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Storming of the bastion!

| Updated on: Sep 16, 2015
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Kwid chart

Kwid chart

It is the new 'Kwid' on the block. But, can Renault's small car with a twist take on the might of the Alto?

The entry small car buyer’s is the most homogenous bunch amongst all the segments in the Indian market. He or She is also most frequently misunderstood by car makers. They are extremely unadventurous with their choice, but know exactly what they are getting in the cars they buy. They are aware that the cars are a compromise (in terms of comparable quality), yet they seek maximum value even within that formula. Even if there is a hint of a worse case scenario around the corner, they are willing to postpone the purchase, because they are in no hurry to jump into the four-wheeled personal mobility bandwagon.

This is the reason why cars like the Tata Nano and the Hyundai Eon just didn’t fully achieve their potential. And this is the reason why the Maruti Suzuki Alto continues to dominate the segment. It is this one-sided battle that Renault is getting into with the new Kwid, a hatchback with a size advantage, and hopefully, a price advantage too.

Entry Strategy

Like a mathematical theorem, there are a few axioms that will necessarily have to be a part of the formula for a new entry-level small car to be successful. It needs to have been specifically developed for the Indian market. It needs to be almost entirely manufactured here too, so that it can be priced competitively. It needs to clearly represent the prospect of a long-term low-cost ownership experience. And it needs to be highly accessible to buyers across the country.

The Kwid should manage to tick-off most of these check boxes, though doubts remain about some of these like access, given Renault’s relatively fewer dealership outlets. But, the Kwid has all the hallmarks for a car that can be an attractive alternative. For even the most under-informed, the amount of effort that has gone into creating the Kwid would be quite apparent from just its exterior design.

The Kwid’s underlying proposition is its sports utility styling. Driven by the fact that this is the body style that is currently the rage across markets, and not the least because Renault's success in India is underlined largely by the Duster's popularity, the Kwid makes a statement even when standing still. The entry hatchback segment is lacking in variety and the tall-boy design is by now passe. So, is it just SUV styling or does the Kwid’s design also serve a purpose? Well, if the 180mm ground clearance and the extra headroom at the front can be considered more practical than what is offered by the others in the segment, then the Kwid's design would have already served a purpose.

Design

The rectangular proportions of the Kwid’s front make it look like a SUV. The fairly straight slab of the bonnet, the headlamp design, the squared-off wheel arches and stalked door mirrors accentuate the sports utility appeal of the Kwid. But, step over to the side and the character of the Kwid seems to transform a bit. Though the windscreen is steeply raked and crossover-like, the roofline slopes sharply towards the rear and suddenly it seems to be looking more like a hatch. In fact, when viewed from the rear, the Kwid looks like a small hatch with a raised stance. Right after the B-pillar, the SUV styling melts away. 

The raised shoulder-line which rises rapidly right past the B-pillar, the narrow rear glass and the steeply raked windscreen at the front, all point to a fairly restricted green house. This doesn't seem to restrict the amount of light that seeps into the cabin, though we certainly thought that the visibility for the driver could have been better.

The Kwid is also smaller in the flesh than it seems be when you look at a brochure or a photograph. However, it still has some segment-leading dimensions. Its wheelbase (at 2,422mm) is the longest in the segment and its boot volume is the highest at 300 litres. Weighing in at just about 660 kgs, the Kwid is also one of the lightest cars in the market. Active light-weighting, without sacrificing structural integrity seems to have been one of the focuses while the Kwid was being developed. 

Cabin

But, despite its above average exterior dimensions, the Kwid’s cabin is not exceptionally big on space. Headroom at the front is excellent; but at the rear it will be a tight squeeze for a six-footer. Shoulder room and legroom are very similar or just a bit more than the cars currently available in the segment. The cabin layout is simple, but elegant. The dashboard features long plastic panels, with a dominating combination centre stack finished in glossy black cladding and chrome lipping (in the RXT trim). This centre stack featured air-conditioner controls and a touch-screen for the 'media-nav', a segment-first as claimed by Renault. The RXT trim we test drove also featured the front power window controls and the one-touch door lock-unlock buttons.

The front seats were comfortable, but the rear seat squabs were a bit too flat and set low. The buttons and controls feel good to use, with just a couple of them seeming to be fiddly. The quality of materials used, including plastics, seems to be above the A-segment average, though not in the same league as B+ segment cars. The Kwid’s three-spoke steering wheel is a neatly finished unit, and feels good to hold and use, as is the digital instrument cluster with a gear-shift indicator. The digital speedometer uses a large display, but an engine rpm-meter is missing. The couple of features which we thought may be considered counterintuitive by entry car buyers were the centre-stack position for power windows and the reverse gear position set ahead of the first gear.

Performance

There are obvious hints in the Kwid which show Renault recognises that part of the strategy in this segment is playing a mind-game. But, we wonder if the choice of a 800cc engine was also one that was influenced by this market reality. But eitherways, with the “Kitna Deti Hai?” question being a constant, it is good to note that the Kwid’s 799cc petrol engine is the most frugal in the segment. This three-cylinder engine is not as refined as the one’s in cars one segment above, but when compared to the Alto 800 or the Hyundai Eon, it is about very similar in idling character. Cabin noise levels are fairly well contained, though we felt vibration levels could have been lower. The test mule we drove was a pre-production model; hopefully the final versions will be better insulated.

The engine itself is a fairly peppy unit, for its size. Generating 54PS of peak power, and 74Nm of torque, the engine delivers much of this at lower rpm levels, though the peaks are hit closer to 5,000rpm. But, its ability to respond quickly to driver inputs seems to be affected by the throttle mapping. Overall, the focus seems to have been to squeeze the most fuel efficiency from the powertrain. Speaking of which, the engine is paired to a 5-speed gearbox. Shift quality is good and there is none of the rubbery feel that some of the other cars in the segment have.

In the ride and handling department too, the Kwid drifts into the positive side of the middle path. The suspension is accommodative, managing to soak up potholes and keeping the cabin fairly insulated from their effect. But we won’t go so far as to call the suspension agile. There is a bit of body roll and the handling is also affected by a particularly dead steering feel. To be fair these are the characteristics of all cars in the segment. Renault engineers have, however, boosted steering assistance at slow speeds to a point where the Kwid’s steering is a breeze to use while making U-turns; only there is almost no assistance to return the steering wheel to centre.

The Kwid features front disc brakes and rear drum brakes, very similar to current segment cars. We felt that the brakes were adequate for city conditions; on the highway we’d have liked a bit more bite. The driver’s side airbag is the only safety feature that is an optional addition.

Bottomline

The Kwid doesn’t look like it has been built to a price, but some of its features give away that fact such as the tiny rear view mirror, the manually adjustable door mirrors, the wheel rims with just three lug nuts etc. This still doesn’t take away from the Kwid’s overall appeal. Renault is expected to price the Kwid within the Rs 3 lakh to Rs 4 lakh price range. It is a compelling package if you look at the other cars in the same range.

The big question mark is can Renault break into the minds of the buyer and make them shake off their fixations. If they do then it might get over the handicap of having fewer dealerships around the country.

Published on January 22, 2018

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