The Kwid is unstable at speed, but is well equipped at the price.
The Kwid is unstable at speed, but is well equipped at the price.

By: Jesse Adams

Durban - Renault South Africa has introduced a new entry-level model near the very bottom of the budget hatch barrel. The new Kwid is available in two trim levels, which represent the sixth and tenth cheapest of all cars sold in our market, and are only outdone in price by a handful of Chery, Datsun, Tata and FAW variants.

Safety concerns

Of the ten lowest priced cars, only three (both FAW V2s and a Chery QQ3) come with dual airbags and ABS brakes. Both Renault Kwids are fitted with one airbag for the driver, but neither are specced with ABS.

While its price point and well-stocked standard features list may be a tasty proposition for some, safety is a concern for the new Kwid, which scored only one out of five stars in Global Ncap crash tests. In fairness, the version crash-tested was slightly different to ours, and was only fitted with an inertia reel seatbelt for the driver. In our market all seats get retractable belts.

At the Durban-based media launch last week Renault South Africa said it hoped to introduce a Kwid derivative with more safety features in the future, but for now we’re stuck with substandard levels of occupant protection.

Nicely presented

Safety issues aside, the Kwid presents a strong case for itself. Next to its aforementioned rivals it’s by far the better presented car with sturdy-looking exterior styling, a neatly laid out interior and a healthy features list. Renault says the generous 180mm ground clearance and long suspension travel is SUV-inspired, even if we know this beefy setup is common to cars originating from India where a deteriorating road network makes ours look decidedly first world.

The Kwid’s cabin still leans heavily toward the budget end of the quality spectrum with scratchy plastics and bargain bin materials, but Renault’s done a good job of styling it all with a more upmarket feel. A full colour touchscreen (in the top Dynamique only) and a digital instrument cluster, as basic as it is, go a long way to elevate perceived hi-techness, and smartly upholstered seats can put some of its shoddier rivals to shame. Just don’t go poking around in the 300 litre boot, where exposed metal surfaces and cheap carpeting let the rest of the place down.

Standard fare in the entry-level Expression model includes niceties like air conditioning, front power windows and a simple stereo system with Bluetooth, auxiliary and USB inputs - the latter an unusual inclusion at this end of the segment. The fancier Dynamique version adds fog lights, a two-tone dash, and a 7-inch touchscreen complete with Apple device support (music search functions and album art) and navigation, a feature that sometimes comes as an option in cars five times the price.

Feels unstable at speed

I drove the top Dynamique at launch, and while I hate to harp on about safety levels, I can’t ignore the fact that the Kwid felt very unstable, especially at high speed. There’s an alarming vagueness in the electronically assisted power steering which required constant attention to keep it straight in a lane, and the 155/80/13 non-name tyres were frighteningly narrow, compounding the 3.6 metre-long car’s tendency to wander.

The Kwid’s suspension is very soft, so at slow speeds it’s remarkably smooth over bumpy surfaces, but it too made for uneasy handling at speed. Our launch test route included a long highway section, where gusty coastal winds sent the hatch into uncomfortable swerves and veers. Even the wind pressure from overtakes of large SUVs required steering correction.

Power in both models comes from a 999cc three-cylinder petrol engine with 50kW and 91Nm, driving front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. At sea level these seemingly low outputs were fine for getting the 700kg Kwid up to speed, but on the open road it’s difficult to keep up with 120km/h traffic, especially on uphills. In Joburg’s thin air we suspect it might be quite underpowered.

The Kwid shares its basic platform and suspension with the Datsun Redi-Go - a new and improved version of the existing Go - which is expected to launch in South Africa sometime next year.

PRICES

1.0 Expression - R119 900

1.0 Dynamique - R129 900

All Renault models come with five-year / 150 000km warranties. For a limited time new Kwids will be sold with one year comprehensive insurance underwritten by Zurich.