Johannesburg - Renault's Sandero Stepway has dug its heels firmly into the budget end of the hiking boot hatch market and the new ‘Plus’ model that you see here adds some extra flavour to the top of the line-up.

The second-generation Sandero already received a neat little facelift last year, while the rejigged range made the Stepway more accessible with the addition of an Expression derivative. Now the Plus edition is here to take over from the Dynamique as the flagship of the range.

You can tell it apart by restyled 16-inch ‘flexwheel covers’, as Renault calls them. These are actually hubcaps designed to look like alloys, and Renault even went as far as shaping the steel wheels behind them in accordance so you can’t see them through the spokes. To the naked eye they look just like mags, only they’re cheaper to produce. Very clever.

Two exclusive body colours come in the form of Dune Beige and Cosmos Blue, and the Plus is also set apart by the addition of a reverse camera. This adds to a spec sheet that’s already quite bountiful by class standards, and which includes cruise control, electric windows front and rear, a leather-clad multi-function steering wheel and a 17.8cm touchscreen with satnav and Bluetooth.

The MediaNav system is easy to use, but the graphics are a little old-school in appearance if we have to nitpick, which we suppose is forgivable in this corner of the market.

The cabin is solidly put together and the plastics are of a decent quality, albeit not in the same league as the classy new Polo Vivo. Interior space is decent too, not exceptional but doable for average sized adults or teens. Yet the big selling point here is the class-leading 292 litre boot capacity, which actually feels more spacious than that number suggests.

The other big selling point is the turbocharger beneath the bonnet. As per the Clio, all current Sandero models are motivated by Renault’s 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbopetrol, credited with 66kW and 135Nm. It offers decent performance by segment standards, but the downside is that it takes some work and gearbox stirring to keep it within its fairly narrow power band. In fact, it feels laggy below 2000rpm. Sure, there is ample torque for overtaking, and the blower certainly gives it an advantage over its normally aspirated rivals at Reef altitudes, but it’s not as effortless to cruise around town in as, say, a Toyota Etios.

Also not doing its general ease of use any favours is the cramped footwell with no footrest (because there’s literally no space for one). This forces you to move your left leg back and forth every time you need to change gears, which gets quite tiresome in traffic. For that matter, the lack of an auto gearbox option is another missed opportunity for this car.

As for economy, our test car drank 7.3 litres per 100km in the week we had it, which is reasonable considering that a great deal of that was in heavy urban traffic.

The ride quality - this being a European car - is a bit firmer than that of its Indian-built rivals, but it’s still comfortable, and the Sandero’s road holding is actually quite neat - particularly given the 180mm ground clearance, which will prove quite handy on rough dirt roads. In fact, its active safety arsenal, which includes ESP stability control, is still quite rare in this segment, and will be a selling point to those buying their kid’s first car.

VERDICT

Stylish, safe, practical and well-specced, the Sandero Stepway offers a great deal of car for its asking price of R206 900 (which by the way also includes a five-year/150 000km warranty and two-year/30 000km service plan). The downside is that it’s not quite effortless to drive in traffic, but its open road performance does make up for that to some degree. It’s certainly a great option if you do a lot of long-distance travelling, and the occasional dirt road ...

Drive360