This is the home of automobile road tests in South Africa. We drive South African cars, SUVs and LCVs under South African conditions. It also just happens that most of the vehicles we drive are world cars as well, so what you read here probably applies to the models you can get at home.
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This is a launch report. In other words, it's simply a new model announcement. The driving experience was limited to a short drive over a prepared course chosen to make the product look good. We can therefore not tell you what it will be like to live with over an extended period, how economical it is, or how reliable it will be. A very brief first impression is all we can give you until such time as we get an actual test unit for trial. Thank you for your patience.
Published in The Witness Motoring on Wednesday June 22, 2011
Life is tough at the bottom. Sales of entry-level hatchbacks increased by over 60 percent between 2009 and 2010, showing that Joe and Joanne Average are getting back into buying mode. Sub-R120 000 sales account for some 55 percent of this segment, an attractive market that lured 24 new derivatives in the past 18 months. Despite these and new players in the R120 000-and-above bracket, Renault's Sandero range averaged fourth place on the dealer channel log for the first five months of 2011 and reached number three in May. Encouraged by these results, Renault SA felt ready to take on the lower end of the segment with a sub-R105 000 challenger. Enter the new Sandero 1.4 Ambience, a spacious, solid and comfortable car priced at R104 900.
In the words of Renault SA's MD, Xavier Gobille, selling a second car is easy. It's when the only car in the family has to be all things to all users - ferrying Mum, Dad, the kids and the family dog to work, school, sport and shopping - that things get difficult. There is no backup, so the sole transport module has to be big enough to cope. Apart from fulfilling the primary objective, affordability, it has to be safe. That is why, when determining specifications for the new introductory-level car, it was decided to forego certain nice-to-haves and start off with decent brakes with ABS with EBD and two airbags instead of the usual one or possibly none at all. At this point, Gobille interjected with feedback he had received from the owner of a Renault that had been in a collision: "Thanks to the second airbag, my wife is still beautiful." Makes you think.
Apart from the 320-litre boot being the biggest in its class, interior space is good with shoulder room and legroom being competitive as well. Power steering, air conditioning, remote central locking, engine immobiliser and a height-adjustable driver's seat are naturally part of the package. Windows and outside mirrors are operated by hand. Power is courtesy of Renault’s trusty 1.4-litre eight-valve fuel-injected four-cylinder engine, designed to deliver robust performance with low fuel consumption and running costs. It produces 55 kW of power at 5 500 rpm, linked to a torque peak of 112 Nm at 3 000 rpm. This allows the Sandero to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 13.0 seconds and attain a top speed of 161 km/h. Average fuel consumption is 7.0 l/100 km in the combined cycle, dropping to 5.4 l/100 km in out-of-town driving. The corresponding CO2 emissions’ rating is 164 g/km.
While looking at value for money, Renault decided to rationalise 1.6-litre offerings by upgrading the present "United" version to "Dynamique" specification at the old price of R124 900 and deleting the "Cup" derivative. The R20 000 step upwards from1.4 Ambience gets you the 64 kW, 1600 cc engine, powered front windows, a radio/CD player, on-board computer, split rear seatbacks, 15" alloy wheels, a 3 year/45 000 km service plan and some other bits and pieces. Stepway remains as is at the existing price of R149 900. "Our philosophy," Gobille continued, "is to offer real cars at the advertised prices, rather than fictitious models that are never available, so you could end up paying as much as 30 percent over the odds to get what you want."
Initial buying price is only part of the cost of ownership, however. That is why the company saw to it that Sandero spares prices, confirmed by a specially commissioned Kinsey Report, are the lowest in their class. 'First pick' parts availability, monitored weekly, is claimed to average around 98 percent. That means you only have a two-percent chance of having to wait for parts. If you do, Renault has a mobility plan to keep you moving. A 5 year/150 000 km warranty with Confiance 24-hour roadside assistance and fixed price menus for servicing, sweetens the deal too.
Then there is the issue of reliability and quality of service that has been the subject of negative urban legend far too long for the company's peace of mind. "When I took over in 2007," Gobille said, "customers told me 'great product, but..." At that time, Renault ranked seventeenth in customer satisfaction. By December 2010 the company had pulled its rating up to sixth, winning a Synovate bronze medal at the end of May this year. His comment: "We are very happy with our progress, but still not satisfied. We are not stopping here."
Familiarisation drives around Cape Town and its suburbs in both models showed the Sandero to be spacious and comfortable with good, if not blistering performance and pleasant road manners - good, solid and practical family cars in fact.
Ambience 1400: R104 900
Dynamique 1600: R124 900
Stepway 1600: R149 900
Warranty: 5 years/150 000 km with Renault Confiance 24-hour roadside assistance
Service plan on Dynamique and Stepway: 3 years/45 000 km. Plans are available for 1.4 Ambience from R3 800.
This is a one-man show, which means that road test cars entrusted to me are driven only by me. Some reviewers hand test cars over to their partners to use as day-to-day transport and barely experience them for themselves.
What this means to you is that every car reviewed is given my own personal evaluation and receives my own seat of the pants judgement - no second hand input here.
Every car goes through real world testing; on city streets littered with potholes, speed bumps and rumble strips, on freeways and if its profile demands, dirt roads as well.
My articles appear every Wednesday in the motoring pages of The Witness, South Africa's oldest continuously running newspaper, and occasionally on Saturdays in Weekend Witness as well. I drive eight to ten vehicles most months of the year (press cars are withdrawn over the festive season - wonder why?) so not everything gets published in the paper. Those that are, get a tagline but the rest is virgin, unpublished and unedited by the political-correctness police. Hope you like what you see, because there are no commercial interests at work here. As quite a few readers have found, I answer every serious enquiry from my home email address, with my phone numbers attached, so I do actually exist.
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