French cars get racy

2014-05-25 15:00

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The previous-generation Renault Sandero was a bit like the wilted sandwich left on a plate at a party: one of your last choices.

Enter the brand-new Sandero and that sandwich just became nouvelle cuisine, with a large side portion of onion rings.

The top-end Sandero Dynamique (R141?500) awaited my two children and I at CapeTown International Airport, looking stylish and decidedly European – much like

its more expensive sibling, the Clio, but without all the make-up.

The interior is neat, composed and subtly decorated with splashes of chrome. The leather-covered steering wheel and gear-lever knob (only in the Dynamiquetrim) lend a luxurious touch and the cabin feels more like a Renault Mégane than a Sandero.

Other creature comforts (standard in both the Expression and Dynamique) include an MP3-compatible sound system with Bluetooth and audio streaming, remote central locking and fingertip controls behind the steering wheel.

Our Dynamique was fitted (as standard) with alloy wheels, electric windows (front and rear) and cruise control with a speed limiter on its height-adjustable steering wheel.

Surprisingly enough, our bags (from our three-week visit to the folks) disappeared into the depths of the Sandero’s boot rather comfortably, even though it is fitted with a full-sized spare wheel.

This kind of space – 292?litres to be exact – is not found anywhere else in this class. Which brings me to my next best-in-class song and dance: the safety features.

Normally, an all-encompassing safety specification sheet will include features like stability and traction control (over and above ABS and EBD) to reduce engine power and brakes on independent wheels should you lose control of your vehicle.

Normally, this is not found on the spec sheet of a sub-R150?000 vehicle.

Just as you wouldn’t expect hill-start assist, which will prevent your car from rolling backwards when you step off the brakes as you pull away on an incline.

Yet Renault has made this all available in the budget-friendly Sandero, standard on both derivatives. The top-end Dynamique model gets two additional side-impact air bags as well as front fog lights.

And did I mention its electric side mirrors?

The Sandero’s sprightly three-cylinder 66kW turbopetrol engine emits a cheeky growl. The great thing about a turbocharged engine is that its performance will not be any worse off at heights above sea level, whereas naturally aspirated engines tend to lose a bit of grunt inland.

And apart from being rather feisty, this small, turbocharged 0.9-litre engine is highly fuel efficient. I received the Sandero with a full 50-litre tank of petrol and even after a week of heavy-foot driving from CapeTown to Hermanus to Franschoek and twice to school every day, I still had a third of a tank left.

In fact, the Sandero went back to its home in CapeTown with 220km left in its range. According to Renault, the Sandero only sips 5.2 litres per 100km and that’s probably not too far off the mark.

Would I commit to a Renault Sandero if I happened to be shopping in this price range?

With comfort and safety equipment piled higher than Vienna sausages at a hot dog eating contest and a solid, satisfying driving experience to go with its miserly fuel consumption, you would definitely find me at the front of the queue.

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