Although it looks funky and is chock-full of kit, this budget crossover's flaws are hard to accept...
When Renault announced that a production version of its immensely funky 2014 Kwid concept was on the cards, the decision was no doubt met with nods of approval at the prospect of a city-bound, playful crossover hatch joining the ranks of a resurgent company. It made great sense: offer the lifestyle-oriented little car at a wallet-friendly price that its true target audience, younger, first-time buyers, could actually afford. All of this while undercutting rival offerings by a considerable margin and throwing in some appealing comfort and convenience features not found elsewhere at its price point.
In a market where crossovers are very much the in-thing, it all sounds too good to be true. But, while the Kwid does cover the aesthetic, standard-specification and price bases, something has to give. And that something could be a bit of a deal-breaker.
There's a pleasing chunkiness to the Kwid's styling that, along with a raised ride height and black-plastic wheelarch caps, goes some way to lending it the pseudo-SUV air that's gained wide appeal of late. But, while the nose, with its snazzy honeycomb grille and neat headlamp arrays, looks fairly upmarket and substantial, the 13-inch wheels appear lost in their wells. And the first concrete sign of the Kwid's budget roots is evident when you peer into the engine bay to be greeted by reams of hand-applied sealant untidily smeared along most of the sheetmetal seams.
The cabin, meanwhile, initially looks rather promising. It's trimmed in hard plastics, but their quality and fit are of a good standard for this price point. The standout feature has to be that slick seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and sat-nav functionality. It's included on the Dynamique and a feature that will prove a big drawcard for the youthful, tech-savvy audience at which the Kwid is aimed. It sits alongside other niceties such as electric front windows and an air-con system that is chillingly effective.
But they're features that are applied to an interior that, in terms of its overall packaging, is rather poorly executed. Anyone of more than medium build will find the passenger compartment a rather pokey environment where scalps graze the headliner and occupants rub shoulders. Conversely, the boot is generous for its class, with 224 dm3 of luggage space expanding to 840 dm3 with the one-piece rear seatback folded. The driver-position ergonomics further frustrate; the seating position is perched, leading to most team members staring at the sun visor, and the fixed steering column either saw the wheel obscuring the instruments or contacting a left knee when the clutch was operated.
Having fired up the thrummy three-pot engine, it becomes clear that these issues are the opener to a driving experience that is unsettled at low-to-moderate speeds and somewhat disconcerting thereafter. Underpinned by the Renault-Nissan-developed CMF-A compact modular platform shared with the Datsun Redi-GO and stretching 2 422 mm from axle to axle, and possessed of the soft, long-travel MacPherson front, torsion-beam rear suspension setup designed for shattered roads, the Kwid's ride is an odd mixture of choppy at times, occasionally decently damped at others.
Factor in an almost SUV-appropriate 180 mm ride height and a high centre of gravity, and this setup, although benign enough at low speeds, doesn't take well to brisk directional changes and conspires with numb steering to create the sensation of the car not feeling entirely beneath you. Our tenure with the Kwid was also marked by the presence of the infamous Southeaster whipping across Cape Town. These conditions are challenging for most light cars, but with its combination of flat, high-sided bodywork and a featherlight (695 kg) kerb weight, the wind buffeting that unsettles most cars nearly saw the Kwid drifting out of its lane on several occasions.
Thankfully, that light weight also means that the 999 cm3 engine, with its modest 50 kW and 91 N.m outputs, isn't overly taxed; thanks to close-set lower gears, it does feel sprightly in town traffic. It also makes the Kwid a frugal little runabout, with our fuel-route run returning just 5,4 L/100 km. This unit's maximum torque comes to the fore only above the 4 000 r/min mark, so it does occasionally struggle for overtaking momentum, but once it's up to speed, the engine feels comfortable enough in maintaining momentum, if a little gruff.
We detected a hint of delay between accelerator input and power delivery that possibly points to throttle calibration which drops the engine's revs a touch so as not to spin this light car's tyres when shifting with more gusto than usual, something a couple of us managed to unintentionally do anyway.
But, while motive power was a mixed bag at best, it was the Kwid's performance in our 10-stop 100-0 km/h emergency-braking test that really opened some eyes, especially those of the hapless tester. Despite a measured foot and some cadence braking, he managed an average stopping time of 3,95 seconds for a resounding "poor" rating. Given the younger, less-skilled drivers at which this car is aimed, we find it astonishing that ABS is neither standard, nor optional.
It would be easy to surmise from this road test that the Kwid is one of the least well-received cars we've tested of late, but the most frustrating aspect of this little car is that it's a story of unfulfilled potential. As mentioned earlier, its ability to meet the crossover requirements in an affordable package held great promise. And, in its native market of India, where average speeds are low and so less consideration is given to crash safety than elsewhere, the Kwid may be able to justify its presence.
But, our market's combination of higher speeds and shocking crashÂ rates means that Renault SA's decision to even offer the Kwid - with its one-star Global NCAP crash rating and lack of ABS - is somewhat unexpected, especially given the quality and safety of the French carmarker's latest crop of models.
The compromised ergonomics are something to which you can gradually adjust, but there's a consensus among the test team that the money channelled into the admittedly impressive infotainment system would have been better spent adding ABS and possibly bolstering other safety features. Whether such issues will detract from the Kwid's otherwise fantastic value proposition remains to be seen, but the present compromises make it difficult for CAR to recommend it.
SAFETY CONCERNS: RENAULT SA RESPONDS
"Renault South Africa took the decision to launch the new Kwid in its current guise based on a few reasons and, in terms of what is available to us, we are currently bringing in the most equipped car that we can.
"We acknowledge the lack of ABS and are pressuring the factories and engineers to rectify this as soon as possible, but we also note that our Kwid has completed an internationally recognised crash test and achieved respectable results. It will be retested soon because of the improvements that were added to our vehicle and we expect better results.
"As a testimony to our vehicle, its quality and the value to our customers, we also highlight the fact that Kwid has a comprehensive five-year warranty as standard. While changes will undoubtedly be made through its life-
cycle, we believe that, presently, the value proposition makes immediate sense to customers and we stand by the Kwid."
*From the January 2017 issue of CAR magazine