Words and Photography: Syed Shiraz Shah
To tell you the truth, after the 800/Zen/Santro era, I have despised all the hatchbacks that have flooded the Indian car market since. Why? Because earlier, a small car felt and drove like a small car; they were all zippy to drive; the all-around visibility was fantastic, and one could park them in the tightest of spaces. Heck, you could almost even put stuff at the rear parcel shelf while sitting at the front! Yes, the cabins of these hatchbacks were small enough for lovebirds to grow even fonder of each other, but the large glass area ensured that they didn’t feel claustrophobic. Hilariously though, those small dimensions didn’t deter a family of six and their pomeranian to travel some absurd distances in these dinky cars (so I feel funny when people nowadays say “three at the back would be a squeeze”). Anyway, the point is, I want my small car to feel like a small car; I should be able to drive it through the narrowest of alleys without a fear, and also take advantage of those short gaps in traffic which even the auto-rickshaw ‘pilots’ would think twice about. If I need anything bigger, I’ll take a sedan or a compact SUV…
Actually, back then people knew what they were buying and had no unreasonable expectations from their hatchbacks. If they needed more room, comfort, and an added sense of security, they bought sedans or MUVs. Or the Tata Estate. More importantly, the small cars did not come for big money. Okay, the Zen was not exactly cheap, but its cost was nothing if you compare it to most hatchs’ today. Fast forward to Altos, Eons, Brios, i20s, and Polos — everything is either too boring to look at and drive in or just too bloody expensive! I see no point in spending around a million bucks on a ‘premium hatch’ when I can put in a little more and buy a Duster or an XUV! Similarly, I just could never justify spending 3.5-4.5 lakh on a fragile-looking hatch when I can buy an immaculate 2003 Honda City Vtec for less than half the money. Until now, that is…
You see, in the Kwid, we finally have a small car that is not ‘cute’, ‘delicate’, or ‘toy like’. For example, the Eon is something you would buy for your daughter on her 18th (if not 16th) birthday, while I still cannot understand why Maruti would spoil the previous Alto K10’s pleasant design, and bring in the ‘new’ K10 as the ugly sister of the uglier Alto 800. Images of Drizella and Anastasia come to my mind when I think of these two… If at all I do.
In striking contrast, the Kwid comes across as the muscular and handsome Gaston. But unlike the Disney character, Renault’s latest offering is not an arrogant narcissist. The Kwid comes across as a strong, good looking, yet egoless, and dependable chap who sensible beautiful girls would want their parents to meet, and who even the guys would want to befriend as a fellow toughie in their group.
Like always, I am not going to describe what YOU can already see in the pictures. If you are reading this, then I take that, most probably, you ain’t blind. So please spare me the trouble on elaborating how the bonnet meets the grille, which in turn pokes the eyes at the sides, and bites the lower lip…, etc. I’ll just tell you my opinion, and that is: never ever has a small car graced our land that has so much PRESENCE, and looks so goddamn handsome! If you disagree, I suggest you get a retinal examination done.
In fact, when I first saw the car in the pictures and the TV advert (with the awesome background score by Mr. Rahman) I was eagerly waiting to see it in flesh and metal, and now that I have seen it, I really can’t thank Renault India enough to give us this car, at least as far as the exterior form is concerned. But, since one can’t judge the book by its cover, l really had my fingers crossed before the drive. If you haven’t guessed it already, then let me tell you dear readers that I was not just going to Goa to drive it for you only, I wanted to check the car out for myself too!
So, with all 15 cars lined up the next morning, getting to drive car no. 1 seemed like an auspicious sign for the slight superstitious element in me. I got in and, upon shutting the door, immediately noticed the lack of tinny feel that’s so peculiar in the Marutis. Of course, it is not a reassuring thud like in a Polo; you’d be a fool to expect that, but the difference is certainly apparent when compared to even some much more expensive Jap hatchbacks! And while inside, the fully digital instrument cluster greets your eyes, and so does the segment-first 7-inch touchscreen, borrowed from its elder siblings, the Duster and the Lodgy. While the instrument cluster comprises almost everything and more that you can imagine in this class, save for a rev counter, the touchscreen has Sat Nav, Bluetooth audio & telephony, etc., and there is also a USB port placed above it, which is extremely convenient to locate and use.
And then there is storage space. Lots of it. There is not just one, nor two, but three gloveboxes in the Kwid, and even the doors come with deep pockets to store one-litre bottles and other knick knacks. There are cubbyholes fore and aft the gear lever as well. You definitely won’t be left wanting for storage space in this car! Same holds true for the cabin space. Renault claims that the head, shoulder, and leg room at the rear is the best in class. And though only a comprehensive test will confirm that later on, I don’t doubt that claim if first impression is anything to go by. The spec sheet also shows that the Kwid is longer, wider, and also has the longest wheelbase in the segment.
The front seats were comfortable in the short drive within the city, though I felt that they could do with a little more bolstering at the sides as I did slide a bit while taking corners enthusiastically. Still, apart from that, the seats didn’t give me a chance to complain. I’ll tell you more about it, along with the rear seat comfort, as and when Renault provides a test car to us. And since it’s a French car, how can there be no quirks? You get buttons for the front power windows on the dashboard below the HVAC controls. Speaking of the latter, the rotary dials have a sturdy and premium feel to them. In fact, the whole dash is uncluttered and there are no useless cuts and slashes anywhere that most manufacturers resort to as a sorry excuse for style.
Coming to the heart of the matter, the Kwid is powered by a 799 cc three-cylinder DOHC petrol motor that breathes through 12 valves. It produces 54 PS at 5,678 rpm and 72 Nm at 4,386 rpm. Both figures better the Alto 800’s, and though the torque peaks earlier in the Maruti, Renault’s feather weight (660 kg) car enjoys a better power-to-weight ratio, and should leave the Alto in the dust in traffic light GPs… But the Kwid’s motor is not quite silent at idle. It’s not a bother though and whatever noise is there, it subsides on the move. Plus, thankfully, there are no vibrations that creep in to the cabin.
Please also note that these were absolutely brand new cars that we drove. The clutch pedal had excessive play, but it’s nothing that can’t be adjusted. Naturally, many complained of jerkiness at first that vanished once they got used to it. Goa was hotter and more humid than Delhi at this time, therefore the AC was constantly on. Despite that, the Kwid didn’t need a heavy right foot to get going from a halt. It’s no scorcher, but it’s not a dull unit either; the engine is mated to a five-speed gearbox and the ratios endow the Kwid with fantastic drivability in the city. You can pull cleanly from as low as 25 km/h in third gear with a load of two occupants. Yes, with the AC on. I couldn’t take it to triple digit speeds in this short drive, but the car’s behaviour tells me that the top end should not be disappointing. But you’ll have to wait for it once we do our exhaustive road test. As of now, I can reiterate that it is indeed a winner in city traffic.
Another thing I can tell you right now is that the Kwid will annihilate all its competition and many hatchbacks above its segment too when it comes to ride and handling! The ride is simply sublime and the car dismisses potholes of all sizes with such amazing alacrity that it’s guaranteed to leave you speechless. The massive 180 mm ground clearance also means that neither would the car bottom out on those nasty speed humps around your locality, nor should you be shying away from taking it off tarmac for some mild off-roading fun.
I was advised by locals to not take the car near the beach as it would get stuck in sand. I thanked them for the advice, but complied with my gut feeling anyway. And as you can see, I did manage to get the shots at the beach like I had wanted. But I seriously recommend to not try such stunts with any two-wheel-drive car, unless you have a good amount of off-road experience under your boots…
Like all small cars, the Kwid’s steering remains quite light at all times, and though it would be appreciated by most of its target buyers, I, for one, would have liked less assistance from the electric steering. A hydraulic set up would have done wonders here, especially since the chassis is so damn capable! Despite the taller suspension the car handled beautifully on Goa’s switchbacks; I really urge Renault to bring in a litre version with a hydraulic rack, and it would frustrate the so-called hot hatches to the core… Still, the Kwid can be enormous fun when you’re in the mood!
As far as safety is concerned, we were told that the Kwid’s body shell and structure is ready to withstand the Indian crash tests as and when they begin. Moreover, they are confident that the car won’t need any mods, save for the addition of dual airbags, to comply with the crash test norms of the countries they plan to export the Kwid to in the future. As of now, the Indian car gets an optional airbag for the driver…
Aah! I almost forgot the most important aspect for a buyer in this segment — fuel efficiency. You’ll be glad to know that Renault claims the Kwid to be the MOST FUEL-EFFICIENT PETROL CAR IN INDIA. A figure of 25.17 km/l is definitely astounding but the car’s low kerb weight and skinny tyres (wrapped on 13-inch wheels) make it look believable. Still, don’t take Renault’s or our word for it until we bring the real world figures to you shortly. Also, braking within city felt okay, and that is again something I would want to test properly in the near future. But, I strongly feel that neither of these two things will turn out to be a deal breaker anyway.
To sum it up, the Kwid is an extremely capable A-segment car with a lot of segment firsts to its credit (you may read the brochure on the company’s website or ask us and we’ll tell you more in our full road test). It looks better than not only its immediate rivals but also than some of the more expensive hatchs. It rides and handles better than all of them too! It has more space on the inside than the competition and still wraps around you, like a small car should, making it easier to drive within tight confines. Renault India also promise to soon disclose the price list of spare parts, which they claim will be the cheapest in segment, thanks to 98 per cent localisation. The company says that the car will be priced between 3-4 lakh, and also that there will be 205 Renault showrooms by December 2015.
The Kwid will be available in four variants and five colours, and it’s on display at the Renault showrooms as I write this. The bookings have opened, and if you’re in the market to buy a car within this price bracket, I strongly recommend that you pay a visit to your nearest Renault showroom…