February 7, 2008

Road test: 2006 Renault Modus.

The Renault Modus is a bit of an enigma in Renault's lineup. Introduced in 2004, it's built on a Clio platform and was mainly introduced for two reasons: 1) to give buyers a four door alternative to the at-the-time aging Twingo and 2) to give buyers a roomier alternative to the Clio. The second void has since been filled by the Clio Estate.

When it was introduced, its biggest selling point was how many storage bins it had. In that respect, it doesn't disappoint. It has storage space under the front seats, where the speedometer should be (read on), under the front floormats, etc. The glovebox is refrigerated which is a good way to keep your lunch cool. While it can fit four people more comfortably than a Twingo, it can't fit more of their gear: the trunk isn't much bigger than a Twingo's.

The build quality inside is subpar, both in the materials used (very cheap feeling plastic) and in how it's screwed together. The driver's power window goes up in increments of maybe two centimeters at a time and it only has 15,000 kilometers. The seats are uncomfortable on anything but a short drive. The backseat is okay for two adults but three is very cramped. The dashboard is huge and since you have the option of sitting up high (by moving the seat up), the visibility of the road ahead is very good. The speedometer/instrument cluster isn't behind the steering wheel, where carmakers from all over the world have put it for the better part of the 20th century, but in the middle of the dash like a Mini's. Another peculiarity is that instead of having a classic speedometer, it just has an orange LCD display that displays your speed with a number (i.e. 38.) Some drivers may find that handy or futuristic-- I find it particularly annoying.

The steering is one of the high points of this car. It's soft at low speeds which allows for easy parking and gets harder as speed increases which is nice in contrast to the over-assisted at any speed steering you find in a lot of new cars.

Firm steering doesn't make it a sports car. Far from. It's powered by a rev-happy 16-valve 1.6 liter 4-cylinder (also found in the Twingo and the Clio) and has a 5-speed manual transmission. On paper, that sounds like a promising package but it's disappointing. The car is far from fast (even for the type of car we're dealing with here) and not particularly pleasant to drive. Driving it, you're not tempted to test its limits. It's meant to be driven in a very relaxed manner. Your only reward for this is good gas mileage.

On the freeway it's iffy at best. Unlike the Fiat Brava, this is not the kind of car you would take on a long freeway trip. Even at 110km/h it doesn't feel very stable and because of its height, you're at mother nature's mercy should there be crosswinds.

To sum it up, it's an average at best car if you're planning on doing mostly city trips and if you get a new car every couple of years. I don't see it as a viable option as a long term car or if you do a lot of freeway driving. As mentioned above, it's not a comfortable car for long trips and the mediocre-at-best built quality ensures this car will be plagued with issues in ten or so years. I absolutely adore Renault and I'm a big fan of a lot of cars they've made in the past but for the most part they messed this one up.

Note: this is now the last generation Modus. Renault barely came out with a refreshed one which I have not yet driven. A long wheelbase variant of it is now available which should help it gain some needed trunk space.

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