Johannesburg - Clutch in, clutch out. Clutch in, clutch out. Tired yet? Let’s face it. Manual gearboxes - fun as they are in the right kind of car on the right kind of road - are a pain in the everyday grind of the big city commute.

Though it’s not hard to see why autoboxes are gaining in popularity at higher ends of the market, the entry-level market is still very much a manual affair and that’s likely down to a lack of options more than anything else.

Now Renault has swooped in to save the day - and calf muscles of new car buyers on a tight budget - by introducing SA’s cheapest auto-gearbox car, or more specifically the Kwid 1.0 Dynamique AMT, at R147 900.

The little Renault undercuts its nearest rivals, the Suzuki Celerio 1.0 GL auto and Kia Picanto 1.2 Start auto by around R20 000.

As the AMT part of its name implies, this Kwid doesn’t have a traditional torque converter automatic gearbox, but rather an automated manual gearbox, which is good for overall efficiency as well as saving on weight and cost. It’s basically a five-speed manual gearbox with actuators and software programmed to change gears automatically.

What we couldn’t become accustomed to in our week with the Kwid AMT was how clumsily the system operates - which is typical of automated manuals, and the very reason why many carmakers fit dual-clutch automated gearboxes like VW’s DSG and Renault’s own EDC. That would be too expensive an option for this end of the market however, so we understand why Renault went the AMT route, but we also have to let you know what the drawbacks are.

Needless to say, you can forget about instantaneous gear changes as the AMT literally needs a few seconds to do its thing, annoyingly lurching you and your occupants in the process. Try to accelerate quickly on a fast-paced avenue and you’ll look and feel like a learner driver.

You can mitigate it slightly by lifting off the accelerator when it’s changing gear, but this can be a tricky thing to get right as the gear-changing points are not entirely predictable, although you might eventually get in sync with it over time. Lifting off the throttle can also confuse the ECU, leading it to hold the current gear for longer as it thinks you want to cruise.

Oh, and there’s no creep function, so you’ll sometimes need to use the handbrake for pulling off on steeper gradients.

Find a used Renault Kwid on Drive360

As with the conventional manual Kwids, power comes from a 1-litre, three-cylinder normally aspirated petrol engine that produces 50kW and 91Nm. There is enough power to keep pace with fast urban traffic, if you push it, and technically you can drive it on the highway, but the car feels very much out of its depth there and you’ll be relegated to the slow lane much of the time.

There are many other compromises that this car makes in the name of cheapness, safety being the biggest alarm sounding in our heads. The Kwid managed just one star in Global NCAP’s crash tests and while a driver’s airbag is fitted, there is no passenger bag or ABS, although Renault SA is hoping to source cars with the latter feature from next year.

The Kwid’s cost cutting shines through virtually every aspect. The car feels tinny and it’s fairly noisy by modern standards, while the seats are poorly padded and can get uncomfortable after half an hour. There’s exposed metal in the boot and the parcel shelf has no string attachments to hold it up when you’re loading things (which can make the process really frustrating). We could go on and on, but the gist of it that this car feels really cheap, cheaper than it is in fact.

There is an exception to this in that the interior build quality and material selection is - for the most part - actually quite good for a budget car and in Dynamique trim (which is your only choice with the AMT), the car is really well stocked. It even comes with an 18cm touchscreen infotainment system with satnav and Bluetooth, along with air conditioning, front electric windows and remote central locking. It’s also sold with a year’s free insurance and a five-year/150 000km mechanical warranty.

Cabin space is reasonable for the segment. There’s a decent 300-litre boot, while rear leg and headroom is tolerable for a medium adult or teen, but you don’t want to go three-up as the car is quite narrow.

Another thing we like about the Kwid is its exterior styling, with its chunky crossover shape, chiselled headlights and grille and cute Clio-like tail lamps. There’s certainly something endearing about it, as if it’s trying to be a modern Renault 5.

VERDICT

Sadly, when the pros and cons are weighed, the Kwid is simply too rudimentary to recommend. Though you could make a pricing case for the AMT, it’s compromised to the point where you might as well go for a manual, in which case you can get a vastly superior Kia Picanto for similar money if you forgo a few features. And if you insist on two pedals, best to go used.

FACTS

Renault Kwid 1.0 Dynamique auto

Engine: 1-litre, 3-cyl, petrol
Gearbox: 5-speed automated manual
Power: 50kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 91Nm @ 4250rpm
Top speed (claimed):152km/h
Price: R147 900
Warranty: 5-year/150 000km
Service plan: None

ALTERNATIVES

Hyundai Grand i10 1.0 Motion auto 48kW/94NmR174 900
Kia Picanto 1.2 Start auto 61kW/122NmR168 495
Suzuki Celerio 1.0 GL auto50kW/90NmR168 900

IOL Motoring