The bigwigs at Renault must have had a premonition when they launched the Shake-It version of the Megane a number of years ago, because today the company really is shaking things up. Earlier this year, it overtook Ford to become Europe’s second biggest car brand in terms of sales. It’s a massive achievement for a company which here in SA has struggled with perception issues for years.
It embarked on a French revolution when it unveiled the DeZir concept at the Paris Motor Show in 2010. The concept heralded a new design era for the brand and it has not looked back. Today, elements of the DeZir appear in every model it makes, even in the Sandero and the soon to be launched budget Kwid.
Talking of the Kwid, Renault execs are quick to point out that while it might share some platform items with the Datsun Go, it will be a far more superior offering. The Go failed to achieve an acceptable safety rating, spectacularly failing crash tests in India, which led to global condemnation of the vehicle.
The Kwid did not fare much better in early tests, receiving a zero rating, but Renault SA has confirmed that the model tested is not the one which will go on sale here.
Fortunately the SA-bound Kwid will be significantly strengthened over the one the motorists in India will drive and it will also be fitted with at least one airbag as standard as well as seatbelt pre-tensioners. Renault is promising a car that will achieve three stars in the new safety tests.
The Kwid also looks better than the Go, with the designers actually having created something that looks cool rather than just being all about cheap-box functionality. And it will get decent kit too, including a version of Renault’s touchscreen infotainment system.
We haven’t driven it yet, or even seen it in the metal apart from a couple of cool crossover and race car concepts, but it could well be a game changer at the budget end of the market when it arrives here towards the end of the year.
Also regarded as nestling in the budget end of the market is the Sandero. Dacia, the company owned by Renault which builds and markets the Sandero in Europe, revealed a new version at the Paris Motor Show. Renault SA has advised that a facelifted Sandero will be in the country early in 2017, but it will differ to the Dacia version.
Arriving a little sooner is the facelift of the popular Clio, which will be here in November. It made its debut in Paris and sports new headlights, including the option of LED lighting. For the first time there will also be a GT-Line version too, although you will have to wait until the second quarter of 2017 for that one. Enthusiasts of the Clio RS will not have to wait so long though, with the new RS set to arrive here in the first quarter, and we have driven it.
There will be two versions in the form of the RS Lux 200 (149kW) and the RS Trophy 220 (164kW). While the company has not confirmed that the stunning RS 16 concept with its 275hp (205kW) will go into production, executives we spoke to are confident that it will get the green light. If so, as few as five are expected to come to SA, but they will be for hardcore enthusiasts only with a predicted price tag close to a million.
Back to reality though and we put the new RS Trophy 220 through its paces at the Mortefontaine vehicle proving ground outside of Paris. I am pleased to confirm that lessons were learnt and the engineers have paid attention to the criticism of the EDC dual clutch gearbox and made some major changes. The response time is quicker and the gear changes are quicker, all of which was apparent immediately while tackling the handling track at the facility.
There was a still a bit of a dead spot when coming out of a few corners and the paddles still do not move with the steering wheel, but overall the power and response is a significant improvement.
There are also new driving modes, not the least of which is the inclusion of launch control. Then you get normal, Sport and Race modes.
And if you opt for the Trophy version, you get a great sounding Akrapovic exhaust system.
Both versions also get the new RS Vision lighting. Designed to look like a chequered flag, these three lights in the front valance provide different functions. One acts as a fog light, another as a cornering light and the final one as a high beam. Blending design with functionality is becoming a hallmark of Renault these days.
Moving from performance to practicality, Renault is also going big into the commercial vehicle market. It is already the market leader in Europe when it comes to light commercial vehicles, but it has always been about vans. Now it is going into bakkies. Its big ticket item is going to be the Alaskan, which is due in SA in 2018. It shares a platform with the upcoming new Nissan Navara and soon to be unveiled Mercedes-Benz bakkie. Seeing it for the first time at the Paris show, it is clear that Renault has again put design high on its list. The Alaskan looks good both inside and out and we look forward to getting behind the wheel to see how it stacks up against those platform-sharing rivals.
As well as bringing the Alaskan to SA, the company also wants to build it here, but is awaiting confirmation from Nissan SA that it will build the new NP300 Navara at its plant in Rosslyn before it can start discussions on local production.
The Alaskan will not be its only bakkie though. As soon as right-hand drive production is confirmed, Renault SA wants to bring the half-tonne Oroch here. That could also be in 2018.
So what about the Trezor concept the company unveiled at Paris? We will bring you more information on that next week, but suffice to say that just as the DeZir concept showcased a major new design direction for Renault, you can expect the Trezor to do the same.