When versatile little people carrier meets funky crossover, this could be the best of both worlds...

Some cynics believe the acquisition of an MPV to meet a family’s motoring needs is the equivalent of waving a white flag in the face of more aspirational fare. It’s a pity, really, as beneath their slabby shells, most small MPVs are cheerful and hugely practical. But what if you could drape the rugged “lifestyle” (ever the buzzword) garb of the sought-after crossover over the frame of a practical people carrier? With its Triber, Renault has done just that and at an eminently affordable price point. And it looks most promising, indeed.

The Triber shares much of its underpinnings with the ever-popular Kwid, including the Renault-Nissan-developed CMF-A compact modular platform. This foundation has seen its wheelbase stretched from the hatchback’s 2 422 mm to an impressive-for-its-size 2 636 mm in the Triber. Bear in mind it approaches the wheelbases of larger rivals such as the Toyota Avanza and Suzuki Ertiga, but still comes in at less than four metres long. The Triber is a practical package but it needs to be clothed in a manner that will appeal to the crossover-crazy masses. Renault seems to have succeeded in this regard.

In much the same way a weary parent will try to disguise bitter medicines from fussy kids by burying them in sweets, Renault has taken a largely unpalatable MPV-shaped pill and dipped it in a more appealing crossover-flavoured coating.

Our test unit’s striking Honey Yellow metallic paintwork certainly shares parallels with the above analogy but it’s the inclusion of such crossover staples as faux bash plates, chunky cladding for the runners and wheelarches, and roof rails with a 50 kg load rating that manage to steer the Triber away from the often banal MPV formula.

Inside, the Triber’s MPV bearing is evident in a cabin that’s versatile and impressively spacious for a vehicle of its relatively diminutive proportions. Up front, the driver is presented with a tidy and fairly solid facia. Ancillary controls are logically placed and their simplicity is balanced by striking features: a crisp, smartphone-enabled touchscreen infotainment system and a digital instrument array with a funky segmented rev counter. Although the seats are narrow, they feel supportive and present a lofty driving position with a good field of vision; it also avoids the steering wheel-betwixt-knees stance thanks to its adjustable column.

There are some neat storage features sewn into the driver’s compartment, too, including a dual-tier cubby, door bins capable of accommodating a one-litre drinks bottle and a ventilation-connected centre console with three-speed fan that can (somewhat noisily) cool its contents. It forms part of an air-conditioning system that feeds vents in all three rows and is mighty effective.

The second row features a 40:20:40-split seatback with variable rake. It slides back to provide between 565 mm and a sprawling 721 mm of legroom, while the third row’s individual pews are more kid-friendly in their proportions.

All three sections of the cabin are accessed by wide-opening doors and marked by an impressive amount of modularity in their seating arrangements. Leave everything in its place and you have a seven-seater MPV. Remove the rearmost seats and you’ve got a spacious five-seater with between 504 and 584 litres of loadspace aft. Taking out these seats isn’t cumbersome as the seatbacks and cushions detach separately (a boon for those less muscle-bound). Longer loads of around two metres can be accommodated by folding all three passenger-side seats, while stowing both second- and third-row seats frees up an impressive 1 096 litres of utility space.

Packing this much versatility into such a compact and cost-effective shell does, however, involve a couple of noteworthy concessions. The most evident is in the third row where inertia-reel safety belts make way for less forgiving solid-anchor items, and mere inches between the headrest and rear hatch glass could be a concern in a rear-collision. Thankfully, the Triber doesn’t skimp in many other areas of safety, with this range-topper featuring dual front and side airbags, along with ABS and EBD.

Sharing much of its mechanicals with the Kwid, it’s fair to say we didn’t have high hopes for the Triber in terms of drivability but we walked away pleasantly surprised. The floatiness that mars some of the Kwid’s driving manners isn’t evident, partly owing to suspension and damper calibration which strikes a neat balance between bump absorption and body roll. While the steering is a bit numb, it’s light and twirly enough to make short work of urban weaving. But the most impressive aspect is its stability at speed. Where the Kwid often feels precarious at pace, the Triber is palpably more planted and settled when the speedometer needle creeps into triple figures. Granted, the combination of the high sides and light weight does hamper the Triber in strong crosswinds but it’s amazing how far removed it is from its marginally smaller relative.

Early in its development, Renault’s engineers shelved a planned diesel engine in favour of a compact petrol unit in a move that freed up additional cabin space. The decision has, however, been a double-edged sword as the petrol powertrain removes some of the sheen from an otherwise pleasing driving experience. Although the naturally aspirated 1,0-litre inline-three petrol engine is working against just 969 kg of car, its 52 kW and 96 N.m outputs are decidedly modest. This isn’t helped by noticeably tardy throttle response and a light clutch with a high biting point; both conspire to make town driving erratic and less fluid. Thankfully, the shift action of the five-speed ‘box is short and snippy and once up to speed (0-100 km/h took almost 17,0 seconds), the Triber settles into a relaxed rhythm. It’s a pity the turbo-equipped HRA0 engine hasn’t found its way here, as that unit’s 74 kW and 160 N.m would address such shortcomings.

As a value proposition, there’s little to touch this range-topping Prestige model, with keyless entry and start, air-con, electric windows and mirrors and smartphone-enabled touchscreen infotainment system joining a two-year/30 000 km service plan.



TEST SUMMARY

Given the lack of movement and interest in the MPV segment, Renault has packaged the Triber in a manner more palatable to those with crossover aspirations. But Renault’s latest offering is more than just a funky face. Within its sub-four-metre frame, the Triber houses a spacious and highly configurable cabin, plenty of standard kit and deftly sidesteps the Kwid’s ponderous driving habits.

There are some rough edges in terms of powertrain polish and possible safety-related concessions but, for the money, you’re unlikely to find anything as well equipped and versatile. The Renault is a terrific value proposition and the many examples which have already left showroom floors show there’s a receptive audience. This might be something of a banker for Renault South Africa.

ROAD TEST SCORE

Triber Renault Triber 1.0 Prestige
  • Price: R202,900
  • 0-100 km/h:
  • Power ([email protected]/min): 52 KW @ 6250
  • Torque ([email protected]/min): 96 N.m @ 3500
  • Top speed:
  • Claimed cons. (l/100 km): 5.5 l/100 KM's
  • C02 emissions (g/km): 131 g/KM