Funky new French SUV makes an impact
Among my favourite welcomes to foreign soil was in France.
On arrival, the Paris-based transfer driver asked “Do you speak French”. After I responded with a “No”, the despondent Frenchman exclaimed “Urgh” before claiming my bag and walking the other direction.
Without speaking another word he successfully navigated his way through the city of love, including the chaotic Arc de Triomphe where drivers find rules superfluous and horns more effective than indicators.
That entire experience encapsulates how I have felt about French cars in the past. There’s a level of contempt, arrogance and good looks.
Renault is starting a product offensive in Australia, led by the new Kadjar SUV. Straddling medium and small segments, and based on the same platform used by sister company Nissan with the equally strangely named Qashqai, the Kadjar starts from just over $30,000 drive-away.
For those who want it all, we sampled the range-topper Intens variant which you can have for about $42,000.
Similarly equipped to key rivals, the gear highlights include a seven-inch touchscreen attached to a seven-speaker Bose sound system featuring satnav as well as smartphone mirroring apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leather trim, 19-inch alloys, panoramic sunroof and dual zone aircon with rear air vents.
The only solid colour is white, with blue, red, pearl white, grey and black all $750 metallic options.
Warranty coverage meets the new mainstream standard of five years and unlimited kilometres with roadside assist for the same period.
Capped price servicing is available for five years with the average cost of $477 — that’s about middle rung in terms of expense and includes the most expensive replacements like air and pollen filters, accessory drive belt, coolant, spark plugs and brake fluid.
Servicing intervals are annual or a massive 30,000km.
Similarly sized to the Kia Seltos, the Kadjar is smaller than its medium-sized Renault Koleos sibling yet bigger than the compact Hyundai Venue.
Four adults can be transported with ease, although the rear pew is flat and lacks contours, within a cabin which is another example of modern minimalism.
Typically French operationally, there are some interesting quirks which take some user training. The majority of functionality is hidden within the touchscreen, with the dual zone climate control functions the only dash-mounted buttons.
It also has the standard Renault stubby infotainment controller that sits behind the steering wheel. Once accustomed to how it works, changing the radio station and adjusting the volume is simple — but you need to analyse the functions before setting off.
Cruise control and speed limiter buttons are on the centre console — standard fare for Renault design. The key looks like a robust credit card. Renault has used this style for years and some will find it bohemian, others an annoying gimmick.
The 400 litres of boot space can accommodate a couple of large suitcases. For those who use their SUVs as mini haulers for sports gear or awkward-size cargo, the 60-40 split fold seats can be dropped by handles in the boot or levers on the seat-tops.
Most of the latest technology hides within, and all Kadjar models come with autonomous emergency braking that can help avoid or lessen a frontal impact if the driver fails to act quickly enough, along with front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
This top-shelf model also has auto high beam lights, side sensors, blind spot monitor and an automatic parking function.
Missing from the repertoire is a head-up display and radar cruise control.
All variants have the same small capacity turbocharged petrol engine which is quite a nifty unit. The sprint time of 0-100kmh in 9.6 seconds proves it’s no firecracker on paper, yet in reality it feels lively once under way.
When rolling, the pilot can punch the accelerator and gain an immediate response. At low speed there is hesitation before the turbo kicks in, which can result in some torque steer with too much acceleration enthusiasm.
The slow response can be spasmodic, partly due to the partnership with a dual-clutch automatic transmission. Most drivers won’t be pushing the performance envelope enough to notice any inconsistency, and smooth driving is rewarded with a satisfying feel behind the wheel.
There’s all-wheel drive grip, and while Renault talks up the ability to head off-road, the bitumen is where the Kadjar is most at home.
Average fuel consumption was slightly higher than the official figure from Renault at 6.8 litres for every 100km.
KIA SELTOS GT-LINE
Loaded with kit, big on value and offering impressive all-round performance from a 130kW/256Nm 1.6-litre 4-cyl turbo. Has a bigger boot than the Kadjar along with more safety kit, but shorter service intervals (10,000km) and no rear vents.
TOYOTA RAV4 GXL HYBRID $41,900 d/A
Just crowned our Motoring Car of the Year, the GXL doesn’t have the same level of luxury but excels with cost of ownership and performance. Powered by a 163kW/221Nm 2.5-litre hybrid, it is bigger than the Kadjar, but there is a long queue of orders.
It sounds like an exotic dog mix or a kangaroo-badger crossbreed, but I’m comfortable being a trailblazer.
There’s something special about the Kadjar and there’s a personality here which is missing from some of the market’s big sellers.
AT A GLANCE
Renault Kadjar Intens
PRICE $42,240 D/A (mainstream top-shelf)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 years/unlimited km (on par), $2385 for 5 years/150,000km (OK)
ENGINE 1.3-litre 4-cyl turbo, 117kW/260Nm, AWD (feels quick)
SAFETY Not tested, 6 airbags, AEB, front, side and rear parking sensors, rear parking camera, cruise control with speed limiter, Hill Start Assist, distance warning and automatic emergency braking side parking sensors, lane departure warning, blind spot warning (fine)
THIRST 6.3L/100km (about right)
CARGO 408L, seats folded 1478L (good)
SPARE Space-saver (expected)