The French never follow nor do they lead, they just do their own thing accompanied by a nonchalant shrug.
This independent approach permeates everything they do, food, football, fashion, cars,etc. Their approach is always different and at times difficult to comprehend and work it out, it isn’t as competitive but the French always push their boundaries.
As a result, fleshing out a niche is something they do best. Duster, Kwid, Triber and now Kiger, all of these variants of Renault have succeeded in India because they’ve offered something different. Come to think, so did Peugeot’s high riding 309 sedan, back in the day. Sold with some success in India in the 90s, this engineered-for-Africa car was nothing less than a sedan with an SUV suspension. It had an insatiable appetite for bad roads and also the fact that it is capable of superior handling as well.
Another thing the French are great at is the black art of fine tuning. Not something you can see with the naked eye, getting that last five percent right is something they do just superbly – be it wine, cuisine, or even tyres, you must have heard of Michelin. There’s a reason they’re right up there.
I distinctly remember chatting with the engineering legend Gérard Detourbet of Renault during the launch of the Kwid. Talking about the Duster’s Diesel engine, and how despite not having most valves, the highest injection pressure or the best specified turbo, it still seemed to be the one that delivered the most easily accessible and strongest hit of torque. “Values are fine,” he explained. “But more important is the flow. It’s all about using fluid dynamics to get the air surging through the valves in the fastest and cleanest manner.” and driving Renault’s 1.0 litre turbo engine is the same story; the specs aren’t all that impressive, but the overall setup and tune is so good, it feels very peppy. Everything just seems to take place at the right time. It was Renault who pioneered turbocharging, after all.
New French player Citroën hasn’t made much of a dent in the market, but what it has done is clearly demonstrate its French accent. The extremely focused and very different C5 is overtly comfortable. With a supple ride friendly suspension, it’s more of a Comfort Utility Vehicle than Sports Utility Vehicle. Even the diesel engine under the hood, sourced from Jeep, runs smoother and is less gruff.
Citroen’s C3, up next, is an SUV or crossover that seems laden with individual character as well. It has loads and loads of SUV cues, plenty of typically French flair and promises to deliver yet another motoring experience loaded with character, and thank God for that, with cars getting more homogenised, neutralised, pasteurised and sterilised, it’s great that some carmakers can still be competitive on one hand, and deliver cars brimming with identity and character on the other.