At this moment, I think the cheapest new car you can buy in America is the Chevrolet Spark, which in its manual shift, LS trim level starts at $14,395. By U.S. market standards, it’s a hell of a deal. But I just drove a car that sells for about $10,000 less than that new, and in comparison to what you get with the Spark at more than three times the cost, this incredibly cheap little machine seems pretty damn amazing. The car is a Renault Kwid, and like it or not, I’m going to tell you about it.
Normally, you can’t find these in America. But recently I happened to be in a place where most of the normal automotive rules of America don’t always apply: Detroit, specifically at Munro & Associates, the company that all the major carmakers go to when they want to know just how their competitors are building cars.
Munro happened to have one of these Indian-market little hatchbacks sitting around, and because I’m an absolute sucker for small cars from developing markets, I had to check it out. They let me take it for a little 20-minute or so drive around, so consider this a sort of mini-review, just enough to get a little taste and feel.
The Kwid I drove was a 2018 model; there’s a new facelifted one available, but the prices still range from around $4,000 for the base model (manual transmission, 0.8-liter engine) to over $6,000.
The version I drove was what is known as the Climber; it’s a higher-spec model with a bunch of orange trim, a more SUV-like look, an automated-manual transmission and the 67 horsepower 1-liter engine. This one sold for $6,293 when new, and for comparison, a 2018 Chevy Spark with an automatic transmission sold for $16,850 when new. So the Kwid was much less than half the price of the Spark, and the pricing of the 2021 models keeps about the same ratio, if not better.
In reading my little review here, it may be worth keeping in mind that 67 HP is the same amount of power my Yugo makes, which is the highest-horsepower of any car that I personally own and drive. So unlike many Americans, that number doesn’t scare me.
Also, it’s worth noting that the Kwid weighs only about 1,477 pounds, so it has a power-to-weight ratio of about 22 pounds per horsepower, which is better than a lot of the naturally aspirated 1980s Trans Ams with V8 engines.
It’s not fast, but it doesn’t really feel all that slow, either. Because I know nobody’s just going to take my word for this, I actually recorded a little video where I found an empty stretch of road and tried to get something as close to a 0-to-60 time as I could before I ran out of road.
I came close! Looks as if I got up to about 86 kilometers per hour, about 53 mph, before I ran out of road:
I think it took between 12 and 15 seconds to get there? I probably could have done a bit quicker, but the automated manual transmission’s shift points sort of threw me, and I think I let up on the throttle a couple of times, from mild confusion. But that’s generally the sort of acceleration you’d expect from 67 HP. It’s not great, but anyone who claims they’d have trouble merging onto a highway with this doesn’t know how to drive a damn car. You’d be fine.
The engine is a bit noisier than I think we’d expect in most modern cars, but, remember, this thing is well under ten grand. It’s not that noisy.
Jeezis, subhead voice, what’s your problem? Why are you so insecure? No, no you shouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in this car, not at all. And that’s not just because I believe feeling shame over driving a cheap car is ridiculous, it’s that the Kwid is simply a decent-looking little car!
It’s got a very SUV-like look about it, though it’s scaled like a four-door hatch. That said, it’s got surprisingly good ground clearance, over seven inches. For comparison, that’s better than many mainstream U.S.-market SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 or the Chevy Equinox. This is likely the result of it being designed for rougher Indian roads.
The Climber version has the word “CLIMBER” on the doors, in case you’re into that sort of thing, and a lot of fun orange trim on the lower front valence, mirrors, roof rails and interior.
There’s also plenty of black plastic protective cladding, fog lamps and all the other necessary design vocabulary of the modern crossiverish look.
The grille is bold and has an interesting geometric barbell-shaped motif; the lighting units all feel stylish and modern — it really doesn’t feel like some bargain-basement, cut-rate desperation box. It feels like any number of other small crossovers you’ll see in any Target parking lot across America, and I think it’s more appealing than a lot of them.
Nothing about the Kwid screams “dirt fucking cheap,” even though it is, and I think that’s a real triumph. Even elements that hint at the cost-cutting involved, like the use of just one windshield wiper, come across as more like interesting design choices as opposed to obvious price-slashing measures.
I don’t know, subhead voice? What are you a king? A sultan? A countess? If not then, yes, the interior is just fine. It’s unashamedly plastic and synthetic fabrics and there’s not a hint of leather or wood to be seen, but who cares? Remember, $6,000 car, people.
The seats feel a bit lighter than what you’re likely used to, but they’re comfortable and the material feels hard-wearing and soft, like some kind of athletic wear. The orange accents give a welcome little pop to the otherwise monochrome gray interior, and the dashboard and control plastics, while lacking the pound-cake squishy feel that we’ve come to associate with automotive luxury, are just fine.
Plus, the interior is pretty roomy for a small car. The floor is flat, without a big central tunnel, and there’s surprisingly good legroom at the rear. Actually, in the front, too. Of course, I’m only tall in comparison to most terriers, but based on the amount of travel the front seat had, even some American-tall people should be able to drive this thing just fine.
Luggage space is also surprisingly good, and while you’ll have to endure some uncarpeted wheel wells, the rear seatback is hard and carpeted and folds flat to make a nice cavernous space with a flat floor. It’s plenty of genuinely useful space, and that’s what matters.
There are some places where the minimal price of the car is revealed, like how the rear windows are crank-up and only the front ones are powered, but, really, the Kwid has everything you need.
I like the funny ’90s clock-radio style dash cluster (I see the 2021 Kwid has a much more refined one) and there’s a good-sized center stack LCD screen with a USB and AUX input, a rear-view camera and air-conditioning. All the basics are covered.
Honestly? This car is amazing. Maybe not amazing in a vacuum of information, but absolutely amazing in the context that this is a $6,000 car. With that number in mind, it’s so good.
You could drive one of these around as your daily commuter and grocery-apprehender, and you’d be just fine.
Of course, I’m sure all of you are thinking that, yeah, it’s cheap because it’s a deathtrap, and compared with most American market cars, that’s likely true. It has only a driver airbag, and the versions sold in Southeast Asian countries and India didn’t do great on crash tests.
But, the version sold in Brazil didn’t do so badly; the Latin American variants of the Kwid got a three-star rating, which was three more than the zero stars the Indian version got:
It’s clearly able to be made safe, or at least safe enough. The Brazilian one has four airbags, ABS and a reinforced body structure, and it still starts at about $5,300 in U.S. dollars.
Surely then a $9,999 U.S.-market version of the Kwid (likely it’d be sold as a Nissan?) should be possible to make safe?
I can’t believe the cheapest new car in America is nearly $15,000. And I know automakers always complain that they can’t make money selling cheap cars, but you know what? If one manufacturer has the guts to come out with a new car for America that only costs $9,999 and isn’t a miserable heap of trash, there’s got to be a way to make money there.
The Kwid could do that job, I think. I also don’t think it’ll happen, but that doesn’t make me respect the Kwid any less.