2019 Renault Kwid- Kwid Pro Go!

“Your car is going to be a Renault Kwid”, declared the upbeat hire car agent in a matter-of-fact tone. “A Kwiiddd?”, I slurred as my mouth wrapped around the stunted word. It rhymes with “squid”, and is pronounced exactly like “quid”, the slang term for the British Pound. But I had no idea what type of car this quirky namebadge would be attached to. My delicate ego had been bruised as I pride myself for being a self-proclaimed encyclopedia of cars. This one had me stumped. Like a spotter scouring the woods for Bigfoot, there was much anticipation as a I approached stall #14 at the Cape Town Airport to score my first-ever Kwid sighting. Then voila! In an anticlimactic moment, concealed behind a Land Cruiser, was the small, diminutive silver car that you see in the above photo.

If you’ve never heard of a Renault Kwid either, don’t feel bad. If you have, prior to this review, then you have earned my respect and several points that truly don’t buy much. But speaking of getting solid value, that is the Kwid’s primary mission in life. Unveiled in 2015 as a joint project between Renault and Nissan, the Kwid shares its platform with the equally cheap and cheerful Datsun Go. Designed for the Indian market and built in Chennai, the Kwid is engineered to be as basic as a modern car can be. Extreme weight reduction, simple technology, no frills, durability, and, oh yes, a low, low price are this car’s objectives. It’s sold in a number of developing markets including India, Indonesia, Brazil, and here in South Africa. All of these places are home to many new drivers who are aspiring to own their first car and the literal alternative is walking. They’re not expecting luxury and need simple, reliable, and frugal transportation.

So how cheap is cheap? This Kwid sells for 126,900 ZAR (South African Rand), or about USD$8,600…..for…..a…. brand…..new….. car. Let that sink in for a moment. The cheapest new set of wheels in the United States is currently the Chevrolet Spark, starting at $14,095. Purchasing a Kwid is equivalent to obtaining that Spark, and slashing 40% off the already thrifty price. The elusive under $10k new car hasn’t existed in years within the boundaries of most developed nations, but here we are with one still being built in large numbers for an extensive population. Let’s see if a new Kwid is truly a good deal, or if its downfalls make it worth less than 60% of that aforementioned Spark.

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for small, simple cars like the Spark and Mitsubishi Mirage. Give me honest-to-goodness engineering any day, with a dose of humbleness. Going back to my first encounter with the Kwid in Cape Town, it was apparent that this car would tickle my fancy, and push the limits of modesty.

The styling is distinctive for this class. Not over-the-top, but attractive in a kooky sort of way. There’s only so much sheetmetal that designers can mold within a total overall length of 144.8 inches (about 1 1/2 more than the Spark). Renault’s designers get some credit for avoiding the cutesy, cookie-cutter style of many subcompacts, and carving out a pseudo-rugged theme on the Kwid. Short overhangs, lower black plastic cladding, squared-off corners, and an upright nose echo many SUV traits. Crossovers are catching on as a status symbol in these markets, and bargain shoppers don’t want to be left out.

But there is some substance behind the butch looks. Renault will happily boast that the Kwid has 7.1 inches of ground clearance, more than a Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage. Granted, perched on its tiny 155/70R13 tyres (smaller than any new US market car) and massive unfilled wheelwheels, the Kwid does resemble a daddy long legs spider. But the ground clearance comes in handy for rough, pothole speckled roads and Renault’s marketing even hints that the Kwid has some off-road capability. The kink in the C-pillar that follows the curvature of the back windows is a nice touch and there is lineage to the larger Captur in the hatch and taillight shapes. Sure, the design is an odd mismatch of elements and the wacky oversized roof-mounted antenna doubles the car’s height. But the look comes together nicely on such a small package and does stand out. Spotting other Kwids on the road was easy.

So far, so good with the looks. Literally feeling the Kwid begins to unravel the cost cutting. Open one of the lightweight doors or hatch, and there’s not much substance. The exterior panels feel so tinny that they’ll dent if you breathe on them. A tap on the body returns a hollow ping, much like an empty corrugated metal water tank. Astoundingly, the Kwid only weighs in at 630kg (1,389 lbs), or about 39% less than the already featherlight Spark or Mirage. A Chevrolet Suburban weighs more than four times as much. Understandably, safety has been an ongoing concern with the Kwid after it scored only one star (out of five) in NCAP crash testing. The one star was earned by offering a single, driver’s airbag. Forget about side or curtain airbags, or even one for the passenger (a requirement Stateside for 22 years). The Kwid is okay if you have no passengers, and have solely a frontal crash. Personally, it doesn’t bother me, but it is bizarre to be in a modern car with such little regard to safety. In fairness, some of the competition in this price range aren’t any different, and Renault has since added a passenger airbag as standard on the refreshed 2020 model.

Stepping into the Kwid reveals that it’s more stripped down than Jennifer Lopez in “Hustlers”. Need to clear the hatchback’s glass? There’s no rear defroster. Not even a rear wiper. Need to adjust the side mirrors? That requires rolling down the windows and stretching an arm out. Want to record how many miles you’ve driven? There’s no tripmeter, a simple feature on almost every new car for the past three decades. It goes without saying that there were also no armrests, tilt or telescope adjustment for the steering wheel, adjustable headrests, or reminder chime for the headlights being left on. You’re on your own to remember. The trunk’s lining did not have any plastic trim, exposing bare metal, as did the inside of the hatchback lid. The cargo cover did not have any straps either, but at least there was a cover (ahem, looking at you, Honda Fit). There is only one windscreen wiper, ala Mercedes-Benz, as two would cost more.

But where there was despair, there were also small victories. The Kwid came with unexpected, upscale luxuries: Bluetooth with audio streaming, a touchscreen radio interface, an air conditioning system that proved to be robust, anti-lock brakes, power front windows, power door locks with remote keyless, USB/auxiliary ports, remote fuel and trunk releases, and foglights. All of these cannot be taken for granted, especially on a vehicle that costs 1/4 of the average new car in America. True to the local market’s demands, there was also a full-size spare tyre under the chintzy carpet in the trunk.

The interior’s presentation is as straightforward as imagined. The most noticeable feature is the offbeat digital speedometer housed in the instrument cluster binnacle. Its large, retro orange font is a throwback to 1980’s arcade racing games and made for easy legibility. The fuel gauge is the sole additional gauge and it’s lit-up in the same orange hue, which constantly lead me to believe I had low fuel. Otherwise, a spattering of warning lights, including one specifically to warn that another warning light is on, reside in the spartan panel. The plastics used throughout the cabin are rugged and seem durable. They’re obviously built to a price; with the texture of a Tupperware product. Run your fingers along some panel edges and there were rough cut lines. Still, all of it felt tightly assembled.

The radio is a surprisingly contemporary unit and shares the same touchscreen interface as other Renault’s, albeit with fewer personalisation settings. It’s clear, crisp, and easy to read. The response to inputs is immediate and it’s quick to react. Separate physical buttons for volume and power are welcome touches. Sound quality was okay, given that there were only two speakers. Navigating through menus was a breeze, as was pairing the Bluetooth. However, the system did have an aggravating glitch (I’ll assume it’s a glitch, and not by design). Anytime the car would be turned on and the radio detected a paired phone, it would default to Bluetooth streaming about 10 seconds after startup, even if the radio was already playing AM/FM radio. It would refuse to go back to regular radio unless the system was turned off, and back on. Each and every…..time.

The ventilation controls are the tried-and-true three knob design, and there was nothing tricky here. The controls are housed within the same classy, piano black finish trim piece as the radio; a nice, tasteful touch. Below are AUX/USB inputs and centre controls (to save cost between left and right hand drive) for the fastest power windows in existence. Seriously, they are always ready and willing for the job. Finally, the console has two cupholders.

Up front, the Kwid is very comfortable for two, full-size adults. There is sufficient leg and head room thanks to clever packaging. Like many subcompact cars or entering a fun house, the interior volume belies the outside dimensions. The view around is almost unblocked by the pillars and offers expansive glass area. There is no need for a rear camera, and that’s a good thing, as there isn’t one. That high ground clearance and the upright driving position results in a commanding view of the road, much like a CUV. The seats are cloaked in a durable black cloth and Renault even went to the trouble of adding some flair by including sporting red inserts. They look cool, and it’s obvious that someone had fun designing them. The seats themselves were nicely shaped with generous side bolstering, thick padding, and proved to be very comfortable on long drives, garnering no complaints. I’ve had seats in several high-end cars that weren’t nearly as nice to settle the toosh in as the Kwid’s.

In the back, things do become cramped. There are three seat belts across the flat bench, which would work in a pinch on a short drive. Headroom is okay due to the vertical roofline, but passengers will find their knees digging into the front seatbacks. Some negotiating with the front occupants may be required. Entry and exit are also hampered due to the narrow footwheel and lower door openings. Luxury touches are non-existent back there; no cupholders, armrests, and the windows are manually operated.

The back seat does sacrifice space for a practical trunk. Behind the rear seats is 10.5 cubic feet of cargo space, which doesn’t sound impressive, because it isn’t. That trails a US market Spark or Mirage by a few cubes. But fold down the single piece (not split) fold-down rear seat and that expands to a respectable 21.8 cu.ft. What makes the Kwid’s trunk so useful is the squared-off shape and tall roof. Keeping true to the stingy mission, the suspension’s mounts are exposed in the cargo bay’s wheelwells and that aforementioned cargo cover annoyingly flops in the way with no draw strings. At least there’s carpeting in the bottom of the trunk, and the rest of the car! The interior also boasts lots of cubbies for knickknacks including two gloveboxes (one where the passenger airbag would reside), storage trays in the dash and console, and generously sized door pockets in the front doors.

What is the Kwid like to take on the road? That’s what I couldn’t wait to see. Turn the key and the little three-cylinder comes to life with a lively, agricultural growl. There is some bonnet shake from the inheritably unbalanced engine, but it sounds eager and willing. The engine itself is a prime example of simple and proven engineering. It’s a naturally-aspirated 999cc (1.0 litre) that churns out 76 horsepower, or about two less than a Mirage and 22hp (23%) fewer than a Spark.

Around town, the Kwid feels decent enough and has little trouble keeping up with traffic. It feels downright peppy from a robot (the South African term for stoplight). But on the highway, the engine does run out of steam and as the speed increases, so does the racket. The little motor begins to channel the spirit of a chihuahua; petite, exhibiting a loud growl, seems eager, but not much happens. Above 80kph, acceleration becomes glacial as the noise escalates and hills only expedite the problem to the point that it becomes comical. On several occasions, the car could not maintain the 120kph speed limit once an incline was thrown into the mix, despite a downshift of two gears. Adding passengers or a strong headwind doesn’t help matters. On a straight course with just me onboard, I recorded a 0-100kph time of about 16.5 seconds; okay for an 80’s econobox, almost unheard of today. In a Kwid, you learn to take life slowly and, in a moment of zen, begin to wonder what the rush is. In all fairness, I did take the car way out of its urban comfort zone and onto open freeways and mountain passes where it took the drives in stride. Making the most of the little engine and utilising momentum was, in a strange way, fun. In some markets outside of South Africa, the Kwid is available with an even smaller 0.8 litre engine.

Mated to the three-cylinder was a standard five-speed manual transmission. An automated manual transmission is also available. The five-speed had well-spaced gear ratios that took advantage of the limited power band and the featherly light clutch was forgiving. This was an easy manual transmission to drive in traffic, which given the car’s purpose, was likely the intention. The shifter itself is notchy and distinguishing the gear slots proved to be a challenge at times. Throws are long and there was resistance to slink into gear, making a seamless shift more elusive than the Lost Ark. It was easy to slip into the wrong gear and the lack of a tachometer heightened the issue. But, after a few days of driving, I had adjusted and so will most Kwid drivers.

Engineered for unmaintained and dirt roads, the Kwid’s suspension was supple and easily absorbed rough pavement. The front setup is a traditional MacPherson strut, much like most modern compact cars. The rear is an old-school torsion beam, which is a simpler design that saves weight, price, and tends to be more durable. Given the car’s costs and markets in mind, I think Renault made the right choice. For a small car on a short wheelbase, the Kwid handled imperfections with grace.

The trade-off is body lean, and the Kwid has plenty of it. The electric power steering, another luxury that can’t be taken for granted, provided absolutely zero feedback from the road and had a dead on-centre feel with plenty of play. Push the Kwid even a tad around a corner and the car leans laughably through the bends. Between the softly sprung chassis, vague steering, and tall seating position, the Kwid didn’t exactly encourage enthusiastic driving on back roads. But, the grip from the meager tyres was tenacious and once you learn the limit of when understeer sets in, the Kwid did become fun to toss around. The meaty grips on the steering wheel were also another high point.

Katy Perry once asked: “do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind?” . The answer, after driving the Kwid, is a resounding; “yes!” Between the tall profile, skinny tyres, and weighing in at the equivalent of two Harley Davidson motorcycles, the car is susceptible to crosswinds. On the freeway, any strong gusts or oncoming trucks influence the Kwid’s trajectory enough to require a firm hand on the wheel. It’s not terrifying (except when you think of those crash test scores), but did catch me off-guard initially on the first highway jaunt. Around town, though, there’s not enough speed to be an issue and on calm days, the Kwid feels planted on the road.

The official fuel economy numbers in South Africa state that a Kwid should average 4.7l/100km, or exactly 50mpg U.S. My numbers reflected that, and around town and during some quick side trips, I averaged 52mpg. But, during a day involving 300km of highway and back road driving, that average dived down to 35mpg. The small engine strained to keep pace on the open road and it was obvious that the Kwid was out of its natural habitat. The consumption levels reflected that. Full-size cars with [much] larger engines can match the Kwid’s efficiency on the freeway.

My tester only had 600km at the time of testing and still smelt brand new. Although built to a price, there were no defects and nothing squeaked, rattled, came loose, or failed. The little Renault felt rock solid. The glitch with the radio’s Bluetooth streaming was the only issue.

Ours was the base Kwid, priced at about $8,600, which was a great way to try out the purest specification of this humble machine. It is possible to add a backup camera, roof rails, rear power windows, an automatic transmission, a trip computer, and power mirrors. Checking every option box brings the total to a staggering ZAR174,900, or about USD$10,500.

This entire review may sound harsh on the Kwid and that I didn’t enjoy it. But, au contraire! I loved it. Getting into this car was like stepping back into a 1980’s econobox with more modern styling and a few high-tech touches. The cost cutting is obvious, there’s a few missing features left back on the shelf in Chennai, and the driving dynamics are subpar. But I adore the honest-to-goodness personality of this car, which is sorely lacking on so many vehicles today. It demands the driver to pay attention to the road; offering just enough power to get by and no electronic nannies to help compensate. It has character, and an unexplainable charm that I enjoy. So do many South Africans, as the Kwid has been a big seller in the country and an unexpected hit.

Realistically, I’m the minority in the developed world. The Renault Kwid will never see the light of day in the U.S. or many other countries. Not just because of Renault’s irrelevance in America. Even if this were rebadged as a Nissan, it’d need much reengineering to meet safety and emission standards. The cost would balloon to almost match the Versa. Most car buyers expect 0-60 times in less ten seconds, scores of airbags, and a certain level of refinement, even in a subcompact. I would have no shame in driving a Kwid, but it’d likely get snubbed on the market. No, it was better this way to enjoy the Renault in its natural setting. It’s not perfect, but given the massive price difference between it and the cheapest American-market offering, the little Kwid punches well above its lightweight. A solid 3.5/5.0 boomerangs.

The family resemblance to the Captur is obvious from the rear
Body cladding and a high ground clearance give the Kwid the illusion of an SUV
The thick bodyside moldings protect the Kwid’s thin Sheetmetal from car park dings
Ready to scale the mountains? Probably not…..
The blockish, squared-off front end mimics some 4×4’S
The Kwid is more at home by the beach in Cape Town than the highway
Short, almost non-existent overhangs ensure that Kwid can clear obstacles
The nifty upright kink in the C-pillar mimics the greenhouse and is a nice detail
A flashback to 90’s GM’s; excitement over having ABS brakes
Rear visibility is excellent above the red, sporty seats
The plastics in the door may be lifeless, but are molded to offer deep pockets and storage
Renault was very excited to offer ABS
Getting rid of the pesky passenger airbag adds so much storage space
One windscreen wiper and no plastic covering the cowl keeps the price low
A nicely shaped boot ensures maximum versatility between the exposed wheelwells
A full-size spare tyre!!!!!!!
It is possible to have five friends happily share personal space in the Kwid

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