JOHANNESBURG - When the latest-generation Renault Sandero was introduced back in 2014, the Stepway version quickly surged in popularity to become the model of choice in the range.
And it’s not hard to see why.
For a relatively low price you get a decent-sized hatchback with an SUV-inspired design package and more safety kit than most of its rivals offer. No one’s pretending that this is some kind of bundu basher (for that you’ll have to get a Duster, which is also very reasonably priced) but the Stepway does at least strike the right chord with buyers seeking a bit of SUV flavour at the lower end of the market.
Renault has also kept it fresh over the years with subtle upgrades coming almost annually, and the latest enhancement - announced in August - sees the introduction of a new ‘Techroad’ model that replaces the Dynamique as the flagship of the range, presumably until something even more colourful comes along next year. That said, Dacia - which builds the Sandero for Renault - has already shown off a new-generation Sandero, although at this stage it has yet to be confirmed for the local market.
So what sets the Stepway Techroad apart?
The styling changes are subtle, but include unique design decals on the B-Pillars and lower doors as well as two-tone ‘alloy-look’ Flex wheel covers with blue centre caps and gloss black door mirrors. Cabin decor comes in the form of a new upholstery design with blue detailing.
As before, power comes from the familiar 900cc, three-cylinder turbopetrol, offering 66kW at 5250rpm and 135Nm from 2500 revs, and driving the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox.
While there’s nothing new to report on the engine front, our test slot coincided with a recent return trip from Joburg to Durban, which proved a perfect opportunity to see if this crossover hatch, which is usually confined to city driving, actually had the legs for long-distance driving.
All in all, it proved to be a mixed bag. I was impressed by its sense of refinement on the open road and the way the engine ticked away quietly at low revs when at cruising velocity. It definitely felt like a bigger car in terms of its overall refinement. However, when it came to tackling hills or overtaking slower traffic, it wasn’t quite as perky as I would have expected from a turbocharged engine, even given its small size.
Granted, it does get the job done when you gear down a cog or two, but I tried my best to stay in fifth for as long as possible in order to achieve optimal fuel consumption.
On that note, our test car sipped an average of 6.1 litres per 100km on the 1200km return trip.
Thankfully, this engine doesn’t sip too much more fuel in urban confines as a previous test car that we sampled in 2018 sipped 7.1 litres per 100km during a week of urban-heavy commuting.
Decent size, ample safety kit
It’s worth noting that the Sandero is a larger and heavier car than many of its price rivals, the Stepway tipping the scales at 1055kg, but its size and weight does come with its advantages in terms of overall cabin space as well as safety. On that note, the South African spec Sandero achieved an adult occupant rating of three stars in the ‘Safer Cars for Africa’ crash test performed by Global NCAP.
The Sandero also has more active safety and driver assistance features than most budget cars, including ESP stability control, emergency brake assistance (EBA) and hill-start assist. Passive safety kit comes in the form of dual front and side airbags.
In terms of practicality, the cabin feels spacious up front, and while rear legroom is decent, it’s perhaps not as ample as I’d expect from a car of this size. The boot is very generous however and it actually seems bigger than the claimed volume of 292 litres - perhaps Renault didn’t stack it up to the top? Either way, our test car swallowed two peoples’ week-long luggage without a fuss.
The cabin is well appointed and has all the latest infotainment features, including a touch screen infotainment system that’s compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the system also features satnav and a reverse camera. Also standard on the Techroad is cruise control, electric mirrors and windows (front and rear) and rear park assist. Leather seat upholstery is a R10 000 option.
The Sandero Stepway is a solid, practical and fashionable ‘pumped up’ hatchback that makes a strong case for itself. However, it does lack some sparkle on the open road and at R251 900 it has become somewhat more expensive over the years. But as an entry into the crossover realm, it certainly makes some sense.