JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – Notwithstanding our initial criticism, spotlighting safety concerns and making it difficult for us to recommend the Renault Kwid to readers when we first tested it back in early 2017, the smallest model in the French firm’s local range has proven nothing short of a smash hit in South Africa, promptly assuming the role of the brand’s best seller.

And that popularity shows no signs of waning. Indeed, in the first ten months of 2019, as many as 8 709 examples of the little budget car were registered across the nation (taking the total since launch to a whopping 27 702 units), with the Kwid achieving a monthly sales figure in excess of 1 000 units as many as five times. That makes it the fourth best-selling passenger vehicle so far this year, behind only Volkswagen’s seemingly unconquerable Polo and Polo Vivo, and Toyota’s Fortuner. A considerable number of South African buyers, including those who manage rental fleets, clearly place value at the very top of their lists of priorities, then.

Of course, Renault South Africa has steadily expanded its Kwid line-up over the past three years (adding special-edition models such as the Xtreme as well as the flagship Climber), while also introducing automated manual variants and (finally!) fitting ABS as standard as recently as April 2019. But this latest update represents the first formal facelift for the diminutive crossover-inspired hatchback.

The new range

The updated local Kwid range has grown from five to six derivatives, with the familiar Expression, Dynamique and Climber trim levels each offered with either a five-speed manual gearbox or an automated manual transmission employing the same number of cogs. Pricing now runs from R144 900 to R170 900, an average increase of R4 000 across the range, while one year of comprehensive insurance, a two-year/30 000 km service plan and a five-year/150 000 km warranty are all included. That sees its well positioned against rivals such as Hyundai’s box-fresh and smartly priced Atos, the Datsun Go (now offered in CVT guise, too), Suzuki’s underrated Celerio and the base models in Kia’s Picanto range.

So, what exactly does the Kwid’s mid-cycle refresh entail? Well, besides the obvious styling changes – the most noticeable being the thoroughly revised front end, which includes an in-vogue split-lighting arrangement comprising narrow daytime running items sited atop chunky main elements framing a new grille, along with new LED taillamps – Renault has also ostensibly improved the Indian-built Kwid’s safety specifications.

Talking safety

Dual airbags now ship standard (the pre-facelift model made do with a single driver’s item, remember), while the long-awaited ABS with EBD has, naturally, been retained. A seat-belt reminder for the front pews has also been introduced. Is that enough for the Kwid to better its most recent Global NCAP crash test rating, a solitary star scored back in 2016? Well, any improvement would likely be marginal, what with Renault South Africa disappointingly confirming no changes have been made to the vehicle’s structure (such an amendment would likely come only with the next-generation model, the company says).

The French firm’s local arm does, however, quite cryptically state the facelifted Kwid has gained a “new rear axle”, while the already lofty ride height has seemingly been further hiked by four millimetres to 184 mm, likely thanks to the fitment of 14-inch wheels (an inch bigger than before and now wrapped in high-profile 165/70 Apollo Amazer XP rubber). Thanks to the mysterious tweaks made to the rear suspension (which remains torsion beam in construction) and the adoption of slightly chunkier wheel wells plus a larger spare wheel, the luggage compartment has shrunk to a claimed 279 litres. Interestingly, the vehicle’s overall length has been increased slightly to 3 731 mm, though the wheelbase is an unchanged 2 422 mm.

Step inside

Inside, the ergonomic shortcomings that afflicted the original model have been left largely unaddressed, still stemming from a decidedly perched seating position and a lack of height adjustment on the driver’s pew (the latter admittedly the norm in this segment). For taller drivers, this results in a distinct shortage of headroom and leaves the stowed sun visor partially obstructing the pilot’s forward view. Add a fixed steering column and those with lengthier limbs find themselves having to awkwardly adjust their bodies to the controls rather than the other way around.

Still, at least the Kwid offers plenty of kit at the price, with a new centrally sited 8,0-inch touchscreen – complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, and handily relaying video from a reversing camera – standard on Dynamique and Climber variants. These derivatives furthermore gain a second 12 V power point (for use by rear passengers, interestingly sited at the edge of the parcel shelf), a fast-charging USB port up front, rear power windows and electrically adjustable side mirrors. A redesigned digital instrument cluster, revised steering wheel and rear parking sensors, meanwhile, are standard across the range. And while the vast majority of plastics employed throughout the cabin are justifiably hard, fit and finish remain decent for the segment.

Under the bonnet

The powertrain, though, is carried over unchanged, with the firm’s naturally aspirated 1,0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine still offering class-typical outputs of 50 kW and 91 N.m. We again found the little three-pot does its best work – though quite vociferously – high up the rev range (peak twisting force arrives at a fairly elevated 4 250 r/min, after all). It's interesting to note, though, that the firm's spec sheet suggests the updated model has gained around 40 kg, which means the little engine has a bit more to lug around.

Though Renault claims a vast improvement in road holding thanks to the apparent fine-tuning of the rear axle and the adoption of larger wheels, it proved difficult to detect any discernible change on the short drive in Gauteng without having an outgoing model on hand to compare. In short, though, the high centre of gravity and softly sprung suspension (perhaps ideal at low speeds on poorly surfaced roads in the vehicle’s domestic market of India) again combine to deliver what is an at-times unsettled experience at higher velocities.

Final thoughts

While we applaud the inclusion of ABS and dual airbags here (but had hoped for some additional structural reinforcements, too, as have been applied to the Brazilian-market model), some of our misgivings from that January 2017 road test – in which the original Kwid scored a lowly 54 out of 100 – remain. But so does the South African buying public’s enthusiasm for the nameplate. Add fresh looks, extra equipment and yet more value to the package, and the Kwid’s local sales success story looks set to continue, safety concerns or not.



FAST FACTS

Model: Renault Kwid 1,0 Climber
Price: R164 900
Engine: 1,0-litre, three-cylinder, petrol
Power: 50 kW @ 5 500 r/min
Torque: 91 N.m @ 4 250 r/min
0-100 km/h: N/A
Top Speed: 152 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 4,7 L/100 km (claimed)
CO2: 112 g/km
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Maintenance Plan: Two-year/30 000 km service plan