Good choice for the first-timers

ACTIVISTS insist that Renault should not sell its entry-level Kwid with only one air bag and without ABS brakes, because it doesn’t conform to First World safety expectations. They have a point, but facts dictate that what is desirable isn’t always achievable.

Extra kit costs money. For a second bag and ABS, your next choices in 1.0-litre automatics are Suzuki Celerio or Kia Picanto — cars costing R20 000 and R27 000 more.

A survey of new Kwid customers revealed some interesting facts and points of view. Sixty percent are first-time buyers attracted by considerations of price, convenience and safety; that’s right — safety. The average commuter uses three taxis, each way, just getting to work and back. We won’t go into the safety issues there.

The first alternative at around R130 000 is a second-hand car. But how old is it, does it offer the safety features you demand and which hooligan has done dreadful things to it? For peace of mind, most people prefer to get something new.

There is also a certain “feel-good” value to owning a new car.

Then there is the matter of convenience. Taxis don’t run at all hours and don’t always go exactly where you want to be.

And how much time do you waste waiting for the next minibus after getting off the first one? Finally you know that you are always sober, good tempered and drive safely (we hope).

Few will admit it, but we all like a car that looks good. Kwid fits the bill nicely. Like a small SUV, it stands tall so you can see everything and it has 180 mm of ground clearance to deal with bad roads, speed humps and potholes. It can carry five average-sized people comfortably and its 300-litre boot is the biggest in its class.

Three Kwid models are available. There’s the basic Expression at R126 900, more desirable Dynamique at R136 900 and just recently, the Dynamique AMT at R146 900. All prices include one year’s worth of insurance. AMT stands for automated manual transmission.

You drive it like an automatic. It’s easy to use but not what you would buy if you were used to driving hotshot cars with twin-clutch gearboxes. There are no shift paddles, no gear lever and no clutch — just two pedals for stop and go, and a rotating dial on the dash. It’s labelled R for reverse, N for neutral and D for drive. It’s brilliant for first-time drivers.

Select N, turn the key to where the instrument lights come on and wait three seconds. Turn it further to start the engine.

Press the stop pedal and release the hand brake. Turn the selector to D and release the foot brake as you push down on the accelerator. It’s like driving a normal automatic except for the three-second wait.

Accelerate gently.

The car does not like being driven like a racer. Within a short time you will notice that as the engine sound changes, the car will feel as if it ran into a wall of marshmallow. It’s like the feeling you get when revving a hotshot car too fast and the rev. limiter kicks in. The trick is to lift off the gas slightly as the engine note changes, just as you do when driving a manual car. It feels odd to an experienced driver but you get used to it within about 40 kilometres.

As we say, it is not a racer but a first-time car for new drivers. Acceleration is fine for use in town and it will get up to 120 km/h on the freeway quite easily, but passing other vehicles takes a bit longer than you might be used to. It will kick down (gently) when asked to but you will not feel the zooming power of a Clio RS, for example.

Standard equipment on the Expression model includes a five-speed manual gearbox, front seat belts with pretensioners, immobiliser, high mounted brake light, electric power steering, powered front windows, can and bottle storage places, manual air conditioner, two-speaker radio with Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free calls, USB with auxiliary and a 12-volt socket for charging.

Dynamique level, including the AMT, adds fancier trim items, a second glove box and a 7” multimedia touchscreen with Apple connectivity, voice control and satellite navigation.

It’s a well-priced package offering mobility, value and another kind of safety to the first-time buyer or driver. Activists need not apply.

— Gordon Hall.

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