ROAD TEST: Renault Sandero Dynamique & Stepway
Johannesburg - If you've ever bought a new car at the more affordable end of the market, you'll surely be familiar with the word 'compromise'.
Just take a look at today's sub-R150 000 cars and it always seems to be a case of gaining something here but losing something there.
What about a Figo or Polo Vivo? Solid and practical, yes, but really feeling long-in-the-tooth now. Chinese cars? Not there yet. Kia Picanto? Sure, it looks funky and the quality is there but it's really just too small, just like the less spunky Honda Brio. What about the Toyota Etios, that's not old or small? True, and it's quite peppy, but it lacks refinement and looks and feels cheaper than its rivals. The new Hyundai Grand i10 seems promising though - if just a touch too small.
The reason for this long tangent is that when trying out the new Renault Sandero recently, I really had to look hard to find the compromises.
MOVING UP IN THE WORLD
Its predecessor felt rough around the edges in places and although the new one is also a product that Renault co-developed with its budget brand Dacia, it is a vastly improved car.
You might see the ghost of Clio 3 in its side profile but the new Sandero shares its 2589mm wheelbase, 0.9-litre turbo engine and many other bits and pieces with the latest Clio 4. It's nowhere near as funky in the looks department, but just consider that spec-for-spec it's over R40 000 cheaper and you might find that you can live with the Sandero's relative blandness. In fact, 'neat' better describes the Sandero's appearance and the same applies inside.
QUALITY FEEL INSIDE
There are no low-rent vibes in this cabin - it looks modern, even borderline sporty at a push, and the textures exude a feeling of quality. As mentioned, this car is of a proper B-segment size, even though it brushes shoulders with some small city cars on the price ladder, so inside you'll find as much space as you'd expect in a Clio or Polo. The only gripes come in the shape of electric window switches positioned on the lower-middle dash (and lacking a one-touch function) and the lack of a release button on the boot - you need to use the key or step into the cabin for a lever.
On the upside, you will find unexpected features such as ESP stability control and hill hold as standard issue across the Sandero range, in addition to a modern MP3/CD/USB sound system linked to steering-wheel controls, Bluetooth connectivity, remote central locking and front electric windows. The plusher Dynamique featured here also has cruise control, electric mirrors and 15" alloys.
Yet perhaps the Sandero's biggest bragging point is its 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. It might be too soon to vouch for its long-term durability, yet it promises strong performance and decent economy.
Renault quotes outputs of 66kW and 135Nm, which is already on the very generous side of what this segment usually offers, and then we need to add in the breathing advantages its turbocharger brings to those of us living at altitude.
Yet in the real world it is a bit of a mixed bag.
Get embroiled in the usual urban traffic and the Sandero will immediately aggravate you with its cramped footwell that leaves you with no space next to the clutch, and then there's the turbo lag, which is somewhat worse than on most cars I've driven in recent years. Sure, you eventually develop and clutch and pedal techniques to suit, but it'll never have that effortless feel of a larger normally aspirated motor.
Not to worry, because once this little turbo spins its way to a happy place, it'll leave its rivals gasping for breath. Exploit the urge that's on offer and the Sandero really does feel a lot quicker than an entry-level hatch should.
It even cruises rather well on the open road, ticking over at a pleasant 3000rpm at 120km/h, and overtaking ability is decent for this kind of car. Show it a big enough hill though and you'll still have to work hard to keep it in the fast lane.
Renault claims a combined consumption figure of 5.2 litres per 100km but out of the lab and in the real world, my test cars averaged around 7.5 litres per 100km in traffic and 6.4 on the open road.
The Sandero has a refined feel on the road and it's unlikely you'll complain about ride quality, although it doesn't absorb the bumps quite as smoothly as Indian-built rivals such as the Ford Figo and Toyota Etios. The Sandero has a slightly firmer set-up typical of cars built for the European market, but it's certainly comfortable enough on everyday surfaces.
If your driving agenda includes rougher roads, then look no further than the Sandero Stepway, which also formed part of my Sandero testing agenda.
It's a wannabe SUV from the same page as the VW Cross Polo and Polo Vivo Maxx, and it sits 29mm higher than the regular Sandero. That's not really going to get you any further than a rutted dirt road, but at least you can cover the Stepway in some designer mud and tell your friends about your overland expeditions and Bear Gryll-style adventures. Not that they're going to believe you, but at least you'll all have a good laugh.
On normal tar surfaces, there's no real noticeable difference in the way the Stepway drives. Interior specification also matches the Dynamique so all that really sets the Stepway apart is its ride height, roof rails and other external 'beef me up' design touches.
WHEELS OF DECEPTION
The Stepway also has a wheel design cleverly formulated to cause arguments. As I approached my test car, one of my colleagues was taking a photo of one of the Stepway's 16-inch wheels. He was sending it to our other co-worker to prove that it had alloys and not steel wheels, as the other had argued.
Closer inspection revealed that it does actually have steel wheels, but cut in such a way that you can't see them through the hubcaps, which have been styled to look like alloys. Now that's a really simple, yet clever, way of creating style on a budget and it really epitomises what Renault has achieved with the Sandero and Stepway.
The new Renault Sandero is not without fault, yet when you weigh up the pros and cons, it makes a more compelling case for itself than its rivals.
The Sandero Dynamique sets you back R141 500 and the Stepway R159 900. While the latter still offers good value in its own right, it's not necessarily worth the price premium over the regular Sanderos unless you really can't live without the slightly higher elevation and ‘macho’ body cladding.
In fact, if you're really pinching your pennies the Sandero Expression will do just fine at R133 900 once you've ticked the aircon option.
Renault Sandero 66kW turbo Dynamique & Stepway
Engine: 0.9-litre, three-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: Five-speed manual
Power: 66kW @ 5250rpm
Torque: 135Nm @ 2500rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 11.1 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 175km/h
Consumption (claimed): 5.2 litres per 100km
Price: R141 500 (Dynamique); R159 900 (Stepway)
Warranty: Five-year/150 000km
Service plan: Two-year/30 000km
Ford Figo 1.4 Ambiente (62kW/127Nm) - R135 900
Hyundai Grand i10 1.25 (64kW/120Nm) - R139 900
Kia Picanto 1.2 EX (65kW/120Nm) - R137 995
Nissan Micra 1.2 Visia+ (56kW/104Nm) - R139 700
Toyota Etios 1.5 XS (66kW/132Nm) - R135 400
VW Polo Vivo 1.4 (55kW/132Nm) - R135 500
VW Polo Vivo Maxx 1.6 (77kW/155Nm) - R175 300