Nice flowing corners with the tacho mostly hovering around the red line, I’m shifting the slick gear box like nobody’s business. I love to drive and I simply cannot fathom how driving can be fun without having to abuse that gear lever. End of the highway meant, fun time was over and the bustling city reigning you in. Just ten minutes into the city and I’m already crawling at 10 km/h with then singing tacho now snoring at near idle revs. 45 min into my congested conundrums and I still haven’t gone anywhere. The slick shifting gear box that I thought I couldn’t live without is the very bane of my problems right now. The only thought in my head right now is how I could get rid of that clutch pedal which is killing my left foot. This is where the prominence of an automatic comes into the picture.
While lovely roads and sweet shifting gearboxes do paint a rosy picture, this traffic jam is pretty much everyone’s reality. With more cars piling on and the space remaining the same, it’s only going to get worse. While cars with automatic transmissions cannot be the solution to this problem, what they can provide is a lot of relief in this situation. Consumers have realized this and as a result India has been seeing an increase in demand for automatic sedans in recent years. However, despite the growing interest for these cars, petrol automatic vehicles are still limited to a 6% share in the premium sedan segment because they deliver lower mileage and higher cost of ownership. Renault however seems to have a solution to this problem with the all new Scala CVT.
CVT over Torque Converters
There a various types of automatics available. The conventional automatic uses a torque converter instead of a clutch to manage the connection between the transmission gearing and the engine. In contrast, a CVT uses a belt or other torque transmission scheme to allow an infinite number of gear ratios instead of a fixed number of gear ratios. CVTs are incredibly efficient in terms of fuel mileage because they keep the engine within its most efficient operating range. A conventional automatic transmission is much less efficient because it uses a fluid coupling called a torque converter in place of a clutch to transfer power from the engine, which is always turning, to the gears.
The Scala’s X-tronic CVT however, combines innovative structure and the flexibility of a CVT transmission to get an edge. The transmission’s use of an auxiliary gearbox enables the world's highest transmission ratio, even broader than 7-speed automatic transmissions, aimed at achieving light weight, compactness, and fuel efficiency. With its flexibility, the transmission aims to avoid the shift-shock fluctuations in torque transmission experienced with conventional automatic transmission while also maintaining optimum torque.
So does the Scala CVT measure up?
First look at the Scala CVT, and you’ll see there is absolutely no difference between the manual or the CVT variants as far as the visuals are concerned. Even though it is pretty much the Nissan Sunny, design touches from Renault have turned it into a more handsome looker. The swept back head lamps along with that GTR-ish front gives the car much more character than the comparatively toony face of the Sunny. Only a CVT badge at the rear separates the CVT variant from the manual. And it’s the same on the insides too, till you place your hand on the gear lever. Under the hood lies the 1.5 litre XH2 petrol unit which also does duty in the Nissan Sunny. The horsepower and the torque figures remain identical to the manual Scala at 99 PS and 134 Nm respectively.
The X-tronic transmission as it is called has been used before as well. The Nissan Teana if you remember featured the very same gear box and this one comes from the Nissan bin as well. There is no tiptronic option or paddles, just the regular shifter with the P, R, N, D and L (for selecting a low ratio). Slotting the shifter into D, the Scala feels pretty brisk off the mark. As one builds speed gradually, what is immediately noticeable is the absolute lack of shift-shocks. Transition to higher gears is absolutely linear and very smooth.
Floor the throttle however, and rev counter swings right into powerband. Thanks to the rubber band effect of the CVT transmission, the rev counter swinging north does not really translate into an immediate response. It feels a little odd in the beginning almost like the clutch is slipping, but then you get used to this particular characteristic of the transmission. While acceleration is not in the same league as its manual variant, it’s no slouch either. With four people on board and the twisty climbs, the Scala was pretty much up to the task. The only drawback as such was the sound of the engine as it is constantly held at its power peak under acceleration - very high in the rev range - while the belt and pulley system continuously alters gear ratios. This issue is hardly noticed under part throttle where the CVT is programmed to keep the engine within a very narrow and much lower rev range where fuel mileage, rather than power is optimized.
However, it was within city limits that Scala CVTs true potential came to the fore. The busiest of streets poses no problems as the Scala scythes through traffic like a hot knife through butter. Smooth, linear responses mean, you don’t really have to floor the throttle and then wait till the power comes on, only to find that you are almost into the bumper of the car in front by the time the power did come on. We dint really get an opportunity to check the L-ow ratio option, however I'm sure its one option that will very rarely be needed.
All and all, the Scala definitely had us impressed. It's exceptionally spacious, looks good and now comes with an automatic transmission as well going straight up against the Honda City, Hyundai Verna and the likes which are equipped with the regular torque converter transmission. How it sums up against its relatively well established competition remains to be seen. Expect the car to be launched soon and we are hoping Renault gets the pricing right. Keep watching this space for more.
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