Ryan Bubear tries out the Renault Sandero Stepway...
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When someone buys a "cheap" vehicle, he or she often ends up forgiving the car its numerous foibles, for that very reason. Particularly if said car has a certain amount of charm.
"I paid just 27 cents for the thing, so I guess I can't be too upset that the doors fell off."
The Renault Sandero Stepway costs a bit more than 27 cents. And, by the end of our test period, all four doors remained firmly attached (the boot situation wasn't quite as cut and dried, but more on that later). Yet we were still left wondering whether we'd be able to pardon its imperfections, despite its charisma, were we to actually purchase one.
The Sandero Stepway has been around for a few years. But seeing that it falls into the popular budget segment, we thought we'd revisit it. Basically, it's a regular SA-made Sandero hatchback on stilts, with a handful of exterior tweaks thrown in for good measure.
What makes a Stepway?
It's actually not a bad looking thing, and is in fact more visually appealing than the standard Sandero. It has a raised ride height (ground clearance some 20mm more than the Sandero), 16-inch alloys, SUV-style roof rails, front and rear skid plates, a chrome-tipped exhaust tailpipe, more pronounced wheel arches (as well as black cladding), a black radiator grille with satin chrome-finished accents, and black-masked headlights. The satin chrome finishes have been extended to the exterior mirrors, roof rails, skid plates, door sills and door handles. Oh, and it has wider tyres for added traction.
Just like the Sandero, it is a pretty spacious (you've likely seen the "cramped is not cool" television adverts) and is powered by a 1.6-litre engine (incidentally, the standard Sandero is also available with a 1.4).
This slow-revving eight-valve 1598cc powerplant — mated to a five-speed gearbox — is one of the older units around, delivering just 64kW and 128Nm to the front wheels. But there's just enough grunt to do the job, taking the pseudo-SUV from standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 11.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 175km/h. Plenty of engine- and road-noise is apparent, particularly during highway driving.
Renault quotes a combined fuel economy figure of 7.2 litres per 100km, although the Stepway's bare-bones trip computer doesn't feature a fuel consumption meter...
Worse for wear...
Our test unit hadn't even covered 10 000km yet, but was already showing a number of signs of wear (although this could have been accelerated by a few particularly heavy-handed journalists driving it before me). The latch on the luggage compartment was broken, meaning the boot couldn't be properly closed, never mind actually locked. This proved rather problematic on a day-to-day basis. The driver's seat had a tendency to rock on both acceleration and deceleration, and a few rattles (not from the dash, which is a one-piece unit) from around the vehicle announced themselves rather loudly. The silver plastic coating on the rear Renault badge was also already bubbling.
Inside, the Sandero Stepway is distinctly, well, workhorse-like. In fact, I recognised a number of switches and instruments from the Nissan NP200 bakkie (the two manufacturers established an alliance back in 1999). There is no electric adjustment function for the side mirrors, and the driver has to (gasp!) reach over and fine-tune them manually. And, of course, some of the plastics used are rather harsh. An aftermarket-type Sony Xplod head-unit comes standard, but looks a little out of place.
Don't get us wrong, the Sandero Stepway has its strong points too, with space chief among them. The boot can swallow 320 litres of luggage, or up to 1200 litres with the rear seats folded flat. The interior is pretty roomy too, and visibility is excellent. And, thanks to the suspension tweaks, the Stepway laughs in the face of potholes and rutted roads. Parts are apparently inexpensive (according to the 2010 Kinsey parts report), and each vehicle comes with a comprehensive five-year or 150 000km warranty and a three-year or 45 000km service plan as standard. And, of course, it's cheap...
But is it? At R149 900, it's priced some R20k above the ordinary 1.6 Sandero, and a whopping R40k above the 1.4. It may be cheap in relative terms (there's not much on the market this size for under R150k), and perhaps not a bad option if you happen to frequently use unforgiving or even gravel roads and need something that can withstand a regular beating. But if you want a Stepway for this purpose, would it not be a better idea to pick one up second-hand?
And if you live in the city, why not just buy a standard (and thus far cheaper), non-Stepway Sandero?
In the end, it all comes down to this simple question: is the Sandero Stepway cheap and cheerful enough for its foibles to be forgiven?
It's touch and go, if we're honest...
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.