Ever since Toyota launched the Qualis 15 years ago, there has been no looking back for MPVs in India. Multi-purpose vehicles—or multi-utility vehicles as they are sometimes called—are practical machines. MPVs have space for seven passengers, are generally powered by torquey diesel engines, have a sturdy body and ride well even on bad roads. The buyers are either large families or taxicab operators. Since the Qualis, the popular MPVs that have been launched in India include the GM Tavera, Mahindra Xylo, Nissan Evalia and, of course, the hugely popular Toyota Innova. Within the segment, some car companies came out with smaller MPVs—Maruti Ertiga and Honda Mobilio—targeted at small, nuclear families.
The Innova, especially, has been a solid performer in the segment—family users swear by the comfort it offers and taxicab operators value it for its economical running cost—hence the MPV to beat. That’s one of the reasons the Innova never saw direct competition. It soon, however, will, when Renault launches the Lodgy.
Beauty is in eye of the beholder. We drove the Lodgy on the roads of Bangalore and barely, if ever, it drew second glances from ‘beholders’. Renault has to agree that the Lodgy doesn’t have enough visual appeal—that it looks a bit too utilitarian. The Lodgy may not be a looker, but it gets some embellishments—that chrome on the grille, those stylish headlamps, nice-looking foglamps, chrome inserts on the doors and soft creases give it a neighbourly appearance. However, look at it from the rear three-quarters and you have to try hard understanding the arrangement—the tail-lamps have an odd design and the appearance too boxy. The Lodgy drives on smallish 15-inch wheels, which imbalance the design further. Although the Lodgy may not have enough visual appeal, it has ample road presence, especially when looked at from the sides.
The boxy design is there for a reason—it maximises cabin space, and that’s what MPVs are supposed to do. Once inside the cabin, the familiar bits from the Duster greet you. Parts such as AC vents, gear lever, steering wheel, window switches and most buttons are direct lifts from the Duster, which is good thing because it makes the Lodgy cabin look upmarket. The dashboard is designed in such a way that the visibility from the driver’s seat is very good. The front and second row seats are very supportive, there are ample cubbyholes and each row gets a charging socket. A useful touch is that the second row gets foldable tray tables that come equipped with a cupholder. The third row also has decent legroom, unlike in most MPVs. All three rows get roof-mounted air-conditioning system which, the company says, has been specially developed for Indian conditions. To test the claim, we parked the Lodgy in the sun for 20 minutes, got back, switched on the AC, and were happy to note that the AC cooled the large cabin within minutes. Another good thing about the Lodgy is that its floor height is lower than that of many other MPVs, which means that entering and exiting it is relatively easy. The top-end version we drove has satellite navigation, as well as rear-view camera and rear parking sensor—very practical features for a vehicle as large as this. The Lodgy has a wheelbase of 2810 mm, which is the longest in its class and longer than even the Innova, and this ensures fantastic cabin space.
Under the hood
The Lodgy gets exactly the same engine that powers the Duster (the 1461cc diesel) in both versions—the 85 PS and the more powerful 110 PS (with a six-speed gearbox). While the 85 PS version generates a torque of 200 Nm, the 110 PS generates 245 Nm. The company-claimed fuel-efficiency of the 85 PS version is 21.04 kmpl, and that of the 110 PS version is 19.98 kmpl.
On the road
We drove the Lodgy powered by the 110 PS engine and the first thing we noticed was its refinement, which was apparent as soon as we fired it. The NVH levels are contained and there is very little diesel clatter audible inside the cabin. Once on the road, with the engine having sufficiently warmed up, the diesel clatter reduces further. Yes, there is that typical turbo lag this engine is known for, but a torque of 245 Nm ensures you never feel out of power—we have reasons to believe that at least the Lodgy powered by the 110 PS engine can comfortably pull the weight of seven adults and some luggage. Further, this engine easily takes the Lodgy to three-figure speeds and ensures that overtaking at such speeds is also relatively easy. However, at high speeds, the steering turns too light for comfort. Because the Lodgy is an MPV, there is some amount of body roll—that condition when the weight of a car shifts to the outside of the corner as it turns—so it is not suggested taking sharp turns in this vehicle. The tall sixth gear makes highway cruising a breeze.
Will it sell?
The Lodgy, like the Duster, rides well. Its long wheelbase gives it stability and cabin space. It comfortably seats seven people, is powered by an efficient engine, has a sturdy body, looks decent; in fact, the Lodgy ticks as many boxes as the Innova does. So, will the Lodgy be able to successfully take on the Innova? The key factor, as ever, is going to be pricing, and lower pricing than the Innova. Why? Because the Innova has managed to create an aura around itself, and so it is going to be difficult for the Lodgy to attract the Innova customer. What could make things harder for the Lodgy is that the next-generation Innova will be launched this year. Renault has to find a sweet spot in the R8-12 lakh range. (The Innova costs R10-16 lakh.)
Prices are ex-showroom, Delhi