The Renault Koleos is the French brand’s second most popular vehicle in Australia after the Megane small car, but its only SUV continues to be a petite speck on the sales charts since its initial release in 2008.
Renault executives certainly had higher expectations.
Renault Koleos sales have increased marginally this year – currently averaging 50 per month – on the back of a mid-life facelift in November 2011, but in terms of sales it is humbled by the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Forester, as well as the its structural twin, the Nissan X-Trail.
Affordability is certainly not holding the Renault SUV back. With a starting price of $28,490 before on-road costs for the front-wheel-drive, petrol-powered six-speed manual Renault Koleos Expression, only the (also-related) Nissan Dualis and the Skoda Yeti better it in this group.
The standard equipment level is impressive, too. The base model Koleos Expression comes with 17-inch alloy wheels and a full-size alloy spare, satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity with music streaming. Asking for the continuously variable transmission (CVT) rather than the manual adds $2000 to the price.
From there you step up to the mid-spec Dynamique trim level, which Renault Australia expects to be the volume seller. There are three distinct variants: the 2WD petrol CVT ($34,490), the 4WD petrol CVT ($37,990) and the 4WD diesel with a six-speed automatic gearbox ($40,990). Unfortunately, you’re forced to pay a high price for the cheapest all-wheel-drive model, and the only diesel in the range is a few thousand dollars more than its direct rivals.
Fortunately, however, the equipment level is again strong enough to thrust the Koleos Dynamique into contention. Over the Expression, it adds auto headlights and wipers, rear parking sensors, push-button start, upgraded audio and sat-nav systems, leather upholstery, electric driver’s seat, rear-seat sunblinds and picnic tables, and the ‘Easy Estate’ flat floor seat-folding system.
Topping the range is the Koleos Privilege, which comes only in 4WD petrol CVT form. It’s $6500 more than the equivalent Dynamique, and for the price you get 18-inch alloys, bi-xenon headlights, front parking sensors, hands-free entry, heated front seats, Bose audio system and a panoramic sunroof.
Metallic paint will set you back $800 across the range.
Every model is fitted with six airbags and electronic stability control, earning it the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating. The Koleos is also covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and is supported by five years of 24-hour roadside assistance – an aftersales service combination unbeaten by its competitors.
Petrol models are powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 126kW of power (at 6000rpm) and 226Nm of torque (at 4400rpm).
The engine feels particularly perky at take-off and enthusiastic around the city, although it takes more encouragement once you hit the highway and ask it to overtake other cars.
CVT-equipped models emit a soft drone under acceleration that is less intrusive than some similar transmissions, although it still doesn’t facilitate the low-down punch or provide the aural satisfaction of a conventional automatic.
That’s where the diesel model comes in. The 2.0-litre engine generates 110kW (at 4000rpm) and 320Nm (at 2000rpm). The refined diesel engine is loud under acceleration, but not gruff or rattly. You’d call it capable rather than quick, and it feels more competent than the petrol on the open road. The auto gearbox tends to hang onto the gears longer than necessary, but the Koleos diesel is otherwise a quiet cruiser.
Neither powertrain is an economy leader – for those, you should look at the VW Tiguan and Yeti – but they’re not embarrassed by the competition, either. The diesel uses 7.6 litres per 100km on the combined cycle while the petrol uses 9.3-9.6L/100km depending on the variant.
The steering in the 2WD petrol is very light and lacks feel, especially at dead centre. The weighting improves around corners but at times you get an inconsistent feel at turn-in (sometimes light, sometimes heavy) that can sap your confidence. The combination of body roll around corners and a high driving position makes the Koleos feel taller than it is, giving you the impression of sitting on it rather than in it.
The diesel’s dynamics are significantly better. At 1789kg, the 4WD diesel weighs 232kg more than the 2WD petrol, and consequently feels more stable with heavier and more predictable steering. Both cars handle smooth and coarse surfaces well but bounce and shimmy over bigger bumps in the road – although the diesel sits a little flatter.
Equipped with the proven 4x4 system from the X-Trail, the Koleos is more than capable of simple off-roading, and is unfazed by loose surfaces and hills of bushland fire trails. Depending on the conditions, you can lock into 4x4 mode and take advantage of the Hill Descent Control crawl function or simply leave it in Auto. Hill-start assist also operates automatically to prevent slip on steeper slopes.
The Koleos’s comparatively large turning circle means it feels less than nimble in tight spots, although the light low-speed steering makes it easy to park.
Visibility front and rear is very good, although the lack of a reverse-view camera is disappointing in an SUV with a high rear window. The seats are flat but comfortable and there’s plenty of driver’s seat and steering wheel adjustment to help you find your sweet spot.
The broad, flowing dashboard creates an uplifting sense of spaciousness within the cabin, while the major controls are grouped neatly at the base of the centre stack. An abundance of soft-touch plastics and smooth switchgear gives the interior a high-quality feel. The integrated TomTom satellite navigation system is intuitive and among the best factory-fitted units on the market.
Among the few ergonomic failings is the silver plastic around the sat-nav that reflects onto the windscreen; the speedometer, which would benefit from a digital readout or clearer markings for the 50/70/90/110 points; and the small B-pillar-mounted rear-seat air vents, which do little more than blow out a trickle of air.
Rear-seat legroom is shorter than ideal for adults, but if kids sit there they are likely to enjoy the integrated sunblinds and tray tables found in Dynamique and Privilege trims.
Accessed via the handy twin ‘clam shell’ hatch, the boot expands from 450 litres to 1380 litres with the rear seats folded flat, putting it on par with cars like the Dualis and the Yeti. The cabin is also full of large stowage bins, cup holders and pockets to keep knick-knacks out of sight.
So, little in the way of French flair for the Renault Koleos in the way it looks or drives, but the cabin looks smart, is reasonably practical, and in 2WD petrol form this SUV is certainly good value.
Renault Koleos manufacturer’s list price (excluding government and dealer charges):
- Expression petrol 4×2 six-speed manual – $28,490
- Expression petrol 4×2 CVT – $30,490
- Dynamique petrol 4×2 CVT – $34,490
- Dynamique petrol 4×4 CVT – $37,990
- Dynamique diesel 4×4 six-speed automatic – $40,990
- Privilege petrol 4×4 CVT – $44,490