Johannesburg – As one widely circulated nugget of wisdom states, if something appears too good to be true, then it probably is.
As a buyer seeking an affordable seven-seater, you might have similar suspicions about the new Renault Triber. At face value, it appears to be the bargain of the century.
Priced from R177,900 (although our high-spec Prestige model came in at R202,900), the Triber is South Africa’s cheapest seven-seat car. Measuring just under four metres in length, it has a similar footprint to the Datsun Go+. However, although the Triber base model only undercuts the equivalent Datsun by around R4,000, it is a more practical and versatile vehicle, thanks to a 200mm-longer wheelbase and a more flexible seating arrangement.
Despite tallish MPV dimensions, the Triber actually looks quite good for a minivan, with a chunky, almost SUV-like design that’s fairly easy on the eye. It’s available in some funky colours too, including the striking Honey Yellow hue, as well as Electric Blue and Fiery Red.
For a cheap people mover, the Triber certainly doesn’t look humdrum.
But the main pièce de résistance of this Indian-built French wagon is its flexible seating arrangement, unmatched at the price.
There is seating for seven if you’re willing to give up the boot, which is the case with pretty much any compact MPV, but as you’d also expect in this segment, it’s not going to comfortably swallow seven rugby props for a 1,000km journey. For that you’ll need a Volvo XC90, which costs six times more.
What impressed us was the flexibility of the seating arrangement. The third row is cramped, but thankfully the middle-row seats slide back and forth, so those occupants can give up a bit of their space to even things out. When the back seats are not in use, you can fold, tumble or completely remove them, and with the third row out of the way you have a substantial 625-litre boot.
We were also impressed by the fact that the second row seats can recline, meaning that when there’s no one in the back row, rear seat occupants can catch a bit of shut eye on long journeys.
Overall cabin quality is acceptable for an entry-level vehicle, but some of the surfaces do imply cost cutting. You can feel that this car was built to a low price, but Renault has made a reasonably decent effort to create a modern ambience in the cabin.
All in all, the Triber is an impressively versatile vehicle for those seeking the kind of flexibility that a modern seven-seater affords.
But it’s when hitting the road that the Triber’s downsides start becoming apparent.
The only engine option at this stage is a normally aspirated 1-litre, three-cylinder petrol unit that produces just 52kW and 96Nm. That would be just fine in a small budget hatchback, but as we’ve mentioned, the Triber is a fairly big vehicle.
Thankfully performance was not as bad as we’d expected (albeit our expectations had been rather low), and for this you can thank the relatively light kerb weight of up to 957kg depending on the spec level, which is about 100kg less than a Sandero weighs. But don’t get me wrong, this vehicle really needs more power, and the gearing doesn’t work in its favour either. You really have to keep the revs up in the lower gears to keep up with traffic, and you will be stirring the five-speed gearbox quite a lot. But worst of all is that it’s very noisy under acceleration, to the point where it will annoy your passengers.
The Triber doesn’t cruise too badly at highway velocities, given the tall fifth ratio, but things do become problematic when you encounter hills – particularly at altitude – and justifying your place in the fast lane will feel like a losing battle.
Thankfully it appears that Renault is planning to introduce a turbocharged engine at some point, which will surely be worth every single penny.
Given that the Triber was designed to cope with the road surfaces of India, the ride quality is fairly comfortable and well suited to our pot holed tarmac too.
The little Renault also impresses when it comes to creature comforts, with our range-topper boasting comprehensive equipment, including CarPlay compatible touchscreen audio and even push-button start.
Here is a summary of what you get in the three specification grades that Renault offers:
Expression (R177,900) comes standard with air-conditioning (with separate controls for the second row) as well as front power windows, a cooled centre console, conventional two-speaker radio with Bluetooth, remote central locking, rear park distance sensors, dual front airbags and ABS brakes.
Dynamique (R187,900) adds a 20cm touchscreen infotainment system with CarPlay and Android Auto, electric mirrors, under-seat drawers, an upper glove box, upgraded seat fabric and exterior roof bars, while the rear occupants get power windows, an extra 12V power socket and a pair of extra speakers.
Prestige (R202,900) gains a reverse camera, push-button start and front side airbags, while the 14-inch covered steel wheels fitted to the lower models are replaced with 15-inch ‘Flex’ wheels, which are designed to look like alloys.
Safety, however, is an unproven aspect and at the time of writing the Triber had yet to be crash tested by an independent safety authority such as Global NCAP. Given that the Kwid could only muster one star (the Triber is built on a heavily modified version of the Kwid’s architecture) we are a little concerned, but we will reserve judgement until the vehicle has been crash tested.
The lack of ESP stability control is disconcerting though, given its tall stance, not to mention the Triber’s positioning as a family vehicle.
There’s no denying that the Triber offers a great deal of car for the money. It looks decent and offers the kind of cabin versatility that was previously unheard of at this end of the market.
On the downside, it is fairly noisy and the engine is under-powered, to the point where driving this vehicle can feel like a bit of a chore. It’s also unproven in safety terms.
But should you buy one? Ultimately, for you the buyer, it depends on whether the aforementioned pros outweigh the cons. But you are certainly getting a lot of practicality for your money.