What is it?
It’s Renault’s take on the budget hatchback, and quite a unique one at that. It’s because of the way it looks – like an SUV. Sure, the Hyundai Eon was the car to first prove that budget cars didn’t need to look boring, but the Renault Kwid, with its chunky, crossover-like stance, takes that idea to the next level. Renault rightly says SUVs are the flavour of the moment worldwide, and since this is a global model, an SUV look assures its appeal in most markets. The company doesn’t outright call it an SUV or a crossover though, and though its reason for this is that the design ‘speaks for itself’, we suspect it’s really because people have certain expectations of an SUV – like size, space and toughness – that a budget car just can’t be expected to deliver. Fair enough.
Either way, the look is just right, with thick cladding, a rugged grille, nicely detailed headlamps, neat looking tail-lamps, chunky fog lamp enclosures and a square shape overall. The 180mm of ground clearance give it the requisite stance, and though the 155/80 tyres and 13-inch wheels seem weedy on paper, they don’t look too bad on the car. It really does look like a shrunken version of its bigger stablemate, the Duster.
Still, this is ultimately a budget car, and this can be identified by clever bits of cost cutting like the exposed tow hook at the front, the three-nut wheels and their plastic covers, the single wiper, and the manual-adjust exterior mirrors. Less impressive however is a lightness to the build you feel in the way the doors and boot shut. In fact, at just 660kg, the Kwid is even light for its size and class, and about 50-60kg lighter than rivals like the Alto and Eon.
What’s it like on the inside?
Here too, the design is really impressive. The dashboard looks contemporary, as does the chunky three-spoke steering wheel. There’s a nice, glossy black, chrome-lined central console that looks good too, and the instrument cluster uses a large, sporty digital speedo; there’s no tachometer though. On the storage front, you get a pair of big door bins at the front to hold bottles, two glove boxes and a large recess between them. There are cupholders and a cubbyhole between the seats, but they feel a tad too shallow for all practical purposes. The AC vents also have chrome accents and can, rather neatly, be clicked shut, but they do feel a touch flimsy. And like with the exterior, you will start to see a few cost-cutting signs if you look hard enough, but they’re really no better or worse than other cars in this class. Things like exposed screws, centre-mounted window switches at the front, no power windows at the rear, and non retracting seatbelts at the back either – you have to adjust the length manually every time you buckle up. A lot of this is par for the segment, but since the Kwid looks so upmarket, you have to remind yourself about which segment it is in.
On that note, it’s interesting to see the way Renault has chosen the equipment here. It’s a budget car, so you don’t expect a lot, so things like the big multifunction touchscreen, digital instrument cluster, Bluetooth, fog lamps, the optional airbag and navigation are incredible features for a car at this price. Renault has been clever to give customers desirable features like this, while saving costs in areas less consequential to the average budget car buyer.
It’s got the basics right, and a very big one is space. There’s no doubt that it’s the most spacious car in the segment, what with its class-leading dimensions that include a 2,422mm wheelbase. The front seats are just superb, especially with regards to the lateral support they offer, and the view out is of a long flat bonnet, just like in an SUV. Rear passengers are also well catered to on space, with a good amount of head, knee and shoulder room for two, and three in a pinch. The seat back angle is well judged too, but the bench is placed a bit low, so thigh support is only average. The 300-litre boot is big enough for cars two segments above, though at 28 litres, the petrol tank could have been bigger.
What’s it like to drive?
The Kwid uses an all-new, all-aluminium, three-cylinder petrol engine. Its capacity is 799cc, power is 53.26bhp and torque is 7.34kgm, but the statistic you really want to know is 25.12kpl – an ARAI rated fuel economy figure that makes it the most efficient petrol car in the country. That figure remains to be tested in the real world, so for now, let’s see what it’s like to drive.
Fire it up and you will get a fair bit of vibration and clatter that lingers at idle, but soon fades away as you start to rev it. Snick the positive-feeling gear lever into first and try to set off, however, and you’ll notice it feels very jerky and hesitant. Many will feel the need to feed in some throttle and slip the clutch, in fact. Get past this and progress becomes a lot smoother, and you’ll soon notice the engine has a good amount of pep. The max torque may be produced at 4,386rpm, but you get 80 percent of it from as low as 1,200rpm. However, it’s best to use the accelerator gently and smoothly with this engine, as it doesn’t respond well to hasty inputs. Punch down hard and it will stutter and fumble, and the resultant acceleration is not smooth at all. In fact, power delivery overall can be a bit inconsistent, with noticeable ‘gaps’ in progress. Speaking of which, there’s also a big gap between second and third gears. Refinement is not great either, but rather than a three-cylinder clatter as you might expect, the bigger noise is an ever-present mechanical whine in the cabin. Push on and power suddenly drops off and gives way to noise after a certain point. Still, we feel the performance is more than adequate by the 800cc segment standards.
Ride quality is really impressive though, in true Renault fashion. Despite its tall ride height, the suspension has been really well calibrated to offer minimum body roll and movement over bumps; it feels really nicely held together for a budget car, in fact. Even at the rear seat, passengers aren’t tossed around too much over rough roads. Thanks to the superb setup, the car goes through corners very tidily as well. However, it’s spoiled by the steering which is quite lifeless and doesn’t return to centre freely. It’s light, which will be a boon in the city, but it’s also very slow, requiring many turns, lock to lock, so three-point turns aren’t as easy as you might think. That’s a shame, as a good steering setup would have complemented the suspension to make for a really fun car to drive.
Should I buy one?
Design is often half the battle won here in the Indian market, and so Renault is off to a good start with the Kwid. It has also armed itself well, with many trump cards like a premium cabin, plenty of space, the best fuel economy, loads of equipment and ride comfort that is class leading. And Renault has got its strategy and pricing right too. The company has been clever to save costs in areas that customers won't notice or mind, and instead provided features - like that touchscreen - that people really want. The company also claims it will offer the lowest overall ownership cost in its class; an uphill task when you’re up against Maruti. And, with 98 percent localisation of parts, it seems to have nailed the price too. The fully loaded car tested here (the RXT with options) retails for just 3.53 lakh(ex showroom Delhi), which is only around Rs 9000 above the top of the line Maruti Alto VXi. Yes it has its flaws, mainly with the engine, which falls short on refinement and power delivery, and some of the cheaper Kwids aren't well equipped. Still, all things considered, Renault's Kwid clearly is a breath of fresh air in this class, and from the look of things, has all the makings of a game changer. It's deeply desirable, clearly capable and the aggressive price is only the icing on the cake. Now all you have to do is find a find a Renault dealer near you. Maruti, Hyundai, this is your wake-up call.