I’ll be honest, these days there are very few bad cars. Ok! I’ll admit that mention Chinese and car manufacturer to a new car buyer and the average reaction is a cringe followed by the obligatory, “No way!” I’m not saying cheap Chinese cars don’t have a place on our roads, not at all, at the very least they’re keeping the bigger players honest, but for the most part ‘No way’ is the only Chinese way.
With VW recently claiming joint winners of the annual Car Of The Year competition with its impressive new Polo keeping the Polo name which includes the entry level Polo Vivo firmly planted in customers minds and Ford making inroads with its impressive Figo the budget end of the new car market is hotting up like a misty morning in Durban. (For those not lucky enough to live in Durban, if it’s misty in the morning, you know you’re in for a belter)
Mention Renault in conversation to the average South African and you’re greeted with similar sentiments to the Chinese mentioned above. And for good reason, poor quality products coupled with an even poorer after sales service has crippled the manufacturer’s local image. But, they are turning this around with a revised local strategy – chief among which are stronger warranties – aimed at wooing buyers back. The biggest commitment to our local industry though has to be the introduction of the Renault Sandero which is made here in South Africa in Rosslyn Pretoria.
I have a soft spot for cheap, no frills motoring and was genuinely excited when I was informed I’d be receiving a Renault Sandero to evaluate, in top of the range quasi SUV Stepway trim no less!
Whilst bog standard versions of the Sandero are about as inspiring as plain white Pep Stores plimsolls, the Renault Sandero Stepway takes a bland uninspiring family hatchback and turns it into a slightly pumped up, blinged up, quasi SUV…hatchback. Pep Stores plimsoll into Aldo stiletto? Well, not quite.
Riding on the wave of, frankly fake SUV trimmings, popularised by the likes of VW’s Cross Polo, the Renault Sandero Stepway gains a chunky I-want-to-go-play-in-the-mud look. Bare black plastic is a central theme, usually frowned upon but in the Stepway’s case actually looks quite good. Completely revised front (with integrated fog lights) and rear bumpers and side-skirts, to the flared plastic over arches present on the wheelarches, contrasted with chrome look plastic, set the Stepway clearly apart from lesser Sandero models. Roof rails and chubby 16 inch wheels and rubber complete a handsome if slightly fake makeover.
Hop inside the Stepway, and sadly things start going pear shaped fairly quickly. Apart from the terrible smell emanating from the cabin which necessitated lowering all the windows every time I got in, and which I realise could be unique to that particular car, to the very wobbly driver’s seat the Stepway’s interior is underwhelming and standard budget car affair. Another worry was the Stepway’s central locking which had a complete mind of its own, locking when and where it pleased, no matter if the key was in the ignition or not or if the doors where open or not. A factory fitted radio/cd player is also not standard fare, and the Sony aftermarket unit was very difficult to operate.
The central dashboard and hang-down section is very workmanlike and easy to operate. Trimmed in a very faux-chrome plastic though which worryingly flexed when pushed and prodded, and which looks like it won’t wear very well. Strangely the electric window buttons are also housed on the central dashboard. A height adjustable driver’s seat was a welcome addition, so too the driver’s and passenger airbags. The passenger side having a deactivation switch which as a parent I can always appreciate. Rear passenger space decent for the size of the car, and I could easily sit behind myself, impressive considering its fairly large boot too.
Powering the Stepway is a 1.6l engine which was happy to be thrashed in order to make rapid progress I usually demand. It cruised fairly comfortably and was suitably eager to take a gap on the freeway, so long as you stirred the manual gearbox. The gearbox itself was a tad sloppy, with huge play on the lever when in a gear and the gap between third and first being minute as I constantly found third when wanting first for pull away, frustrating!
I did though find the Renault Sandero Stepway well up for the job of the urban grind and quite enjoyed the driving experience. The increased ride height made curb hopping a breeze.
I imagine the Renault Sandero Stepway to find favour amongst the out doorsy small family type, and in that regard you can’t go wrong, factor in the bargain price (R149 900.00), impressive warranty, low costs of ownership and parts availability, this is a Renault I’d happily recommend to the thousands of Vivo and Figo drivers out there.
Sandero United R124 900.00
Sandero Cup R134 900.00
Sandero Stepway R149 900.00 (Tested)
Prices include a 5 Year/150 000 km Warranty and 3 year/100 000km service plan
Thank you to Johan from Total Product Management Services and Renault SA for the use of their test unit.