Motoring

Maverick Life, Motoring

Renault Kwid Dynamique AMT: Does ‘cheap’ always mean ‘nasty’?

Renault Kwid Dynamique AMT: Does ‘cheap’ always mean ‘nasty’?

At under R150k, the Renault Kwid Dynamique AMT is the cheapest auto-gearbox passenger car on the SA market. But without ABS brakes, and a dubious crash test rating, the question is whether keen pricing is the budget runabout’s only talent? By DEON SCHOEMAN.

My first car was a VW Beetle. More accurately, a wounded Beetle. I bought it from a teacher at school in my matric year, and had to tow it home, where it languished in a corner of the driveway while I tinkered with it on afternoons and weekends.

When I finally got it running, I drove it around the block a couple of times, and sold it for the princely sum of R120 – more than double the R50 I’d paid for it. Even then, it was a sickly Beetle, with shot rings and rattling bearings.

The proceeds of that sale, plus the pocket money I earned helping out a backyard mechanic, went towards another Beetle. This one was in far better condition, even if it needed occasional fettling.

And that’s my point: those old Beetles were simple, straightforward cars that were easy to fix and maintain – ideal student cars, in other words. They were equipped with points, condensers and carburettors – not fancy electronic ignition and fuel injection.

If you got stuck on the side of the road, a screwdriver and a set of pliers, plus some duct tape and a length of wire, would usually suffice to get you going again – unless, of course, you were out of fuel because of that temperamental fuel gauge …

And indeed, getting stuck was neither unusual nor particularly dangerous, all those years ago. If you couldn’t fix the car there and then, you’d leave it parked and hike home, to return with more tools (or a can of fuel) the next morning.

Things are very different today. Cars are much more complex. Yes, their electronics have made them a lot more reliable, but they’re also a lot more difficult to fix. If you break down, it’s best to call the AA, or a tow truck. And don’t even think of leaving the car on the side of the road, or walking home …

In fact, South Africans rely on their cars for personal mobility more now than ever before. The public transport infrastructure is poor, taxis are dangerous, and distances vast. So, even entry-level motoring needs to be reliable – and safe, given our ever-soaring road accident statistics.

Which brings us to the Renault Kwid – and more specifically, the Kwid Dynamique AMT. The AMT is short for Automated Manual Transmission – a manual gearbox with robotised shifting, allowing automatic gear changes.

But before we get to the technical stuff, let’s look at the Kwid from an affordability perspective. It is the most affordable automatic car on the SA market. And it’s one of only a handful of passenger cars costing less than R150,000.

That in itself is a scary statistic: can a vehicle priced at R147k really be deemed affordable, even cheap? And what do you actually get for that kind of money?

The Kwid is a small, quirky hatchback that looks a little top-heavy, thanks to a tallish stance (at least by normal hatchback standards) and a raised roofline. Large wheel arches dwarf the small wheels, adding to the raised-body illusion.

Surprisingly for a budget offering, the Kwid gets front fog lamps, but the rest of the execution is pretty much no-nonsense, with black plastic for the wheel arch surrounds, and steel wheels with plastic wheel covers.

The interior continues that down-to-earth theme. Much of the cabin is decked out in dark plastic, including the dash and the door panels. At least the front seat cloth upholstery gets a dash of red and grey, although the rear bench seat sticks to the monotone theme.

The result is practical and even a little utilitarian, rather than attractive, but there’s a certain honesty to that execution. The Kwid doesn’t fake fancy: it’s a proud member of the budget class.

What does surprise is the level of standard equipment. Forget old-school analogue dials: the Kwid uses a large LED digital display for speed and trip info. And a bright colour touchscreen takes pride of place in the middle of the dashboard.

That screen allows access to some pretty fancy features, including satellite navigation, Bluetooth audio streaming, hands-free telephony, and an FM/AM tuner. That’s pretty neat for an entry-level model. Air-con comes standard, as do electric front windows and central locking.

There’s no old-fashioned gear lever: that’s been replaced by a round dial that selects between Drive, Neutral and Reverse. As simple as that.

Select N for neutral, turn the key, press the brake pedal, and the little 999cc, three-cylinder engine barks into life. Turn the dial to D for drive, and off you go. With only 50kW and 91Nm on offer, the Kwid isn’t exactly a ball of fire, but it’s a lot peppier than expected.

Part of the reason is just how lightweight the little Renault is, ensuring a quite acceptable power-to-weight ratio. But short gear ratios also assist in reasonable get-up-and-go.

The gearbox, however, takes some getting used to. Gear changes are slow by normal auto ‘box standards, with a distinct lag between each cog swap. In the first two gears, shifts are jerky too, unless you soften the process by coming off the accelerator a little.

Add the gruffness of the three-cylinder engine, and refinement isn’t high on the Kwid’s list of talents. Electric power steering makes for easy manoeuvrability, but there’s a remoteness to the driving experience, emphasised by those tiny wheels, high-profile tyres and raised ride height.

This isn’t a performance car, but the Kwid manages to maintain highway speeds with relative ease. More important for budget-conscious buyers, the combination of small engine and low mass translates into a frugal appetite for fuel.

For a small car, interior space is decent: plentiful in front, and adequate on the rear bench. The high-backed front seats feel a little flimsy, but offer fair comfort and support. The slim backrests benefit rear legroom, too.

You have to unlock the rear tailgate with the key – there’s no latch – and the luggage compartment cover needs to be lifted manually, too. But the boot itself has a useful 300-litre capacity, and folding down the rear seat adds another 815 litres, creating a capacious cargo area.

The safety picture is less rosy. The Kwid lacks some of the safety gear we’ve come to take for granted – specifically an ABS anti-lock braking system.

The Indian-built Kwid as sold here only managed one out of five stars in Global NCAP crash testing in India, although there has been talk about upgrading safety kit, including fitting ABS, as part of a future upgrade – at extra cost to the buyer.

And therein lies the rub. The lack of ABS and multiple airbags hasn’t blunted the buying appetite for the Kwid locally.

Renault SA averages around 650 Kwid sales per month. Its closest rival, the Datsun Go, sells in similar volumes. It proves that (relative) affordability is more important than safety in the mind of many South Africans.

Would those buyers be prepared to spend R15,000-plus more on a two-airbag, ABS-equipped Kwid AMT? I doubt it. Affordability is at the very core of the car’s appeal, attracting buyers who would otherwise have to make do with an older, potentially compromised used car.

Besides, if entry-level buyers were indeed solely focused on safety and reliability, perhaps they would accept a Kwid that swapped air-con, electric windows, central locking and satnav for dual airbags and ABS. Renault doesn’t offer that option, presumably because it knows what its customers want.

Compared to my old Beetle – which had no crumple zones, no airbags and only drum brakes, let alone ABS – the Kwid AMT is an inherently safer, better equipped, more economical and more reliable car.

It delivers independence and mobility (plus the convenience of an auto box and some value-added luxuries) at a competitive price in a country where every cent counts.

But it’s also true that on our roads, safety has become the most important requirement of all. And ABS, at the very least, should be non-negotiable. I’d swap satnav and touchscreens for safe stopping any day. DM

PROS

Affordable, practical and economical. Impressive standard spec.

CONS

Unrefined. AMT gearbox takes some getting used to. No ABS.

VITAL STATS

Renault Kwid 1.0 Dynamique AMT
Engine In-line three-cylinder, 999cc
Power 50kW @ 5,500rpm
Torque 91Nm @ 4,250rpm
Power-to-weight ratio 71.63 kW/ton
Gearbox Five-speed AMT, FWD
Wheels/tyres (front/rear) 13-inch steel, 155/80 R13 tyres
0-100 km/h 14sec (estimated)
Top speed 152km/h
Fuel tank capacity 28 litres
Fuel consumption (claimed/tested) 4.4 / 6.1 litres/100km
Operating range (claimed/tested) 636 / 460km
CO2 emissions 104 g/km
Retail price/as tested R146,900
Gallery

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