The car market’s most affordable segment got a whole lot more competitive this month. Last week Renault introduced various upgrades to its whole Kwid range, while Nissan was hot on their heels in unveiling the Datsun Go and Go+ now featuring CVT.
Earlier in the month, Hyundai made its intent of grabbing more market share in this segment clear by re-introducing the Atos, which slots in underneath the Grand i10. If you add the other contenders into the mix, which includes the Suzuki Swift, Dzire and Celerio, Honda Amaze, Kia Picanto, Toyota Aygo, Volkswagen up!, BAIC D20 and Mahindra KUV100 at various price points, buyers on a tight budget preferring to buy a new vehicle instead of a pre-owned one have a wide range of options ranging from the bare essentials to something with a pretty decent spec level.
The options also vary across three different body shapes, namely hatch backs, sedans, small SUVs and MPVs. Charl Bosch tells us more about the new Kwid and Go CVT.
The revival and eventual launch of Datsun in South Africa four years ago with the Go and two years later with the seven-seat Go+ is of course vested in local automotive folklore for all the wrong reasons.
In spite of the extensive criticism heaped upon the brand for its nonchalant approach to safety, combined with a shocking zero-star Global NCAP rating, the subsequent fitting of dual front airbags across the range, together with ABS exactly one year ago as part of an extensive line-up redress, did go some way in affording the Go with a bit more credibility it previously lacked.
The progress made then seemed undone when Datsun, two months ago, unveiled a CVT-equipped Go in India that has now become available in South Africa, much to the ire of many scribes who viewed its inclusion as a step back given the immense dislike of the “artificial ratio” transmission with its droning soundtrack.
At the local media launch in Lanseria last week, an element of caution was adopted as the line-up of Go CVTs, all finished in a new eye-catching launch colour called Vivid Blue, were slotted into Drive for the 70 km or so trek.
With the exception of a small chrome CVT badge on the bootlid, the self-shifting Go is otherwise unchanged from the manual equivalent, although inside, there is a model bespoke seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It was however on the move that the Go surprised.
While Datsun has retained the 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, it has upped the output by seven kilowatts to 57 kW with torque remaining unchanged at 104 Nm. Despite not feeling as sprightly as the manual Go from the off, the CVT is nonetheless smooth and shifts with little notice when you are tottering about.
Give it more stick or head-out onto the open road, matters quickly change as the engine becomes a lot more vocal due to the CVT holding on to the selected virtual ratio for far too long. It is best described as an ear-splitting sound that fortunately tapers off when you are less lead footed, and resist the urge to press the Sport button integrated into the gear lever.
A further boon of the CVT is the inclusion of a segment first Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) system, while Datsun has also affirmed that all models have been subjected to structural improvements such as a stronger roof, more padding within the doors together with upgraded side protection bars, plus reinforced seats.
With established assets such as a comfortable ride, not overly light steering and generous equipment levels, the inclusion of the CVT and upgraded safety has undoubtedly worked in lessening some of the Datsun Go’s once dire shortcomings, yet it is unlikely to win fans with buyers when taken out of suburbia.
At R184 200, it is also one of the most expensive A-segment self-shifters, but with the inclusion of a standard six-year/150 000 km warranty and one year’s free insurance, it is a lot more appealing and much more palpable than before.
Arriving on local shores two years after the Go, the Renault Kwid broke new grounds in the A-segment as the SUV-themed hatch exploded in popularly thanks to its high level of specification, chunky looks and low price tag that made it the cheapest new car on sale.
Like the Go though, the Kwid has been the topic of arguably more ridicule for its chronic lack of safety features and inherent inability to feel stable at speeds above 100km/h. Aggravating the situation further was the addition of a five-speed automated manual transmission (AMT) last year which, despite making it the most Kwid accessible two-pedal offering in South Africa, resulted in the Kwid copping even more flak for turning an already problematic product into one that can only be described as awful.
For many buyers though, the Kwid’s glaring faults mattered little as 27 700 have found homes since its debut three years ago. Now, following its high profile unveiling in India last month, the adventurous nature of Gold Reef City served as a backdrop when the heavily updated Kwid made its official local market debut last week.
Whereas its alliance partner played it safe with its round of updates twelve months ago, Renault has taken a bolder approach by using the City K-ZE concept that bowed in Shanghai earlier this year as style inspiration. In this regard, the Kwid boasts a split headlight design with the thin top half being reserved for the LED daytime running lights, while the oversized lower arrangement serves as the main light cluster.
As well as new LED taillights, the entire range now rides on 14-inch wheels with the top-spec Climber benefitting from grey Volcano faux alloys and front and rear skidplates contrasted by orange accents that extends to the main light bezels, on the wheel arch cladding, the roof rails and the mirror caps.
Just as big a difference is when you open the door where the most prominent change is the new eight-inch MediaNav Evo touchscreen infotainment system that comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on all models bar the entry-level Expression.
Also new is the rather smart looking all digital instrument cluster, while rear electric windows feature across the range along with electric mirrors, a new steering wheel, and, on AMT modes, relocation of the rotary dial gear selector from the base of the centre facia to the console. Dynamique and Climber models also get a fast charging USB port and a second 12-volt power socket, although the pre-loaded navigation system has been dropped for a smartphone based setup.
As accomplished as the specification upgrades have been, which also includes rear parking sensors on all models and a reverse camera on the latter pair, the Kwid’s biggest point of contention, its abysmal safety record, has been touched upon with varying degrees of success.
On all three models, dual front airbags are standard as is ABS and EBD but unlike the Go, Renault has not brought about any structural changes despite its Vice-President of Marketing, Jesus Boveda, reaffirming to the assembled media that the fitment of a new rear axle has alleviated the instability worries that marred the pre-facelift Kwid.
In truth though, the effects of the new axle, whose most prominent effect has been the loss of 21-litres in boot space for a new total of 279-litres, was hard to spot as the Kwid still felt nervous and out of its comfort zone when the launch route ventured out onto the highway, no doubt as a result of its soft suspension and 180 mm ground clearance.
What also annoyed was the lack of height adjustment on the driver’s seat that resulted in this writer being perched-up high rather than seated comfortably behind the fixed steering wheel, while the leather-like gater at the base of the gear lever had already started to tear at the seams.
Underneath its tiny bonnet, the normally aspirated 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine has been carried over and still produces 50kW/91Nm which is sent to the front wheels via the AMT or the standard five-speed manual gearbox that was the only option available at launch.
Ruined only by a too high and frankly horrible clutch bite point when setting off, which necessitates the need for a fair amount of revs in order to prevent stalls, the gearbox is relatively slick and thankfully so as it had to be rowed to keep the free-breathing three-pot on the boil.
In spite of weighing less than 800 kg, the engine still emits a groaning soundtrack when the speedo goes into triple figures, a trait that will only be exasperated with four people on-board and the air-conditioning in use on the Highveld.
There is no doubt that the Renault Kwid has its merits as evident by it regularly featuring among the top ten best-selling new passenger vehicles come the monthly sales figures, traits that will really come to the fore now thanks to its more aggressive looks, ramped-up spec sheet, complimentary 12 month’s insurance and five-year/150 000 km warranty.
However, it remains a questionable buy and still not an A-segment contender that comes recommended as it is flawed and not up to the same standards as the Atos, Celerio and to some extent, the Go.
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