Renault gave its Brazilian unit the privilege of launching the Sandero Stepway. Development was focused on South American consumers with no plans for European sales, at least initially.

It is the fifth of six products the French carmaker has planned for the Mercosur region and joins the Logan, Sandero, Mégane II saloon and Mégane II Grand Tour wagon, all also produced here.

The Clio II-based Symbol saloon will be made in 2009 in Argentina (though that's not officially announced yet).

The Stepway is two inches (50mm) taller than the conventional Sandero hatchback. Tracks and wheels are wider to compensate for the higher centre of gravity. Ground clearance was raised to 7.5in, rivalling some true SUVs.

Power comes from a single, flex-fuel, 110bhp (on ethanol), 16-valve, 1.6 litre engine versus a choice of three motors for the standard Sandero.

Renault has forecast a 20% slice of the model mix for the Stepway version in Brazil.

Body decor follows the Adventure style introduced here by Fiat: for the Italian brand it accounts for up to 50% of sales of some models. Changes include 'offroad' modifications to front and rear bumpers, roof  bars and wheel arches.

Numerous factory-backed Sandero Stepway accessories available at dealers include portable GPS units and Neoprene seat covers. There are also tattoo-style stickers for the C pillar at no extra cost.

The French automaker has simultaneously launched an exclusive fashion brand inspired by this Sandero version offering shirts, caps, backpacks, and key holders plus other items aimed specifically at women buyers.

The Stepway is being promoted by the first entirely on-line advertising campaign used by an automobile brand for a Brazilian launch.

This includes blogs, websites, viral videos and on-line media materials that, Renault said, help differentiate the Stepway from the rest of the local Renault line.

Fernando Calmon

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