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CAPE TOWN – In these cash-strapped times, new-vehicle buyers often find themselves downsizing, trading in their larger vehicles for something lighter on fuel, and on their wallets. While willing to trade for a smaller car, consumers don’t want to sacrifice the benefits that come with larger vehicles, such as space, interior amenities and, importantly, safety. 

In the case of the top-of-the-range Renault Sandero Stepway Plus, it appears there aren’t many downsides to downsizing. We last tested a Sandero Stepway in 2017, in the now-defunct Dynamique trim level. With the arrival of a tweaked Plus model, a fresh driving impression was certainly on the cards.

Thanks to a turbocharged 0,9-litre three-cylinder petrol engine developing 66 kW and 135 N.m, the Sandero has sufficient power for the average driver's commute, but does seem to struggle somewhat when pulling away from junctions, often feeling lethargic before the turbo kicks in. Of course, this can be countered by adjusting your driving style, and in the week spent with the Sandero, I’ve found that priming the clutch pedal and building the revs slightly helps the raised French hatchback pull away a tad sprightlier, without inducing embarrassing wheelspin.

Once up to speed, the trick is to keep the Stepway revving near its maximum torque peak (2 500 r/min), allowing for satisfactory in-gear acceleration. This isn’t a bad thing really as the five-speed manual gearbox is slick in its operation, making changes light and easy. At motorway speeds, the little powerplant can feel slightly stressed but overtaking (and general acceleration) is aided by an overboost function that kicks in once the throttle pedal is fully depressed. From standstill, the Sandero hit 100 km/h in a tested 14,68 seconds, with our fuel route showing 6,70 L/100 km. Over a week of driving it, I saw an average indicated figure of 7,50 L/100 km on the trip computer.

For a three-cylinder unit, the powertrain is impressively refined, with minimal intrusion (aural or vibration) permeating the cabin. In fact, the only time the engine makes its presence known is under spirited acceleration with the audio system switched off. Within the quiet cabin, someone stepping down from a larger, more expensive vehicle may be pleasantly surprised by the number of standard features the Stepway Plus offers. Indeed, cruise control, four airbags, satellite navigation and stability control, as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, all ship standard on this derivative, despite its R213 900 sticker price. Included in the price is a two-year/30 000 km service plan, as well as an impressive five-year/150 000 km warranty.

The Sandero is a small car, which is reflected by its interior dimensions. While not cramped, rear passengers may struggle for legroom, especially with taller people seated up front. This is nitpicking, however, as the Stepway’s rivals suffer from the same issue (with many even more cramped back there). What the Renault does offer over its competition is a large boot. It is usefully sized, boasting 264 litres of space, and a very impressive 1 000 litres of utility space. To put that into context, the larger Renault Mégane hatchback offers not much more than the aforementioned figures.

So, the Sandero Stepway Plus shows there aren’t many downsides to downsizing. For a very competitive price, it comes with a nicely damped ride, plenty of standard equipment and adequate space for a young family. It may not be quite as head-turning as its Japanese rival, the Suzuki Ignis, but it counters with a subtler, conservative approach and more space. It's sure to keep winning over customers, as it has done in the South African market since its introduction.

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