra. The acceleration is also slower than the Maruti Suzuki Swift and the Hyundai i20 but is around the same as the Volkswagen Polo. On the highway though you do feel the lack of power but overall the motor does feel refined. The engine is mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox and has an ARAI claimed fuel efficiency of over 23kmpl.

Ride

Ride quality in another strength of the Pulse. The suspension soaks up the bumps and potholes without letting the vibrations creep into the cabin. The high-profile 175/60 R15 tyres contribute to its comfortable ride. Like the Nissan Micra which is a practical, family-oriented hatch, the Pulse despite its aggressive front styling has no sporty aspersions. The steering is light which makes it a boon to use in the city but there is no feedback like you get on the VW Polo and the Maruti Swift. Straight line stability is good but there is some body roll.

Competition

The Volkswagen Polo and the Skoda Fabia offer excellent build quality and the engines are refined. The Fabia however offers more interior space. The Ford Figo has a spacious cabin and the ride and handling is its strength and the engines are refined and efficient. The Hyundai i20 is well styled, engines are refined and efficient and the interior space is amongst the best in the segment. The Tata Indica Vista’s strength is its interior space. The Nissan Micra with who the Pulse shares its platform, has roomy interiors and ride quality is good as well. The Maruti Suzuki Swift has strong performing diesel and petrol engines and its styling is amongst the best in contemporary hatches around the world. Handling is sharp and the ride quality is better than before. The build quality is improved and so has the interior space but those two aren’t its strength. The Honda Jazz doesn’t have a diesel engine but other than that there is hard to find fault with it.

Verdict

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Keeping the platform sharing aside which sure does take away some of the interest from the Renault Pulse, the Pulse ticks most boxes. To begin with, it looks better than the Nissan Micra and though the cabin design is virtually the same as the Micra, interior space is one of its strengths. The French manufacturer however should have tried to make the interiors look different from the Micra. While the build quality and fit and finish may not be as good as the VW Polo or the Skoda Fabia, it is acceptable. The diesel engine which is the same as the Micra is refined and while the performance isn’t going to win you drag races, torque spread is good and the motor is fuel efficient. Ride quality is good but handling is not as sharp as the Swift or the Polo. The Pulse overall makes great sense as both a city car and for the occasional road trip and believe it or not, it does have a bit of character.

Quotes from other reviews:

Autocar India: ‘The Pulse is a very well rounded package and its striking exterior design could win hearts too. It rides and handles well, the torquey motor makes it extremely easy to drive and the spacious and practical interiors just add to the overall package. If they price it right, the Pulse may be the key to making Renault a household name in India.’

Karanbir