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Renault's budget beater driven

2009-02-23 08:12
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Renault
Engine 1.4l, 1.6l 8v
Power 55kW @ 5 500r/min, 64kW @ 5 500r/min
Torque 112Nm @ 3 000r/min, 128Nm @ 3 000r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 13 sec, 11.5 sec
Top Speed 161km/h, 175km/h
Fuel Tank 50l
Fuel Consumption 7l/100km
Weight 1 013kg
Boot Size 320l
ABS Yes, with EBD, EBA
Airbags Dual front
Tyres 185/70R14
Front Suspension MacPherson struts, lower wishbone
Rear Suspension H-type torsion beam, coil springs
Service Intervals 15 000km
Warranty 3year/100 000km

Lance Branquinho

Citi Golf money for C-segment space and a motorplan? How did Renault manage to do that?

Sandero is the most important car the French manufacturer has launched locally, representing a crucial juncture with regards to Renault’s South African operations. Built on the NP200 bakkie line at Rosslyn outside Pretoria, Sandero signifies Renault’s realignment from importer to local producer.

Beyond the lessened Euro-source price volatility, local production should ensure quick parts turnaround and sufficient availability too. Renault is so bullish about Sandero’s credentials they estimate it will soon account for half of its local sales volume.

Customer driven execution

Let's not be coy, Sandero is the hatch derivate of Renault’s B0 platform, sourced in-turn from Romanian subsidiary Dacia. It shares this platform with Nissan’s NP200 and the Indian-built Logan sedan.

Sporting a 2.58m wheelbase, Sandero is configured to be as spacious as possible, aiming to pound competitors by offering unbeatable interior utility dimensions at competitive prices.

Essentially Renault has taken the robust B0 platform, pandered to customer styling expectations locally – where hatchbacks are preferable – and mechanised the package with old-school Megane engines.

The result is a neatly styled hatchback with sufficient seating for five adults and boasting contemporary safety features all within a price bracket between R98 800 – R142 800.

Cognisent of the budget pricing barrier around R100 000, Renault has positioned the entry level Sandero, the 1.4 Authetique, at R98 800. This model features a driver airbag, yet no ABS, and does without a radio or air-conditioning too. Next up in the range is the first of the 1.6l cars - Expression - which ads air-conditioning and a front passenger airbag to the package.

The range is fleshed out by three more 1.6 variants, Expression Pack, Expression+ Pack and Dynamicque – all rolling out of dealerships with a 5 year/60 000km maintenance plan factored into the purchase price.

Expression Pack introduces a Bosch sourced ABS system balanced by both EBD and EBA to the Sandero range. Remote central locking which self-actuates on the go and air-conditioning are the interior upgrades on Expression Pack models.

The next model up, a curiously named Expression+ Pack, boasts an MP3 compatible CD front loader, electric front windows and body-coloured side mirrors contrasted by chrome door handles.

Topping off the Sandero range is Dynamique, aesthetically distinguished by being the only Sandero model rolling on 15-inch alloys as standard, whilst interior comfort and convenience benefits from all-round electric windows and door mirrors.

With this five model range, Sandero manages to straddle the divide from below R100 000 right through to Polo/Yaris market territory. Considering its size, the value coefficient is high.

Pleasingly utilitarian in design

Despite the mostly flat-panelled surface areas, Sandero cuts a neat exterior design. A single styling detail, those ovoid front headlights, manages to create enough visual flow around the front of the car to offset the essentially bland shape – differentiating it from being just another entry level box on wheels.

Viewed in side-profile, the secondary road capable 155mm of ground clearance is apparent in Sandero's raised stance. 

Centre console is about as flat slapped as a northern suburbs security estate perimiter wall.

Access the Sandero and the interior architecture, featuring a nearly 80s vintage vertical front fascia, underscores the utilitarian design brief. Dials, vents and the tall transmission shifter are all familiar items from the Renault parts bin, while orientating yourself is easy partly due to the lack of cabin digitisation.

There’s plenty of space inside, with and shoulder room both for both front and rear passengers particularly notable.

Renault was at pains to point out Sandero is able to accommodate five burly South African adults, and though easily doable with regards to capacity, the oddly shaped seats, especially the front ones, which feel nearly undersized, won’t really do for a one-stop Durban to Jozi journey.

Packing for a cross-country trip will be of little concern though, with Sandero’s 320 litre boot dwarfing competitors. The placement of the sparewheel underneath the car, instead of residing inside, freed up some luggage space.

Overall shape is hadly the work of a comprehensive French curves drawing set, details neat though. Rear bumper recover point practical, though with 155mm of ground clearance dirt-roads are well within Sandero capabilities.

Old-school performance, not really such a bad thing?

Set off in the Sandero and two engineering issues are quickly apparent. Firstly, the ride comfort and road manners are inline with the comfortable, confident Renault heritage. Secondly, at the Reef, performance is hardly epic.

The 1.4l and 1.6l engines are both multipoint fuel-injected designs, their dual valve per cylinder valve-gear arrangement signalling a blueprint profiled for optimal low-speed torque instead of free-revving performance.

Curiously the 1.4l measures up to a traditionally rev-happy, oversquare design (bore/stroke ratio 79.5/70mm) yet produces 55kW at 5 500r/min and 112Nm at 3 000r/min. With a nearly square engine architecture by contrast, Sandero’s mainstay engine, the 1.6l, produces 64kW and 128Nm at the same peak engine speeds as the 1.4l.

On performance per capacity comparisons the 1.6l is not a winner in outright terms. Renault claims 11.5 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint, yet at the Reef I doubt you’ll see a similar number. Outright performance is hardly the point though.

Sandero is all about easy of use. For the price it’s entirely driveable, and considering the relatively uncomplicated design and fair low-speed torque spread, both 1.4 and 1.6 are keen little engines in day-to-day driving. Claimed fuel economy is 7l/100km and there is the boon of having a proper sized fuel tank of 50l.

Ride comfort is good, though overall audible refinement is more in line with developing countries expectations than European norms, especially over poor roads. At highway speeds on our test drive Sandero cruised quietly enough at the legal speed limit.

Steering is assisted by hydraulics, instead of electric power. This renders a nice linear feel, something increasingly missing from more expensive cars these days, with their electric power steering systems so void of feel.

Though it looks odd to some, I’ve always liked Renault’s tall manual transmission shifters, which fall easily to hand, especially when changing gears continuously in morning traffic.  

New peoples car?

Sandero is Renault’s attempt to usurp Citi Golf, by offering a car which is safer, with better features and a maintenance plan. With this recipe the French carmaker hopes to convince the more than 1 000 South Africans who purchase a Citi Golf each month to spend their money on Sanderos. 

And why not? Locally built, Sandero has all the patriotic good-will of Citi Golf (if such normative reasoning is important to you), and boasting a maintenance plan the running cost equation – a key factor in budget motoring – clearly favours Sandero.

As a car Sandero is infinitely better than a Citi, with incomparably better crash protection, refinement and interior accommodation.

Disturbingly, considering its size and features, Sandero could woo entry level Polo and Yaris buyers priced out of the market by recent price increases.

Renault call it French flair with a Mzanzi touch. We think it’s just a really well priced, keenly equipped family car for South Africans taking economic strain.

A project nearly five years in the making, Renault, considering the current economic malaise and trend in buying down, has read the market perfectly.

If you were considering a Citi Golf, there’s really no excuse to buy one anymore.


1.4 Authentique: R98 800
1.6 Expression: R111 800
1.6 Expression Pack: R126 800
1.6 Expression+ Pack: R136 800
1.6 Dynamique: R142 800

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