Johannesburg - Her name was Betsy and she was an early taste of freedom.
Others might have seen a tatty old Renault 5, salvaged by an industrious mate of mine en route to the scrap yard. Yet to my group of high school friends she meant mobility, not to mention crazy laughter every time one of her doors flew open without warning around a corner, sending an unsuspecting victim hurtling into the bush. One thing’s for sure, Betsy had bags of character, even with her flaky two-tone paint job and mom’s-material-cabinet reupholstering effort. And we all learned the value of seat belts too.
These memories came flooding back recently when I spent a week with the new Renault Kwid, and I’m afraid that’s not just down to the cheeky design and upright dashboard. In many ways this newcomer feels like it’s from a bygone era.
That’s strange considering that these days Renault churns out a tasty assortment of chic, sophisticated cars that really hold their own against modern European rivals, but you’ll probably never see a Kwid parading down the Champs-Élysées as it’s not even sold in its home country.
Built in India, the Kwid is an attempt to build a cheap but trendy crossover hatch for so-called developing nations. The little tyke sells for R119 900 in entry guise and commands R129 900 if it’s a Dynamique like our test car. That might not seem all that cheap, but consider that today even a humble Polo Vivo base model sets you back R170 300.
The Kwid in fact finds itself in Datsun Go pricing territory, but it’s actually a bit better at keeping up appearances. For starters its SUV-like exterior design is quite handsome and its raised ground clearance gives it some of that trendy pavement-hopping cred that’s so sought after these days.
It’s also rather nicely finished inside. Sure, the plastics are hard to the touch (understandably at this price point) but most of the surfaces actually look quite decent by budget car standards and everything seems durable and well put together. Thumbs up for perceived quality then, and same goes for equipment levels. Aircon, electric windows and remote central locking are standard on both models, and the Dynamique ups the ante with a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system complete with Bluetooth connectivity and satellite navigation. Unheard of at this price point.
But look closer and the signs of cost-cutting become glaringly obvious. You can’t adjust the side mirrors from inside the car, there’s no vanity mirror on the passenger sun visor and the parcel shelf doesn’t even have strings to lift it with the tailgate – how much would that really have cost? On that note, the inside of the boot looks really cheap with its coarse carpet and exposed metal panels and the tailgate feels as light and tinny as a Coke can, just about. There is a lot of space in there, at least 300 litres to be exact and quite a bit more than its rivals offer. Rear legroom is more tolerable than adequate, however, while things are reasonably comfortable up front, bearing in mind the car’s overall narrowness that might have larger occupants brushing elbows. There’s no height or reach adjustment for the steering wheel, although I was fairly happy with the default driving position. A bigger bugbear for me was the cramped footwell with no left footrest.
Oh, and the seats are wafer-thin, and probably wouldn’t prove very comfortable on a long-distance journey, but you’re not going to want to tackle the open road in this car in any case.
The 50kW/91Nm 1-litre three-cylinder engine struggles at highway speeds at altitude in spite of having very little weight to lug around (693kg according to Renault), and crosswinds are not very kind to this light, tall and narrow little hatch. Making it worse is the completely disconnected sensation that you get from the steering wheel while trying to correct its lane-wandering antics. I’ve experienced gaming joysticks with more realistic feedback than this steering, and it doesn’t even fully self-centre. Thankfully, the skinny 155/80 R13 13-inch tyres grip better than you’d expect. Body roll is quite apparent, however, and I’d never call this car nimble.
The Kwid’s lack of refinement is also quite evident at lower speeds. For starters, Renault doesn’t seem to have invested in much sound-deadening material or any real NVH measures for that matter. The thrummy three-cylinder engine, though admittedly quite sweet sounding, is fairly intrusive, particularly when revved hard, as you’ll need to much of the time. While the damping is soft enough to avoid discomfort, the ride is still rather crashy and you will feel every bump and ripple in the road. Nice if you’re an Elvis doll though.
Then there’s the safety aspect, or lack thereof. There’s just one airbag (for the driver) and no ABS, while the one star safety rating hardly inspires confidence in that worst-case-scenario that you’re hardy equipped to avoid in the first place.
The Kwid looks like a very good deal on paper, it’s got some character and it’s well equipped. It has a likeable vibe and we want to like it, but in the real world its shortcomings are just too numerous for us to recommend this car. Especially when similar money buys you a better engineered, albeit lesser equipped, Kia Picanto or Suzuki Celerio.
Renault Kwid 1.0 Dynamique
Engine: 1-litre, 4-cylinder petrol
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Power: 50kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 91Nm @ 4250rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): N/A
Top speed (claimed): 152km/h
Price: R129 900
Warranty: 5-year/150 000km
Service plan: None
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Kia Picanto 1.0 LS - 51kW/94Nm - R129 995
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