The Renault Koleos may not be a household name when it comes to compact SUVs, but the French brand regularly manages to sell more of these high-riders than any other model in its range.
The current-generation Koleos compact SUV has been on sale since 2010, and a recent facelift saw the brand include a range of new items and update the nose of the family-focused crossover with the brand’s new family face.
The model we tested was the newly added front-wheel-drive diesel automatic Bose version, priced at $37,990 - though the French brand is currently offering the car for $36,990 driveaway. That pricing slots it below the likes of diesel auto rivals such as the Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport diesel ($39,470), Honda CR-V DTi-S ($40,590), though both of those cars feature all-wheel-drive. Indeed, the Koleos Bose is the only front-drive diesel in its price segment, though it can be had with all-wheel-drive ($40,490).
To justify its price-tag, the Renault gets plenty of gear that could entice buyers after a well-equipped European SUV (although the Koleos is actually built in South Korea!), including a six-speaker Bose stereo system (hence its model name) with USB connectivity and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, satellite-navigation, dual-zone climate control, electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, leather seat trim, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Renault has offset the lack of a standard reverse-view camera (it’s optional, but really should be standard as the rearward visibility isn’t fantastic - tut-tut, Renault) with front and rear parking sensors and a blind-spot monitoring system. The Koleos ticks the five-star ANCAP crash test box, too, and features six airbags including dual front, front-side and full-length curtains.
The interior of the Koleos has seen some sprucing, and it is by no means an uncomfortable place to be if you’re riding up front. There are soft materials across the dash and doors which add to a high level of perceived quality, but there are some French ergonomic quirks which means some drivers may not be able to find their ideal position – nor may they be able to spot where the cruise control button is located.
The rear seat is considerably less comfortable. Unlike some newer rivals such as the aforementioned CR-V as well as the Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4, the back of the Koleos is quite cramped, particularly for leg-room. Children older than 12 years may find it squishy, but it's better suited to youngsters or shorties. Rear seat ventilation from pillar-mounted vents sweetens the deal somewhat, though Renault has removed the useful fold-down tables from the backs of the front seats.
Being an SUV, the boot is one of the most important elements – and despite its unconventional rounded rear-end, the Koleos’ load-hold boasts a competitive 450 litres of cargo space. The boot features a clever – or clumsy, depending on your view on the matter – separate glass hatch opening, but there’s no option of opening the tailgate in full: you must open the glass to fold down the rear gate. The 60:40 split-fold rear seats can be flattened as the rear seat base flips forward to allow the backrest to drop down. There’s also a ski-port for loading through long items. But Renault has removed its clever front-seat door bins in the armrests, another move to help keep costs low.
While newer models in the Renault range such as the impressive Clio city car come with a touch-screen version of the company’s R-Link media interface, the Koleos has a fiddly joystick style command system. It is slung low between the front seats, and can take some learning – however, just like the odd radio controls on the stalk behind the steering wheel, the longer you spend in the car, the more the controls start to make sense.
If it's any consolation, that Bose stereo system offers bellyaching bass when you turn up the volume … which you may need to do to drown out the diesel engine’s clatter at low revs.
The diesel engine is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit with 127kW of power at 3750rpm and 360Nm of torque at 2000rpm - hardly exceptional figures given some turbo petrols offer up to 350Nm and some rivals have more than 400Nm. It sends its power to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox.
The engine is surprisingly quiet at speed, barely audible when cruising on the freeway or at speeds above 60km/h. But in traffic it is grumbly and there is a lot of vibration that can be felt through the cabin at idle.
The engine sets no benchmarks in terms of power or efficiency, the latter of which is rated at 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres, while the Mazda diesel sips just 5.7L/100km despite lugging around the extra weight of its all-wheel-drive underpinnings.
Although it is a reasonably nice engine to use when there’s no pressure on it, there is notable turbo lag under sudden acceleration, and the power delivery isn’t as linear or progressive as in rival diesels such as that benchmark-setting CX-5 or the Honda CR-V. It’s by no means a dud engine, but there are better, more refined oil burners out there.
We also noted the car would lurch from a standstill, as though the gearbox was unable to predict when it needed to engage first gear. That transmission also exhibited some uncomfortably rough shifts, particularly under mid- to hard throttle.
The steering is light and can be slow to react – meaning parking manoeuvres may take a little more effort than you’d expect. When pushed even a little more than in average commuting situations, its front-drive shortcomings become clear: it will push straight on in windy corners, there’s a lack of grip at speed, and we noticed plenty of wheel spin and torque steer (where the steering wheel pulls to the side under hard acceleration) particularly on damp road surfaces.
The ride of the Koleos is firm and often uncomfortable, due in part to its 18-inch alloy wheels. We found it quite sharp over larger bumps in the road and unsettled on inconsistent surfaces, though on smooth roads it was fine.
A redeeming feature of the Koleos is Renault’s recently introduced five-year warranty and capped price service scheme. The program requires servicing every 12 months or 15,000km, with annual maintenance priced at $299 for the first three years.
On top of that, the Koleos has a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty – one of the best schemes available.
While this Bose 2WD diesel model has some desirable items on its standard equipment list, the Koleos just isn’t brilliant in any particular way. In fact, it could be a lot better in several ways.