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

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Text: Danie Botha Pho­to­graphs: GG van Rooyen

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.

SUM­MARY

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.

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