The line-up of the popular Renault Kwid budget car has grown with the addition of an automatic (AMT) derivative, but there's a catch... Although the little Frenchman now ranks as the most affordable self-shifter on the market, the new transmission may indeed be one of the weakest links in this budget-busting package.
We like: Affordability, surprisingly spacious, standard spec
We don’t like: Lurching gearshifts, no ability to manually effect gearshifts, no hill-hold, lack of ABS
- Quality Suzuki: The Suzuki Celerio is a previous Budget Car category winner in the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards - Powered by WesBank, and this particular derivative features an admirable mix of comfort and safety features. Crucially, 2 airbags and ABS are standard. Boosting the value for money factor is the standard 2-year service plan. The transmission in this model is also an automated manual, but it works considerably better than the one in the Renault. Scratch around on Cars.co.za and you could find a nearly new Celerio Auto with delivery mileage for the same price as a new Kwid AMT.
- Funky Kia: Kia's new Picanto is doing very well in South Africa and the 1.2 Start Auto derivative is one of the country's cheapest automatics. But it's not a car that smacks of cost-cutting... the design is trendy and the transmission is a proper automatic, not an automated manual as in the Kwid and Celerio. That, combined with the bigger engine, means it is not the most frugal of small autos, but it's the best to drive. Like the Renault, the Kia lacks ABS.
Facts & Figures
Price: R147 900 (April 2018)
Engine: 1.0-litre, 3-cylinder petrol
Transmission: 5-speed automated manual (AMT)
Power: 50 kW
Torque: 91 Nm
Fuel consumption: 4.4 L/100 km (claimed)
0-100 kph: n/a seconds
Top speed: 152 kph (claimed)
New price leader
With 180 mm of ground clearance, compact dimensions and modern "crossover" design, the Kwid shows that cheap doesn't have to mean nasty.
With the demand for affordable automatic cars only likely to increase in coming years, and consumers under pressure on all fronts, launching the cheapest automatic car on the market puts one on a good wicket. Renault has done just that with the Kwid, a car that already sells strongly in South Africa. In fact, as a range, it sneaked into the top-10 best sellers (passenger cars) list last year, and the Kwid 1.0 Dynamique was the 6th-best-selling derivative in South Africa in 2017. See the full list here.
The new "automatic" version undercuts its next-cheapest rivals by a good R20 000, but if you're considering an automatic because of the driving ease/convenience that this type of transmission generally adds to the mix, you may have to think again...
The luggage bay is generously sized and bigger than those offered by the Kwid's main rivals. Rear seatback folds as a single unit.
Based on the same underpinnings as the Datsun Go, the Kwid has very compact dimensions, but the extent of its interior space is quite surprising. In front, the lack of a gear lever has freed up more room between the front seats and the roof is quite high, so there is a definite sensation of spaciousness, which will please adult occupants.
There are also plenty of storage solutions availed at the front of the cabin. In the rear, too, legroom is good for such a small car, but it's the generous luggage area that is the biggest highlight. With a claimed 300 litres of loading space, the Kwid's bay is comfortably larger than those of its 2 listed rivals. Of course, there are some clear signs of cost-cutting... For example, the parcel shelf has to be lifted manually and the rear bench only folds as a single piece, which limits ultimate practicality.
A very attractive feature (fitted as standard) of the Kwid is its comprehensive infotainment system.
This new automatic derivative is only offered in Dynamique trim, which means the standard specification is quite generous. You get electric front windows, (manual) air-conditioning, remote central locking, power steering, front fog lamps and neat digital instrumentation. Best of all, there is a comprehensive 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which is unrivalled at this price level. The system includes auxiliary audio, USB and Bluetooth support, plus satellite navigation, no less.
Overall, the overall fit and finish of the cabin is of a high enough standard relative to the Kwid's budget-car status.
Simple, digital instrumentation features in the Kwid. The little Renault is very frugal, but keep an eye on the fuel gauge, as the tank is small.
There are essentially 2 benefits to opting for a car equipped with an automated manual (AMT), as opposed to a traditional torque-converter automatic, transmission. Number one is cost... and it's easy to understand why Renault would opt for an AMT, given the positioning of the vehicle at the bottom-end of the price ladder. The other reason – fuel economy – also fits well within the overall Kwid purchasing proposition.
The Kwid is a very light car powered by a tiny engine, and the AMT allows it to offer self-shifting without impacting on the potential fuel economy that its drivers could achieve. In fact, Renault claims that the AMT version is more fuel efficient than the manual, with the former boasting a claimed consumption figure of 4.4 L/100 km and the latter offering 4.7. We achieved a figure of closer to 5.5 L/100 km, which is still excellent. Keep in mind that the capacity of the fuel tank is only 28 litres, however!
This simple dial on the facia controls the transmission. There is no "hold" or manual selection function.
The market is showing an increasing appetite for automatic vehicles and young, first-time buyers of this type of car appreciate the fuss-free use of a self-shifter, particularly if they're going to be spending a lot of time dealing with congested inner-city traffic. By virtue of the Kwid being the cheapest automatic on the market, interest in the little Renault was therefore always going to be significant. But, in reality, the gearbox fitted to the Kwid is arguably too compromised...
The 5-speed automated manual (AMT) works in the following way: a computer performs shifting duties and there's no clutch pedal, but the action of changing gear internally remains much the same as a manual car. So, as you would get with a normal manual car – depress the clutch, lift off the throttle, change gear with the lever, let out the clutch smoothly – there is a considerable delay when gears are changed. You can smooth out the transitions by lifting off the throttle momentarily (as you would in a manual car), but it's never a particularly fuss-free exercise. To drive the Kwid AMT smoothly takes as much concentration as it would in a manual car, so why bother?
13-inch steel wheels with plastic covers are standard, but look neat. Front fog lamps are standard, too.
Furthermore, the integral hill-hold function of a normal (torque-converter-type) automatic is also missing in the Kwid, so when pulling away on upward slopes you have to use the handbrake or brakes to avoid rolling back (again, similar to driving a manual car).
Pulling away smoothly in the Kwid requires some concentration, as there is no creep function. The gear only "takes" once the throttle is depressed and this can result in lurchy getaways. Once on the go, matters improve somewhat, although the control system sometimes struggles to decide which of the 5 gears would be appropriate for the prevailing driving situation. When this happens, you'd also wish for the option to manually select (or even hold) a gear.
So, in several ways, the transmission actually takes the shine away from an engine that has thus far impressed us in manual Kwid derivatives. The 1.0-litre powerplant is certainly more willing than its meagre power (50 kW) and torque (91 Nm) figures suggest. Lift off the throttle when shifts take place and the Kwid becomes a bearable city slicker, but it starts to struggle at highway speeds, particularly when it needs to perform an overtaking manoeuvre or take a gap while travelling in the fast lane.
Lack of safety features
The interior is attractively finished and specified at the price, but the lack of safety features remains a major concern.
A major criticism of the Kwid (in its current incarnation) remains the lack of safety features. It comes with only a driver's airbag as standard. To be fair, the significantly more expensive Kia Picanto 1.2 Start Auto is similarly equipped in terms of standard features, but nevertheless we cannot easily advise consumers to buy non-ABS equipped cars, even if the Kwid's the cheapest, particularly when there are alternatives knocking around in the used market (barely used, too) that offer this crucial braking assistance feature. We found 2018 examples of the Suzuki Celerio Auto on our site with just more than 100 km on the odometer, for similar prices as the Kwid...
Furthermore, the Kwid is not as substantial a car as the Picanto as shown in international crash testing; we can testify to it feeling quite "insubstantial" in crosswinds. The news that Renault will be adding a front passenger airbag and ABS to the package in 2019 is good news, but it remains to be seen how much cost those items will add.
Pricing and Warranty
The Kwid Dynamique Automatic sells for R147 900, undercutting the next-cheapest automatic by around R20 000. For the money, you also get a 5-year/100 000 km warranty and a year of free insurance (provided it's not used for business purposes). It needs servicing at 15 000 km/12 month intervals.
Cheap, cheerful and packed with desirable features, but until it gets (at least) ABS, we struggle to recommend the Kwid.
There is much to admire about the Kwid package. It offers the kind of features, compact size and attractive crossover looks that younger, first-time buyers will appreciate, and it does so at a very attractive price. That said, we find it very difficult to recommend a new car that doesn't feature one of the most effective safety features out there (ABS), especially when it is a car that will probably often be purchased by (or for) inexperienced young drivers.
We generally don't factor in used cars in a review of a new product, because there are so many variables at play, but when we did some research within our own site's listings and found that essentially brand new (100 km only) automatic Suzuki Celerios (to reiterate: the Celerio was the 2016/17 #CarsAwards budget car segment winner) can be picked up for very similar money to a Kwid AMT, we believe the Japanese car bears mentioning... and is certainly more worthy of your consideration.