CAPE TOWN, Western Cape – Since its launch into the South African market in 2016, the budget-friendly Renault Kwid has proved a resounding sales success for the French manufacturer. Here, the compelling price tag combines with crossover styling, impressive standard specification, frugal running costs and a five-year warranty (including 24-hour roadside assistance) to convince many first-time buyers to sign on the dotted line.

Renault South Africa has now expanded its local line-up with the addition of an automated manual transmission, catering for customers looking to outsource the work involved with manual shifting. The Kwid AMT is available exclusively in Dynamique trim, but still boasts a wallet-friendly price tag. However, the new model fails to remedy the manual versions' lack of basic safety specification, doing without ABS and featuring just a single airbag. That said, Renault's local distributor has stated that it expects ABS to make its way into the Kwid towards the second half of 2019.

An affordable auto 

At R146 900, the AMT is some R10 000 more expensive than its manual Dynamique sibling. That makes it the cheapest automatic vehicle currently on sale in South Africa, undercutting its closest rival (the Suzuki Celerio 1,0 GL auto) by a whopping R20 000. And that alone will certainly prove attractive to prospective buyers looking for a two-pedal variant. Being an unapologetically budget offering, the Kwid does not attempt to hide the inevitable cost-cutting measures. For example, just three wheel nuts secure each wheel and the parcel shelf is devoid of string attachments that would hold it up once the hatch is opened.

So, what's new? 

From outside, there is only one sign that this model features an automated manual transmission: the bottom left corner of the hatch features an “Easy-R” badge. Step inside and you’ll immediately notice the distinct lack of a gear lever, with a storage compartment just large enough to hold your house keys, cellphone and wallet taking its place.

So, where is the gear lever? Well, the Kwid AMT sports a rotary dial at the bottom of the centre console, offering three drive modes: reverse, neutral and drive. Apart from the above and the lack of a clutch pedal, the Kwid AMT is identical to the manual Dynamique model in terms of specification.

What does my R146 900 buy me? 

The Dynamique trim level offers a raft of features for the price. Highlights include air-conditioning, front electric windows and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system complete with a navigation system, Bluetooth connectivity as well as USB and auxiliary audio inputs. A driver's airbag and remote central locking are provided too, along with a five-year/150 000 km warranty. In addition, Renault South Africa has over the past 12 months offered a year of free insurance, a deal that looks set to continue.

Renault makes much of the Kwid's 180 mm ground clearance, which provides a raised driving position as well as the means to both curb-hop comfortably and negotiate poor-quality roads. But the ride height does have a woeful effect on the vehicle's body control and highway driving characteristics (particularly in strong winds).

So, how does the AMT fair?

Mated to the familiar Euro 6 compliant 1,0-litre three-cylinder petrol motor, the AMT features five forward cogs, one more than the Celerio. On paper, the AMT offers an improved claimed fuel consumption figure over that of the manual variant, delivering 4,4 L/100 km compared to 4,7 L/100 km.

On the road, you need to adapt your driving style to ensure the smoothest possible progress. The automated manual does lurch between gear changes and this sensation can prove unpleasant for passengers. To mitigate the jolts served up by the electro-mechanically timed shifts, you can ease off the throttle to allow for the appropriate gear to be selected smoothly. Unfortunately, this isn't the most intuitive way of driving (and pretty much defeats the point of buying an automatic), while doing so can sometimes also flummox the ECU, resulting in the transmission unnecessarily holding onto a gear.

Downshifts, however, are smooth and reasonably well judged, depending on how much throttle is applied. Indeed, an automatic blip of the throttle ensures that these shifts happen relatively seamlessly.

Interestingly, the transmission does not offer a creep function, which means that on pull-away the throttle must be engaged to initiate progress. Therefore, pausing on an incline in the Kwid AMT means that the handbrake must be engaged to avoid rollback.

In a nutshell

The new automated manual version of the Kwid offers an affordable solution and will no doubt entice many more first-time buyers. However, the package remains compromised by its lack of essential safety features and, as before, that makes it difficult to recommend. Here's hoping that Renault SA rushes those proposed safety improvements to market...