Renault has never quite managed to crack the GCC market. Although it’s enjoyed some sales success with the cheap, utilitarian Duster – and more recently with the newly launched Captur – the French marque remains a niche player in the UAE.
Some of the problems have stemmed from Renault’s record for dubious reliability, and also from the fact that very few buyers in this region understand what the brand stands for. Of course, the case is slightly different in Francophile countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and Algeria, but elsewhere in the Middle East it’s seen as a purveyor of quirky cars with poor resale values.
But here’s a welcome sign that better prospects may be in store for Renault. I’ve just arrived at Florence airport, and lined up in neat rows in the parking lot is a fleet of sedans that look almost Audi-esque – in fact, even better – in terms of their proportions and design details.
Are these really Renaults? They sure don’t look like anything I’ve been accustomed to seeing from the company. But, sure enough, there’s the familiar diamond logo on the handsome snout and elegantly sculpted rump.
The other attribute that seems at odds with Renaults, as we know them, is the sheer size of its 2016 Talisman model. Spanning 4.85 metres from bumper to bumper and 1.87m across the bows, it is virtually the same dimensions as a BMW 5 Series, which occupies an altogether more premium market segment.
The Talisman’s entry point when it launches here in the second quarter of 2016 is likely to be below the Dh100,000 mark, which means it will compete with the likes of the Volkswagen Passat, Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. It will be offered here in three trim levels, but exact pricing and specs will only be known closer to the launch date.
If the sales contest were down to looks alone, there’s no doubt which car buyers would be making a beeline for. The Talisman is beautiful. It’s not often I’d say that about a bread-and-butter four-door saloon, but in this case it’s true. And it certainly isn’t the case with the frumpy Korean-built Safrane that Renault has been peddling here for the past six years.
With a sleek fastback roofline and well-executed melange of curves and sharp edges, the Talisman manages to look more expensive than it is. It’s a neat trick, and it’s one that Kia chief stylist Peter Schreyer has cleverly pulled off with the cars whose design he’s presided over.
Kia’s sales have skyrocketed since Schreyer came on board, and Renault will be hoping its new wave of products – penned by Laurens van den Acker – will do likewise. The new Clio Mk4 and Captur were the first signs of his influence, but the Talisman is undoubtedly the Dutch style-meister’s finest work to date.
However, the real good news is that the Talisman isn’t just a show pony. Lurking under the bonnet is a 1.6-litre turbo engine, which might seem a bit inadequate for a car of this size, until you take in the fact that it pumps out 200hp and 260Nm – comfortably eclipsing the outputs of the 2.5-litre Camry, Accord, Sonata et al. Drive is sent to the front wheels by a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which is also a novelty in a segment where five- and six-speed autos are the norm.
Take a seat behind the wheel, and you’ll find the cabin has more flair and a greater sense of quality than its Japanese and Korean rivals. Once again, the feeling that comes across is that the Talisman is pricier than it actually is. There’s loads of head- and legroom, even in the rear, and the 608-litre boot is positively cavernous.
Once on road, first impressions are that something bigger than a 1.6-litre power plant is providing the propulsion. The fact that the peak torque figure of 260Nm is on tap from just 2000rpm means there’s enough overtaking urge without needing to get the engine buzzing near its redline. Renault claims that the Talisman accelerates to 100kph in 7.6 seconds and maxes out at 237kph – respectable numbers for a spacious and eminently affordable family saloon.
What’s more, the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is smooth and quick-shifting, and the chassis dynamics are pretty tidy. The Talisman is offered with a “Multi-Sense” system that enables you to choose from Sport, Neutral, Comfort, Eco and Perso settings, and, subsequently, the responses of the electronic dampers, steering, engine and EDC transmission are tweaked accordingly.
It doesn’t end there as, depending on which mode you select, the engine sound, cabin lighting and colour of the instrumentation are altered to suit the mood.
The Talisman’s list of available goodies includes heated and ventilated seats, adaptive cruise control, head-up display, lane-departure warning and blind-spot assist. Also on offer is an 11-centimetre screen that controls, among other things, the Bose surround- sound system with 13 speakers (two of which are subwoofers).
All in all, the Talisman stacks up as a genuinely stylish and capable family sedan. Sadly, the only thing that might hold it back in our region is the Renault badge it wears.
Price, base / as tested: Dh95,000 (estimate)
Engine: 1.6L, turbo 4cyl
Gearbox: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
Power: 200hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque: 260Nm @ 2,000rpm
Fuel economy, combined: 5.6L / 100km