It was incredible. There we were, bombing along comfortably at the legal limit, with lots in reserve. The car was loaded with luggage for four adults, and I was sitting in the back with my legs crossed, space in abundance, and the sun shining onto my face through the panorama sunroof.
Great stuff - Mercedes S-Class, perhaps, or a BMW Seven? Not on your life - I was riding in the back seat of a Renault Modus 1.4 Dynamique, its 72 kW 1.4-litre engine humming along merrily, and safe as houses in the first small car to get five stars in the tough Euro NCAP safety tests.
What's more, the entry level Modus 1.2 Authentique will hit the streets at just R110 000, when it gets here in August, pitching it head-on against the Opel Corsa, Renault's own Clio 1.2, the Chev Aveo, and the Fiat Palio.
And it beats them all hands-down when it comes to space and comfort, while offering a super features list which includes dual front airbags, air conditioning, electrically-operated front windows, and a built-in radio/front loader CD with satellite controls.
Lots of features
There are tinted windows all round, electric variable-assist power steering, height- and reach-adjustable steering wheel, "see me home" courtesy headlights, single front reading lamp, seven-function onboard computer with central display panel, two speed adaptive front wipers and rear wiper with auto mode in reverse, double optic height adjustable headlights, remote central locking, front cup holder, boot lighting and manually adjustable exterior mirrors.
Storage compartments are provided in the front and rear doors (2.4- and 2 litres respectively), under the front floor, and in the dashboard in front of the driver, along with a 9 litre glovebox.
There are disc brakes all round, the fronts ventilated, with ABS and EBD as well as electronic emergency braking assistance,
Currently there are two Modus models at dealerships - the 1.4 Expression at R125 000 and the 1.4 Dynamique for R135 000.
The 1.4 Expression adds a bigger engine, front lateral airbags, three comma-shaped rear headrests, height adjustable driver's seat and Triptic rear bench seat.
The top-line 1.4 Dynamique versions have a luxury package which includes six airbags, electric mirrors, electric windows all round, alloy wheels, exterior temperature display, automatic light-sensing headlights, front passenger and driver reading lamps, and rear reading lamps.
In addition the car gets automatic front wipers with rain sensor, cornering headlights, front fog lights, electrically operated and heated exterior mirrors with electric folding operation and blind spot eliminator for driver, climate control, one touch front electric windows, rear electric windows, illuminated vanity mirrors, child minding mirror, sunglasses holder, storage pockets in the back of the front passenger seats, a drawer under the front seat and a safety luggage net.
A cruise control/speed limiter, xenon headlights and electric panoramic sunroof are optional extras.
The 1.4 Dynamique can be distinguished from the outside by colour coded front and rear bumpers, carbon bumper- and side strips, colour coded mirror housings, chrome exterior door handles and 15-inch alloy wheels.
The Modus follows in the footsteps of the famous Renault Scenic MPV in offering unique packaging solutions and versatility - but this time the designers have excelled themselves in the ways in which the Modus can be adapted to suit its owners needs.
The Modus is based on the new Renault/Nissan B Platform - on which the Nissan Micra is also built, and which will also form the underpinnings of the next Renault Clio - itself derived from the Megane II platform.
One particularly important feature (on 1.4 models only) is the Triptic rear seat, which slides backwards and forwards to increase legroom or the load area, or it can be split 60/40, or the seats can be tipped forward or taken out altogether. There's remote locking with RAID immobiliser.
With a capacity of 1 149 cc the new generation 1.2-litre 16V engine develops maximum power of 55 kW at 5 500 r/min, and peak torque of 105 Nm at 4 250 r/min. Although these figures are the same as the previous generation 1.2, the character of the engine is quite different: It is livelier in the midrange, and specific fuel consumption is lower.
The engine provides the Modus with lively performance - the 0 -100 km/h benchmark is dispatched in 13.5 seconds, and top speed is 163 km/h - while returning mixed urban/extra-urban consumption of just 6 litres/100 km.
The 1.4-litre engine continues unchanged from that used in the current Clio, and from a displacement of 1 390 cc it produces maximum power of 72 kW at 5 700 r/min. Peak toque is 127 Nm at 4 250 r/min, with 90 % of available between 2 000 and 5 750 r/min.
Claimed maximum speed is 177 km/h, and zero to 100 km/h takes 11.4 seconds. Fuel consumption on the mixed cycle is 6.7 litres/100 km.
Both engines drive the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission adapted from that fitted to certain Megane II models, and benefit from reduced service intervals of 15 000 km, although some components such as spark plugs and air filters only need replacing at far greater intervals.
Although a 1.5-litre turbo-diesel is available in Europe, Renault SA MD Roland Bouchara said negotiations were still on-going to try to get that engine to SA at a good price.
The interior is clean and bright, with very comfortable seats and lots of headroom, and depending on the rear seat position, legroom too.
And the Modus is the first Renault model in its class to be equipped with the new dashboard interface taken from Megane II.
The speedo is in the centre of the dash and features one big half-dial with digital speedo readout as well as rim-set revcounter, fuel and temperature gauges.
There's also an alphanumeric centrally mounted display which shows information and warning messages, on board computer data and mode change details for certain functions.
Text messages have replaced warning lights for greater clarity.
On the road
We set off from Sandton to Sun at the launch of the car, and the Modus attracted a lot of attention.
Its styling follows very much on the Scenic II theme, but with a high degree of funkiness, while its high roof gives the car an airy feel inside while also allowing for great headroom and increased load carrying ability.
The seating position is excellent, and it's easy to find a comfortable driving position, although one cannot see the exact front of the car when parking because of the sharp drop-off - a common problem these days.
Rear seat space is good, even with the back seat on its furthest forward setting, and excellent when the seat is pushed back.
Boot space is good for this size vehicle, especially when the luggage net is used to allow floor-to roof loading, and I particularly liked the ingenious spare wheel housing, located beneath the luggage compartment floor and accessed from below.
The housing drops down to a point where it's easy to take out the full size spare and replace it with the punctured road wheel, then to lock it all back into place using a special lever which cuts effort to a minimum.
However, the proof of the pudding of any new car is in the driving.
Only 1.4-litre models were available at the launch, but we quickly settled into a leisurely gait that proved extremely comfortable and easy-going despite the 17% power loss encountered at high altitude.
Handling proved extremely positive, just like the Megane - from which the Modus's platform is derived - and braking power was excellent for a car in this class.
But the big eye-opener was ride comfort. The car has MacPherson struts front suspension with L-shaped lower arms, and an anti-roll bar, while at the back is a progressive deflection torsion beam axle with coil springs and an anti-roll bar.
The Modus literally soaks up bumps, and even at high speed is positive and free of any quirky moves, even when we hit one particularly vicious bump very quickly.
Fuel tank capacity is 49 litres.
The Modus is going to ignite a fire in the South African market.
People will take a long hard look at its price competition - especially such cars as the Honda Jazz, which the Modus 1.4 versions tackle head-on - while even more expensive cars are going to fall under the whip, as they did in Europe when the car was launched there.
Where the Modus scores is in its superb chassis, great handling response, and fabulous engines, as well as extraordinary ride quality, and pricing levels that make it very affordable, bloodying the nose of most of its competitors.
The looks are funky and modern, and all round fit and finish will make you sit up and take notice.
I predict it will do very well indeed!