Seating seven in a four-metre footprint is a tough packaging challenge but the little Renault manages it ... and then some.
A sub-four-metre seven-seater built on a “lightly modified” version of the Kwid’s CMF-A platform? I must confess, I wasn’t expecting much when news of the Triber first broke. It seemed like a bit of a long shot. How much better than a Datsun Go+ could it be? Four metres, after all, are four metres … that extra space has to come from somewhere. What was Renault going to do, give it an upright stance and use the vertical space cleverly? It would have to. But that would make it look like a telephone box on wheels, wouldn’t it? Questions, questions, questions.
Seeing the car for the first time, as a result, comes as a huge surprise. The sweeping lines, the sophisticated SUV-like nose, the wrap-around rear windscreen; it looks great. Painted in a shade of mango and sitting in the soft light on an overcast Chennai morning, the Triber is also replete with interesting surfaces. The bonnet is muscular and the rising beltline gives the car an intriguing tipped-forward stance. I even like the rear. The glass isn’t vertical, so it doesn’t look like a van, and those long “vulture beak”-like taillamps enhance the width of the Triber. The cladding at the bottom, along with the mesh finish, gives it a bit of an SUV look, too. Renault’s designers have also cleverly hidden an unsightly step up in the roofline behind rails. Ground clearance is an impressive 182 mm.
But how has Renault managed to fit seven seats? It all starts up front, at the nose. I flip open the tightly packed bonnet, deputy VP of Renault-Mitsubishi-Nissan, Costin Seydoux, at my side, and peer in. “We decided early there would be no diesel on this platform and that’s allowed us to make the bonnet compact,” he says. The designers stretched the wheelbase to 2 636 mm for maximum space on the inside and then, in another inspired move, used theatre seating, with each subsequent row placed higher. The loftier the seat, the less horizontal space you need. Still, it wasn’t easy. They fought for every millimetre of space and redid the mock-up of the interior a thousand times to get it right, according to global design head, Laurens van den Acker.
What makes the Triber work even better as a seven-seater is the fact that the CMF-A+ platform is practically all-new. Substantially larger than the CMF-A that underpins the Kwid, the width of the Triber is 1 740 mm compared to the Kwid’s 1 580 mm, and Renault says the common parts between the platforms are few, so CMF-A+ is practically new.
And the fact that there is very little in common with the Kwid is clear as soon as you step into the cabin. The gearlever is similar, the power window buttons are familiar and one or two other small bits are carried over. But, apart from these, the cockpit is new, and feels built to a different level. Quality levels, far from being just a step up from the Kwid’s, are up there with pricier small SUVs. There are no soft-touch materials on the dash but Renault has achieved a good mix of textures and colours. The designers have even developed a new scratch-resistant matte grain at a bargain basement price. “It will now go on all of our cars,” says Van den Acker.
At the centre of the dash sits a new eight-inch touchscreen, an inch larger than the unit currently offered on even the range-topping Captur. The resolution seems better than the other screen, too; it has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and functionality, in general, feels slightly improved as well.
What I also like is the design of the Triber’s digital instrument cluster: while the wedge-shaped tachometer sections are trickier to read than a dial and needle, they look neat. And the 3,5-inch LCD screen at the centre is sharp.
In line with its practical nature, Renault designers have equipped the Triber with several stowage areas. There are two large gloveboxes, one of which is cooled; another air-conditioned compartment between the front seats; plus deep door pockets and a series of cubbies on the centre console. With two cooling coils, the second under the front passenger’s seat, the Triber’s air-con system is well up to the task. And the carmaker has paid attention to airflow as well. Apart from the four vents up front, the Triber also gets vents in the B-pillar for the second row, as well as overhead outlets for the third row. Second-row passengers also get a blower control.
The front seats are well-contoured, large and comfortable. Finished smartly in multiple fabrics, the chairs are just right for long journeys. And there is plenty of leg-, head- and elbowroom. There’s space aplenty in the second row, too. Support for your thighs and back is very good, and the backrest can be declined. The bench slides and the range of movement is so large, you can push this row all the way back when there are no passengers in the third row to really stretch out.
Now, clambering into the third row of a car that’s under four metres long is not expected to be easy. But here, the second row flips forward with just two fingers, and the large rear door allows you to step into the aft bench easily. Although the seat is low and you sit with your knees slightly up, it’s impressively usable. There are no inertia-reel or self-adjusting seatbelts, however, as Renault says there’s no place for the mechanism, and the headroom for six-footers will be tight but, otherwise, there’s enough space in the back for even longish stints.
With all three rows up, luggage volume is only 84 litres. But the third-row splits, folds and can even be taken out completely. Removing both rear seats expands luggage capacity to 625 litres, which is by far the largest in the class.
Under the bonnet, the Triber gets a 1,0-litre engine based on the Kwid’s design but gaining variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust valves. The improved breathing helps it make 53 kW at 6 250 r/min and 96 N.m of torque at 3 500 r/min.
The car pictured is still a prototype and engine calibration wasn’t finalised when we drove it but I did get to experience the potential of the dual-variable valve timing system at low engine speeds. While initial responses to a tap on the throttle are a bit relaxed, there’s a nice swell in power soon after, which is quite good for a 1,0-litre unit.
The Triber carries over many components from the Kwid’s gearbox and, as a result, you get some of that same cable-and-pulley feel here. The unit is, however, better sited in the Triber, and that means gears slot in more easily. What also makes the experience a more pleasant is a long-travel hydraulic clutch increasing driver comfort.
Talking of comfort, it’s an area in which the Triber excels. Its tall, supple springs absorb road shocks competently, the suspension working silently. It does roll a fair bit, so it’s unlikely to be a sporty drive, but the steering is direct and well weighted.
Renault SA will launch the Triber “sometime” in 2020. With prices to be confirmed but ostensibly slotting in far below the Captur, it’s likely to be the only car at a budget price point which can genuinely seat seven. So, clearly, the potential is huge. We can’t wait to test the fully realised version of the car.
Author: Shapur Kotwal from Autocar India
Photography: Gaurav S Thombre
FAST FACTSModel: Renault Triber 1,0
Engine: 1,0-litre, 3-cylinder, petrol
Power: 53 kW @ 6 250 r/min
Torque: 96 N.m @ 3 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: n/a
Top Speed: n/a
Fuel Consumption: n/a
Transmission: Five-speed manual