At the Johannesburg International Motor Show last year, French car manufacturer Renault announced its expectations for 2009: a period of increased growth, a revitalised model range and an even stronger emphasis on service and quality. Renault had been plagued by a reputation for disappointing service levels, high servicing costs and an overly complex product range that didn’t always match consumer demands.
While growth in the current economic climate seemed a little pie in the sky, the company kept to its word regarding a refreshed model range, announcing the launch of six distinct new model ranges by mid-2009. The Koleos SUV, Twingo city car, Logan budget sedan and Sandero hatch have all arrived since then, with the gorgeous Laguna Coupe and Megane III the only models now outstanding.
While the Laguna Coupe and Koleos are aimed at a very specific segment of the market, the Twingo, Sandero and Logan appear perfectly mated to the local motoring context: all three are relatively compact and promise good specification at an even better price, with the Sandero built locally at Rosslyn. Has Renault finally created a model mix that matches consumer demand?
The Twingo is dubbed a city car, and as such certainly has the most unique appearance of the aforementioned three. A cute, somewhat sporty three-door hatch, it’s got loads of character on the outside, with colour-coded bumpers and fog lights at the front adding some playful machismo. It’s designed as a 2+2, which means you get two individual seats in the back. The doors open wide to accommodate easy entrance and exit for rear passengers, but can lead to some maneuvers worthy of contortionists when parked in smaller parking bays.
Interior quality is perceived to be good, with the centrally-mounted instrument binnacle adding some French quirk to the mix. The CD changer’s placement in an upward, tilted position low down on the centre console has been described as innovative, but I just found it odd. Standard specification includes power steering, a height-adjustable steering wheel, driver, passenger and side airbags, ABS, EBD, BAS, remote central locking, a radio/MP3/CD-player, steering-mounted audio controls, a trip computer and electric windows.
It’s powered by a 1.1-litre engine that delivers 56 kW of power and 107 Nm of torque. In city driving, where Twingo will most likely spend its time, it’s remarkably nippy and nimble. On the open road, once at the desired cruising speed, Twingo is equally enjoyable – just don’t attempt to pass slow vehicles on an uphill. The tiny engine feels a little too dead under hard acceleration, and if better performance is a priority, I’d suggest waiting for the RS derivative coming later in the year.
In all fairness though, Twingo is not intended to be a pocket rocket, and it would be unfair to criticise it for not performing as desired outside of its intended milieu. Therefore, when doing a spec-by-spec comparison of the Twingo and its main competitors, Twingo certainly appears to offer excellent value for money, even though its list price of R124 500 initially appears slightly excessive. It includes a 3 year/ 45 000km Service Plan and 3-year/ 100 000km warranty, backed by Renault’s Confiance programme.
But, while I value aesthetics almost as much as performance, I am undecided about whether a discerning buyer, who today really has to get as much as possible for every Rand in his pocket, will buy a Twingo. Although it may not have Twingo’s charismatic exterior, Hyundai’s i10 1.2 GLS HS offers a very similar package at a R1000 less.
While Twingo is immediately identifiable as a Renault, there is absolutely nothing reminiscent of the French marquee in the Logan, Renault’s attempt at a budget sedan that it hopes will put vehicular mobility in the reach of more people globally. My black test unit was fairly striking, although most people who saw it considered it ugly.
I think Logan is charming in a conservative, understated way. The front is perhaps a bit bland, but the side view and rear is not entirely unattractive. Instead, it’s a compromise one would expect from a car sold as a Renault, a Dacia and a Mahindra, depending on where you reside. Debuting in Romania in September 2004, the Logan sold an unprecedented 15 000 units within just three months. Since then, it has seen untold international success and is now sold in five continents and 59 countries.
What is immediately impressive though, is what you get for your money. As Renault puts it, Logan offers C-segment size and features at a B-segment price. Launched at R99 500 and currently retailing at R112 200, the Logan offers unprecedented value – in fact, for a R1000 less, you can get a Kia Picanto or Daihatsu Charade…
Logan is powered by a 1.6-litre engine that delivers 64 kW of power and 128 Nm of torque. It has a top speed of 153km/h and gets to 100km/h in 14.32 seconds. It’s no rocket then either, but manages to feel surprisingly quick and nimble both on the open road and in the city. A fuel consumption figure of 8.64-litres/ 100km is on the better side of average.
The Logan’s interior isn’t a bad place to be, but won’t win any prizes, especially in the horrible only-option-available sand and brown colour scheme. The seats are as comfortable as can be expected, but show dirt immediately – our test unit’s seats seemed especially well used. The wood trimmings lean towards kitsch, and the Blaupunkt radio is particularly old-fashioned.
Standard specification include the aforementioned radio/ CD with MP3 player and four speakers, a driver’s airbag, ABS brakes with EBD, remote central locking, power steering, front and rear electric windows and a height adjustable driver’s seat. A 3 years/ 45 000km service plan is optional, but a 3 years/ 100 000km warranty comes standard.
At R112 200, Logan doesn’t have many competitors, with only Tata’s Indigo 1.4 GLS (R111 995) coming close, and that with a smaller engine (all other Indigo models are more expensive). If you like the idea of driving a rental car every day, try Chevrolet’s entry-level Aveo sedan (the 1.6 LT) at R159 320, or Ford’s recently refreshed Ikon 1.6 Ambiente at R133 500.
It’s blatantly evident that Renault is putting its money where its mouth is, actively trying to provide a model mix that is more suited to the local motoring market. While I will reserve comment on the Koleos and Sandero until testing them, Twingo and Logan have done much to realign the preconceived ideas I had about the brand.
Twingo stays truest to what we have come to know and like about Renault, but it lacks the je ne sais quoi Clio II had in the entry-level market. It’s good to look at, well-specced and offers excellent value for money. But, its Achilles heel lies in it trying to be more up-market than it is, and unconvincingly so (only 4 units sold in the four months since launch).
Logan is the dark horse in Renault’s model mix, and while it loses out on French quirkiness, it makes up in real-world value. With the Logan, Renault identified a need and did its damnedest to address it, in my opinion rather successfully. It’s basic and conservative but has everything you need, including performance that feels lively. Once the budget-conscious have caught on, Logan is bound to repeat its global successes in South Africa.