Renault Kwid vs Merc GLC Coupé
Our little Renault Kwid long-term crossover is, well, little. Yet it has 180mm ground clearance, and it sort of looks as if it can roll up its sleeves and take some tough-road shots. So, for the long-term Kwid’s final hoorah, we decided to take it on a 70
Can an affordable crossover keep up with a luxury SUV?
The traffic on the N1 highway, leading north past Pretoria, is relatively light at 5am. In the Renault Kwid 1.0 Dynamique, I’m cruising at an indicated 120km/h. The Kwid doesn’t have a rev counter, and the liquid crystal display (LCD) speedometer takes centre stage in the instrument panel ahead of the driver.
At this speed, the 999cc threecylinder is remarkably content in fifth gear. The engine is not revving too high, and when you want to accelerate on a flat section there’s no need to gear down to fourth; squeeze the accelerator pedal a bit harder and off she goes, in a surprisingly brisk fashion.
The Dynamique model’s standard infotainment system includes a seven-inch multimedia touchscreen, voice control, satellite navigation and Bluetooth and USB connectivity. The sound system has two speakers, mounted on top of the dashboard. The Bluetooth streaming from my smartphone certainly works well, but the sound quality is just about okay. If I owned a Kwid, I’d definitely invest in speakers with better sound reproducing qualities, and probably add a couple more to the cabin.
A ringing sound interrupts Alanis Morissette, blaring over the two speakers. It’s the phone, and it’s colleague GG van Rooyen phoning from the Mercedes GLC Coupé, following behind the Kwid.
“Is there a specific reason why we are driving at 105km/h?” he asks. Poor man. He’s clearly been struggling in the plush Mercedes cabin, which is decked out in a ludicrous amount of cow and aluminium. He must be having a tough time listening to his music on the outstanding Burmester surround sound system with 13 speakers, a nine-channel DSP amplifier and a total output of 590 watts.
“I am sitting at 120km/h,” I answer, maybe one decibel louder than GG needed to speak in the cabin of the quiet GLC. “I’m switching on the GPS now. Will check what the real speed is.”
The GPS comes to life, and proclaims: 105km/h. Oh dear, so the speedometer is a fair bit off. So I increase the speed to an indicated 130km/h, which is much closer to a true 120km/h.
It’s a windless day and the Kwid is perfectly stable. You can keep one finger on the steering wheel and it will track true and straight. When there’s a bit of a crosswind in the game, at higher speeds, we’ve previously found that it can get a
bit unsettled, requiring slight steering corrections.
We sweep past Hammanskraal, the Dinokeng Game Reserve and Bela-Bela. There is a bit more road and wind noise in the Kwid cabin at this speed, but it’s quite bearable. We leave the N1 and head north-west on the R33 to Modimolle.
In Modimolle we make our first important stop: at the Wimpy restaurant. Road trips require such stops, of course. There, over a steaming cappuccino, we fill in the gaps of our cunning road trip plan. We’re aiming for a little-known mountain pass called Die Noute. Translated directly, that means The Narrow.
From there we would head to Rankin’s Pass to eventually end up in Thabazimbi. It was a gravel detour of about 150km.
We discovered some interesting interweb facts about Modimolle. In the 1860s, a group of Voortrekkers headed north from Pretoria, in search of the ‘Holy Land’. They came across a wide river flowing from the north. After consulting their Bible maps, they decided it must be the Nile River so they named it Nyl Rivier. The little town they established was named Nylstroom, which was more recently renamed Modimolle.
Talking about Modimolle... soon after the discovery of the ‘Nile’, the Voortrekkers found what they thought were the ruins of an Egyptian pyramid. So they were all the more convinced that they had travelled to Egypt. The ‘pyramid’ is in fact a natural hillock, which had been known to the indigenous people of the region as Modimolle, hence the name of the town today.
After our breakfast, we headed to the parked Kwid and GLC Coupé. A man walked up to GG, smiling from ear to ear.
“Yoh meneer! This car is so beautiful! Yoh! It must be very fast, and very expensive, too,” he exclaimed, clearly taken with the Merc’s swoopy, trendy lines.
He hardly noticed the cool little Renault parked next to it, of course. We can’t really blame him. Although we reckon the Kwid is markedly better looking and more fashionable than its cousin, the Datsun GO, it still hasn’t an inspirational kind of aura about it. More an aura of ‘money for beer and party and petrol and girls/boys’; you know, the typical student kind of mindset.
Driving behind the Mercedes on the tar stretch leading out of Modimolle before we have to turn left on the D180 gravel road towards Die Noute, I realised two things: first, that GLC Coupé does look rather okay.
Second, on the tight R33 B-road, the little Kwid’s 999cc engine packs a reasonable punch if you keep the revs in the right places. Slow-moving trucks are quickly dispatched with a bit of fourth gear and a quick burst of high revs.
The naturally aspirated three-cylinder engine produces just 50kW of power and 91Nm of torque at a high-ish 4 250 r/min. But the little Renault tips the scale at just over 700kg with a driver and a full tank (which holds just 28 litres), so performance really is surprisingly brisk.
Colin Chapman, the erstwhile and very successful creator of Lotus racing and sports cars, famously said: “Simplify, then add lightness.” The Renault Kwid certainly ticks those two boxes.
So what about corners then? Chapman said of those: “Adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.”
Tucking in behind the Mercedes-Benz, we tackle a few corners at a brisk pace. The Kwid manages well enough, but the skinny 155/80 R13 tyres do it no favours. The high sidewalls and narrow width quickly brings understeer to the party (where the nose pushes wide). There’s also quite a bit of body roll in the game. So the Kwid is definitely not the best option for chasing a GLC Coupé through some tight corners.
That said, we’d upgrade the tyres to a wider 175/70 R13... it will go a long way to improving the grip in the corners, and it is virtually the same diameter as the original tyre.
On the subject of tyres: the Benz is fitted with optional 19-inch AMG rims, shod with 235/60 R19 tyres. Lovely to look at, they are. But with plenty of
Top right: Despite its diminutive 13-inch wheels, the Kwid handled the corrugated gravel section better than the fancy Merc. Right: As far as entry-level cars go, this is about as good as it gets. There’s an LCD speedometer, an infotainment with satellite navigation, and a funky design.
gravel roads of unknown quality still on the menu, I was quietly confident about the Renault’s chances when the tar ended.
Here on the tar though, the GLC’s two-litre turbocharged petrol engine is clearly providing plenty of hustle. It has 155kW of power and 350Nm of torque; so three times as much power and almost four times as much torque as the wee little Renault.
Interestingly, this petrol engine behaves more like a modern turbodiesel mill than a traditional petrol one. The 350Nm of torque is available from 1 200 to 4 000r/min. Coupled to Merc’s nine-speed 9G-Tronic gearbox, it much prefers to shift earlier, letting the torque do the hard labour, instead of revving to kingdom come. It’s all very efficient and the Coupé covers ground very quickly, but it’s not terribly exciting.
Thankfully GG’s got that Burmester surround sound system to keep him entertained in the climate-controlled cabin.
SOME GRAVEL TRAVEL
We find the D180 turn-off towards Elandsfontein. From here it will be gravel for the next 150km or so.
In the lead, the Mercedes is driving particularly gingerly over the rough corrugated sections. When we stop to set up the first photograph, I enquire about this laid-back pace.
“The 19-inch wheels and the sport suspension upgrade do not enjoy the corrugations at all,” explains GG. “Inside the cabin there’s a lot of suspension noise going on, and the ride is very hard.”
Shame. I have no such issues in the Kwid. Thanks to those higher sidewalls, the light little Renault rides those corrugations like a champ. It’s only when you have to take off on the rough, sometimes sandy sections, and you need to build up some speed reasonably quickly that the skinny front wheels get all uppity, and spin up a bit of a storm. Normal take-offs hardly pose a problem, though.
Grip is one thing the fourwheel-drive Benz does not lack, of course. The 4Matic system sorts out the traction quickly and, again, efficiently.
The road finally clears up a bit, and the Benz can pick up speed. We cruise at a comfortable 80km/h. In the Renault the ride is surprisingly solid, pliant and composed. Remember, there is no traction control, stability control, or any other form of driver aid. Yet unsettling the Renault requires an unsolicited flick of the three-spoke steering wheel, just to get the Kwid’s tail a tiny bit out of line.
Even then it sorts itself out in a jiffy. There’s no melodramatics, panic or a single moment where I think ‘the end is nigh’. But worse gravel roads were still on the menu.
DIE NOUTE! ER… WHERE?
We arrive at the start of the “pass”, as indicated by the GPS system. Said to be only 1.1km long, with a climb of just 36 metres over that distance, the pass nevertheless promises a beautiful drive.
We head up. There really is no ‘beautiful’. It looks virtually exactly the same as 99% of the gravel road we had been driving on since turning off the R33. GG wants to take photos, but with the promise of the interweb information promising great scenery, we continue, hoping that photo will arrive around the next corner.
But it doesn’t. It’s just a slightly narrow dirt road winding between some trees, at a slight incline. Maybe it’s
a whole different game in summer, when the bushveld is lush and green. In July... well, it’s a road.
RANKIN’S PASS… A REAL PASS! OR IS IT?
After Die Noute, we are a little bit disappointed... so far the route has not lived up to the internet expectations. We hook a left on a rather frequented dirt road towards Rankin’s Pass. The road is in pretty good nick here, and we can comfortably cruise at 80km/h.
In a few tight, corrugated corners, I expect the Renault to get all tail happy on me. It doesn’t. It just takes the rough sections in its stride. Here and there a few bigger rocks have made their way onto the gravel road.
The Renault has an impressive 180mm of clearance, and it’s only the bigger rocks that require some evasive manoeuvres. Behind me, I catch an occasional glimpse of the Mercedes and its fancy daytime running lights, performing an impressive emergency lane change as GG dodges a rock. The Benz has 150mm of clearance and you expect a much bigger repair bill if a rock collides with the GLC’s belly.
We happen upon the Rankin’s Pass Shop/Winkel. We ring a bell, as there is no one behind the counter. A young lady emerges from the bowels of the complex. There is not a great selection of drinks on offer, but it’s one of those shops that may well have looked exactly the same 40 years ago, with the same selection of goods on offer.
I don’t think the damsel would have been surprised much if we had rolled up in a donkey car. We enquire about the locality of the actual Rankin’s Pass.
“You go along the road
towards Thabazimbi, and after a few kilometres there’s a road turning right towards Jan Trichardt,” she says, handing over the drinks.
Having studied the map some, early that morning in the Modimolle Wimpy, we are confused. Isn’t that Jan Trichardt Pass, we enquire.
“It’s the same thing,” she says, with a wry smile. Seems she’s explained this a few times before. “The pass was originally named after Jan Trichardt and there are still some Trichardt family members living in this area; but the pass is also known as Rankin’s Pass.”
Ah, that would explain the fact that, on the map, the main gravel road towards Thabazimbi, which we had thought was part of Rankin’s Pass, hardly seemed like a pass at all. It’s just a dirt road.
We hit the dirt road again, turning right towards Jan Trichardt Pass, alias Rankin’s Pass. We soon arrive at what definitely looks like a pass.
It is supposedly just over 3km, and is said to rise by over 100m in that distance. It is also narrow and, in places, rocky. So at long last we’re actually on a pass. Not a long one, but it’s a pass.
The Benz has to take it easy. There are rough sections, and the GLC can sustain mortal damage if due care is not taken. In the front-wheel-drive Kwid I aim and go and not once do the front wheels lose traction. The low weight, combined with a fair dollop of low-down grunt, ensures that the Renault just keeps on climbing. We soon reach the summit of the not-so-long pass, and consult the GPS and maps.
The clock has been ticking and it seems our best option would be to head down the pass again, and hook a right on the main road towards Thabazimbi. So we head down the Sandriviers Mountain again, and rejoin the main dirt road.
This is a long stretch and we push on, the little Kwid again handling
the bad patches in its stride. There are sandy stretches, too, and here the Kwid at times become a handful as the front wheels battle for grip. In the Mercedes, GG hardly notices those sections, of course.
We arrive in Thabazimbi, none the worse for wear. It’s time to refuel both crossovers. And crunch some numbers. The Renault Kwid had used an average of 5.3 litres/100km in a combination of fast and slow driving. That means it can reach just over 500km on that tiny 28-litre tank. Removed from the stop-go city environment, the GLC Coupé also impressed: it had used an average of 8.8 litres/100km on this trip. That equates to a range of 750km. A few hours later, we arrive back in Johannesburg. My back is feeling the 700km (the Kwid’s front pews are aimed more at shorter driving distances in cities), while GG is as fresh as a fiddle.
Okay, so you can buy six Renault Kwids for the price of one Mercedes-Benz GLC250 Coupé 4Matic (priced at R900 000, like our heavy-on-optional extras test unit). But clearly one can’t realistically compare the wee little French car (that is actually made in India) with the lah-di-dah Mercedes-Benz.
Still, both are crossovers. Both completed this road trip, covering highways, byways and good and bad dirt roads; and a few rocky patches, too.
This is something you’d expect the GLC to be good at. And it is. Expect we’d probably not tick the sport suspension and 19-inch wheels options if we planned on driving on dirt roads.
The Renault Kwid surprised us. Here’s a little karretjie that sells for R135 000. It’s reasonably cool (and a whole lot cooler than its cousin, the Datsun GO), economical, spritely, and it gets a whole lot of kit included in the package.
It also comes standard with a five-year/150 000km warranty, as well as free insurance for a year. Service intervals are pegged at 15 000km.
It’s far from perfect. The absence of anti-lock brakes, only one airbag and the car’s performance in crash tests has raised the eyebrows among the safety conscious. Rightly so, too. You have to consider whether you will allow your children to drive a Kwid in the country’s main centres, or not. Considering the mostly atrocious, lawless driving on our roads these days, I know what I’d do.
There are thousands of people out there who want a new car and there’s also the free insurance, the excellent warranty that adds peace of mind, and all the cool kit like the connectivity and navigation as standard (in this model).
This cool little crossover can handle the worst of gravel roads in its stride, and it will do so while burning very little fuel.
Frankly, it’s no wonder Renault sells as many Kwids as it can import. Six months ago we never thought we’d say this but we’re going to miss this fun and frugal little tjorrie.
For us, the Renault was Kwagga Smith of the Lions rugby team: maybe not the pin-up model but when the chips are down, he gets the job done most admirably.
The Mercedes would be Faf de Klerk: fancy hair, and a bit of a show-off, with good skills to boot.
“you can buy six Renault Kwids for the price of one GLC250 Coupé 4Matic. But clearly one can’t compare the wee little French car with the lah-di-dah MercedesBenz. Still...”
Main: R135 000 versus around R900 000… The little Renault Kwid vs. the suave Merc GLC Coupé. Clockwise, from top: The gravel-travelling duo taking a break at the Rankin’s Pass mall. Crossing into new territory. Breakfast break at the Modimolle Wimpy. A 5am coffee – just what the doctor ordered.
Far right: 19-inch wheels and a sport suspension do not enjoy gravel roads very much. Top: The Benz has more electronic safety systems than the space shuttle. The Renault has, well… brakes (without ABS). Above: Yep, it doesn’t get much more plush than this. Just ask GG.
Below: After “Die Noute” mountain pass proved to be, well, a road, we consulted the map and GPS, and headed off to Rankin’s Pass. Far right: On the rough-in-places Rankin’s Pass the little Renault, with 180mm ground clearance, didn’t have much bother from the rocks. The Mercedes, with 150mm clearance, required a more deft approach.