Dispatches Do Brasil: Renault Sandero Stepway

Marcelo de Vasconcellos
by Marcelo de Vasconcellos

Oh, Brazil. Not having the cars, the will or possibly the means to offer proper SUVs to customers back in the 90s, local makes did as the always do and improvised. Raise up the suspension, modify it (or not) as needed, insert bigger wheels, add lots of plastic cladding and graphics, and your pseudo-SUV common hatch or station wagon is magically transformed into an “aventureiro”.

Originating from Fiat, which added the “Adventure” treatment initially to their Palio station wagon (and hence the “aventureiro” name that has stuck in this country for this kind of car), the treatment spread to pickups and finally hatches. It was very successful in terms of sales and all other local makes adapted the formula to their own offerings. It is even available in other continents and the Sandero, sold as a Dacia in Europe, offers the Stepway version to Europeans, too.

Looking from the outside, the improvements made to the Logan family line are quite evident. It no longer looks like a relic from the 90s. The chrome bits in the front and back do lend it a more upscale look and the oversized logo screams it is a Renault for miles. There is the addition of roof racks and plastic skid plates fore and aft. The extra height is evident and the plastic cladding surrounding the wheels and the graphics are a bit more restrained. The extra height is quite apparent and this car uses 16′ wheels. Lesser versions start with 14′.

Stepping inside, it is possible to see that Renault spent an extra two cents to make it luxurious and excellent. Who am I kidding… What Renault did for their Stepway was use the same interior and the regular line and add a thing or two. Small orange touches are spread throughout sometimes to good effect, like on the seats, sometimes to a controversial result like on the instrument cluster. The leather used to upholster seats and steering wheel is quite challenging, too. It challenges you to believe it is leather then fails. What would have made the difference like more internal lighting or one touch systems for the windows are left out.

Proponents of aventureiro-type vehicles defend them for a variety of reasons. A big one is the “quality” of pavement in Brazil. Being almost non-existent, that quality would make one suppose a higher, softer vehicle would be more comfortable and also more adapted to prevailing conditions.

To find out we headed out for a spin. The first impression is the weight of the steering wheel. The Sandero Stepway uses 205 mm wide tyres instead of 185 like the normal versions. Renault’s hydraulic steering system, at least in the Logan line, has often been criticized for being heavy. The extra mass of tyre the system commands makes this even more evident. Though I have never been unduly bothered by the heft, in this version the effort needed is surprising being that it is 2015.

Once on the way it becomes clear this version is now the equivalent of the traditional height versions in terms of handling. To counter balance the extra height and even the bigger grip afforded by the wider tyres, Renault seems to have used stiffer shocks. The car doesn’t roll as much as the previous versions. Renault has even gone so far as to equip this version with a stabilizing bar in the back axle. So now we can comfortably say that physics has been defeated and the Stepway handles as well as common Sanderos, taking curves of the most varied angles in a nonplussed fashion and, given its limits of being a family hatchback, it handles well.

There is a downside to all of this though. If in the handling department the Stepway is the equivalent of other Sanderos now, ride quality has suffered. It is a stiffer car than before, therefore it defeats the purpose of one of the tenants of the aventureiro ideal: It is not more comfortable than the regular line.

Renault could have used the launch of the new 1.6 16v said to be in the works. Unfortunately, that was not to be and this car is saddled with an old 1.6 8v. It offers just 98 hp on Brazilian gasoline (E-27ish) and 106 hp on E100 (Renault claims this engine can also handle pure gasoline found in some of Brazil’s South American neighbors). It is very torque rich in the lower rev range, but runs out of breath quickly. Although it has been updated to keep up with the more stringent emission regulations in place, it does not offer the same economy more modern rivals can. Ironically, Renault was the maker to launch 16v engines on a wide scale in this country. Others reluctantly followed suit, and Renault is now almost the single hold-out without 16 valves in bigger engines (bigger being 1.5L+ in this country).

Some other gripes can be still be felt. Renault said the gearbox had been improved, but sincerely I didn’t feel it. It still is glitchy and somewhat imprecise. Throws are longish, but it does the job, it’s just not best in class. The seats are also on the short side, so even though seats, pedals (with very good spacing) and wheel are almost perfectly aligned, the car can get tiring after long drives due to insufficient thigh support.

Optionally the Stepway can be equipped with an automated, mono-clutch transmission similar to Fiat’s Dualogic or Volkswagen’s E-Motion. This can also be considered another step back for Renault. Previously, both Logan and Sandero offered a 1.6 16v engine mated to an old-school 4-speed true auto. This will no longer be. I couldn’t find out if that will be the case for the Duster, but for now it still offers the real automatic and is the only Logan family member to do so.

For the Stepway line, Renault offers a rather competent multimedia center. Even this writer, an admitted technophobe, found it easy to pair his phone. Navigation is included and the little I used it, I found it responsive and accurate. I also found it satisfyingly large. On the clear, sunny day I drove the car, the system did suffer from the clarity making it difficult to use sometimes.

Offered starting from R$51,000, the Sandero Stepway is quite aggressively priced in our market. It also comes with what most Brazilians expect in terms of equipment. Comparing to other aventureiro style vehicles it costs a bit less, but doesn’t offer, even as extras, some razzle-dazzle equipment that can (or not) make a difference to buyers. The Stepway remains what the Logan family has always been in Brazil and other countries: an honest vehicle with gobs of space; a simple vehicle and project that does not ask the buyer to make too many sacrifices in terms of overall quality while delivering a modern ride and space. Did I mention space? The trunk is very big for a vehicle this size and holds as much luggage as hatches a size-segment up. It can also sit 4 comfortably and due to it width, a fifth passenger can tag along, even for highway trips.

Of course, aventureiro vehicles sell on image. No matter what their enthusiasts say, the top of the line Sandero trim, the Dynamique, offers the same equipment as the Stepway and costs R$4,000 less. It will also offer a better ride and more economy (fuel and tyres). Unless one is enamored of the aventureiro ideal, the regular Sandero goes to the same places the Stepway does and does not suffer from the same compromises. But then again, that roof rack, cladding and graphics are so eye-catching…

Marcelo de Vasconcellos
Marcelo de Vasconcellos

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  • TonyJZX TonyJZX on Apr 15, 2015

    i like the Logan MCV... seems to make sense to me, wagonette instead of a hatch so how about an MCV Stepway 900c turbo manual?

    • Marcelo de Vasconcellos Marcelo de Vasconcellos on Apr 15, 2015

      Hey Tony. There is a limit for 1,0 engines in Brazil and that seems to be hatches and sedans. Many have tried putting those types of engines into station wagons and pickups, but have failed. I too like the Logan minivan-station wagon, but the market doesn't agree with me. It is here, being sold with a Nissan badge and called Livina. It seems to me to sell much less than direct and indirect competitors (in my best guestimate from first to last) Chevy Spin, Honda Fit, VW SpaceFox, Fiat Weekend, Fiat Idea. The Livina should place right about there with a fraction of the sales of the others mentioned.

  • Alvaro74 Alvaro74 on Apr 20, 2015

    Hi Marcelo nice read as it's usual with yours. About the Stepway, here in Uruguay it has been a huge success, you see one regular sandero after you've seen 10 stepways, perhaps even more! Funny how the looks work with the public, they consider the stepway a full grown suv in its own right while the sandero is just a hatchback that has been living almost unnoticed in this market besides other popular players such as the gol,agile, fox and others. Too bad this new one has gone back in ride comfort, but anyway most people won't even notice. It'all about looks and fashion. The dream of owning a suv becomes real for the middle classes or even the lady's drive for higher levels...

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