New Sasol GTC cars set for thrills

The iconic Grand Prix Circuit will present a new challenge to the GTC drivers as they tackle the country’s fastest racetrack on June 16.

Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

Suzuki kicks off its new model assault with an all new Swift hatchback and standalone sedan called the Dzire.

Tested: Renault Sandero

2010-03-16 08:03

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Renault
Engine 1.6-litre 8 valve four-cylinder
Power 64 kW @ 5 500 r/min
Torque 128 Nm @ 3 000 r/min
Transmission five-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 11.5 seconds
Top Speed 175 km/h
Fuel Tank 50 l
Fuel Consumption 7.2 l/100 km
Steering hydraulic power steering
ABS with EBD and EBA
Airbags front driver and passenger
Tyres 185/70 R14
Front Suspension MacPherson strut with wishbone arm
Rear Suspension H-type torsion beam with programmed deflection and coil springs
Service Intervals 15 000 km
Warranty three year / 100 000 km
The Renault Sandero is Romanian in origin and French in execution, yet wholly South African too since it is built just outside Pretoria at alliance partner Nissan’s Rosslyn plant. Before the launch of Volkswagen’s Vivo last week, it was the only relatively modern entry level car built locally.

It’s an important car for Renault SA, too. Being active in the entry level hatchback segment enables one to capture a greater market share and get young/first-time buyers into a specific brand with the hope of graduating these buyers to various other models as they mature into buyers with greater disposal income.

Beyond the pure marketing pragmatism of Sandero it also has a vital role to play in the greater scheme of things. Built on the NP200 bakkie line at Rosslyn outside Pretoria, Sandero signifies Renault’s realignment from importer to local producer.

Renault claims the Sandero combines French flair with a Mzanzi touch. To put this statement to the test we spent two weeks with a Sandero 1.6 Expression+ Pack.

Customer driven execution

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

The name Dacia could turn your mind to those horrendous little bakkies that polluted local roads in the late 1990s, but rest assured though. These days, Dacia is a thoroughly modern eastern European company that builds entirely decent vehicles with much input from Renault ever since the French manufacturer bought it just before the turn of the millennium.

The Sandero is, in term of configuration, quite an apt car for South Africa’s diffuse road conditions. The B0 platform is robust, whilst the old-school Megane engines which power the Sandero range have proven themselves to be utterly reliable in Europe.

Our Expression+ Pack test car in the mid-range option with regards to the 1.6l Sanderos locally, slotting in-between the entry level Expression Pack and range-topping Dynamique.

From a styling perspective, it’s hardly the most striking of small cars. It’s hardly what we’d call cute either. Sandero’s surfacing is mostly flat-panelled with only the ovoid-shaped headlights managing to offset its bland, late 1990s throwback styling.

If you step back a few paces and take in the Sandero’s side profile you’ll notice it sports a fair bit of ground clearance (155mm in fact). Despite the ample room between the road surface and Sandero’s undercarriage engendering it with top-heavy proportioning, it does counter with massively practical dirt-road driving potential. More on that later…

Cabin fever

Sandero’s old-styling theme continues when you take up your position at the helm, too.

The car’s interior design 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.

From an ergonomic perspective it’s a mixed bag. Slightly older buyers (especially pensioners) will find the lack of cabin digitisation a boon, though I could never really get used to flipping switches on the lower half of the centre console to power the front windows. The fixed steering position will ensure tall drivers (1.8m and over) never really find a comfortable driving position, either.

Sporting a generous 2.58m wheelbase there’s plenty of space inside, with shoulder room for both front and rear passengers particularly notable. Despite Sandero’s impressive cabin dimensions, I wouldn’t recommend travelling five-up over vast distances in it. Those front seats aren’t the kindest of surfaces to rest up against for taller passengers on long journeys.

Equipment levels are sufficient. Both front occupants have an airbag each, whilst there’s air-conditioning and a radio/CD front-loader with MP3 capability to ease the traffic burden. For security conscious South Africans, the presence of remote central locking (which self-actuates on the go) will figure as a strong credit entry within the purchasing rationale when considering a Sandero.

One area Sandero does feature very strongly is stowage space. Open the rear hatch and you’ll find 320l of stowage space – positively dwarfing competitors such as Volkswagen’s Vivo (270l). The placement of the sparewheel underneath the car, instead of residing inside, frees up volume for such generous load space.

Easy driver

Let’s tally the Sandero experience thus far. It looks a bit old. The cabin is not particularly harmonious in terms of ergonomics, but at least it has an impressive luggage volume rating. Is it good to drive though?

Well, the 1.6l engine is a multipoint fuel-injected design boasting dual valve per cylinder valve-gear that signals a blueprint profiled for optimal low-speed torque instead of free-revving performance.

With a near-square engine architecture, it produces 64kW and 128Nm at relatively usable engine speeds of 5 500- and 3 000r/min, respectively. Despite the relatively trimmed kerb weight (considering its dimensions) of 1 048kg, the Sandero 1.6 is not the quickest of cars.

If you’re particularly adept at rowing the tall shifter through its five speed gate you’ll see a whisper over 13 seconds when dispatching the 0-100km/h benchmark before Sandero tops out at just over 150km/h. Tank-to-tank consumption on test returned a figure of 8.3l/100km.

The figures are admittedly unimpressive. As an everyday urban runabout I did enjoy piloting the Sandero. Its clutch and throttle action are light (making it essentially stall-proof in the hands of novice drivers) and the ride and handling balance hugely impressive.

Renaults always manage to ride well, even on badly broken surfaces. Despite its entry level status Sandero was no different, easing out even the worst surface irregularities, albeit with an audible refinement more in line with developing countries expectations than European norms.

Sandero’s steering is good too, being 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.

An area the Sandero truly won me over was during a 200km dirt road stretch to visit some relations on a farm. The 155mm ground clearance and linear steering feel ensure perfect poise over loose gravel without any fear of vehicle damage. If you live in an area with many roads which are untarred, Sandero would make an awful lot of sense.

Despite its lack of outright urge Sandero does counter with Bosch-sourced ABS brakes that boast both EBD and EBA calibration to ensure confident deceleration when actuating the middle pedal in an emergency.


Not cute. Not particularly pretty either. Some of the Chinese imports are worse though…


Ergonomics not the best. Seats not really comfortable enough for endurance distance driving. Hard wearing construction cues reassuring build quality.


Ride and handling balance is very good. Old Megane engine is bulletproof, though performance and economy is lacking. Brakes up to modern standards.


Sandero has not been the sales success Renault envisioned when launching the car just over a year ago. Back in February of last year they said 1 000 units a month was the sales target.  In January of this year 549 Sanderos found new owners, which is hardly a disaster considering the credit strain South Africa’s economy still experiences.

As a package it’s tailored perfectly for local conditions. I found the cabin ergonomics frustrating (especially the fixed steering-wheel position), yet the ride comfort and bulletproof mechanics tend to win you over in the end – especially considering the price.

VW’s new(ish) Vivo is a strong competitor – though it features appreciably less standard kit. Ford’s soon-to-be-launched Figo will undoubtedly increase competition in the segment too.

If you need the space, are on a budget, and do a lot of dirt-road driving, Sandero’s very much worth a look. A notable deal sweetener is the standard 5 year/60 000km maintenance plan.


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