Renault is keen to expand its presence in Australia, and the Spanish-made Kadjar compact SUV is an important piece of the puzzle.
Industry followers will know this car actually launched in Europe during 2015, and has found about 500,000 buyers since. But it wasn’t until a recent mid-cycle upgrade – and the appointment of new management at Renault Australia – the Kadjar was requested for this market.
The Kadjar sits between the Captur and the larger Koleos in the company’s range. At 4449mm long, it’s bigger than the Nissan Qashqai with which it shares a platform, or other segment-rivals like the Mitsubishi ASX and Kia Seltos. In fact, it’s almost as long as a Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage.
The entry point is the $29,990 before on-road costs Life, lining up neatly against the Qashqai ST and Seltos Sport and $1000 below the larger Koleos Life’s RRP.
It comes dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, LED daytime running lights, climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and alloy wheels.
Safety features include six airbags covering both rows, child-seat attachment points, a basic city-speed autonomous emergency braking system without pedestrian or cyclist detection, a rear-view camera, parking sensors at both ends, and a five-star Euro NCAP crash score from its 2015 test.
Above this, the $32,990 before on-roads Zen adds features including blind-spot monitoring lights, audible lane-departure warning (which is not able to steer the car between road lines like newer systems can), push-button start, a proximity key, nicer cloth seat trim, satellite-navigation, rear-seat USB points, and roof rails.
Finally, the $37,990 before on-roads Intens (the same price as a flagship Qashqai Ti) gets extras such as LED headlights, auto park assist, heated leather seats, an upgraded Bose audio system, 19-inch wheels, and a panoramic glass roof.
This roof can be optioned on the Zen for $1000, packaged with an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
It’s a largely well-considered, albeit plain, interior. The 7.0-inch touchscreen has neither the largest diameter or slickest swiping, but offers phone mirroring and a simple user interface design.
The climate control dials with digital readouts inside them are contemporary, as is the digital instrument display. There are soft plastic touch points in most places, ample steering wheel adjustment, comfy seats with extendable bases like a BMW, and plenty of storage options including 1.5-litre bottle bins in the doors.
The only real gripe that stood out on the launch drive was the plastic adorning the console/transmission tunnel area, which squeaked every time a driver or passenger’s knee touched it during cornering. This was replicated on three different Kadjars, and detracts from an otherwise well-built cabin.
The back seats offer space for two 190cm adults, even with the panoramic glass roof, decent outward visibility, and comfortable seat bases. Rear occupants in the Zen and Intens get two USB points and air vents too, meaning they’re not a mere afterthought like they are in some small SUV competitors.
By no means is it as spacious back there as the almost-as-cheap Koleos (which is imported from Korea, where a free-trade agreement is in place), but compared to some rivals it’s quite capable of serving the role of family hauler.
The boot is a capacious and pram-friendly 408 litres, and the two-level loading floor is handy. As are the levers in the rear that flip-fold that back seats down with a single pull, to house longer items (1478L capacity). Beneath this rear load floor you’ll find a temporary space-saving spare wheel only.
The engine was changed at the recent European facelift. It’s a Euro 6-certified 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol that’s also found in various Mercedes-Benz models such as the base A-Class. The engine was co-developed by the companies, to cut costs. It’s also one of the first cars in Australia sold with a petrol particulate filter.
The outputs of 117kW and 260Nm (at just 1750rpm) are good for the class. By contrast the Qashqai’s naturally aspirated 2.0-litre makes 106kW/200Nm, while the Koleos’ 2.5-litre only offers 126kW/226Nm.
It’s a sweet little engine, refined and with plenty of low-down pulling power to enable easy overtaking or jaunts up steep hills when laden. It’s even potent enough to elicit mild torque steer on heavy throttle applications. The 9.6-second 0-100km/h sprint time is about two seconds quicker than said Qashqai.
On the downside, the sophisticated little engine requires 95 RON premium petrol – but on the upside its claimed combined-cycle fuel economy of 6.3L/100km is frugal and its stop-start system is smooth. Given I averaged 7.2L/100km on my launch drive, during which I didn’t spare the car from hard throttle, this is a believable claim.
Renault claims a 1500kg braked-trailer towing capacity, though the tow ball download ceiling is just 75kg…
The standard transmission is a new wet-dual-clutch automatic with seven speeds. Here’s a piece of trivia: it’s actually very similar to the unit used in the Alpine A110 sports coupe, with a different tune.
It’s also far more refined and linear than Renault’s old EDC transmissions, responding well to hard throttle applications, and not particularly laggy during stop-start driving or when taking off on steep hills.
As we mentioned earlier, at its core the Kadjar shares its underpinnings with the Nissan Qashqai thanks to the Renault-Nissan Alliance. The suspension comprises struts at the front, and a simple torsion beam at the rear.
All models are front-wheel drive only, since the only AWD option is a diesel/manual which has no demand here.
It’s not an agile sports crossover, but body control is decent enough, the feather-light steering is numb but well-suited to city driving, the seating position is nice and elevated, and the ride quality is actually excellent, particularly in the Zen with its 17-inch wheels and Continental tyres that offer extra cushioning.
The Intens may look the part on 19-inch wheels with over-qualified Michelin Pilot Sport tyres (an unexpected addition), but their thinner sidewalls mean potholes and corrugations are more keenly felt inside the cabin, particularly at lower speeds. This is to be expected, but still worth noting.
A common perception may be that French-branded cars are expensive to maintain, but this is not necessarily true. The Kadjar comes with five capped-price services with very generous 12-month/30,000km intervals, costing $2385 all up including filters, coolant, spark plugs and other incidentals.
For comparison purposes, the first five services on a 1.6-litre turbocharged Kia Seltos with its inferior 10,000km intervals cost $2025. The first five services on a Qashqai (which also has 10,000km intervals) cost $1451. This means if you average more than 10,000km per year, the Renault’s cost disadvantage begins to shrink.
Renault Australia also offers a five-year warranty with no distance limit, and five years of free roadside assist for extra peace-of-mind.
So, to the verdict. Renault’s biggest challenge will be getting your attention, and earning your consideration, from a huge field of competitors with more established name. Because it’s spacious, nice to drive, handsome, relatively well-priced, and theoretically less stressful to run and maintain than perceptions might suggest.
We’re looking forward to putting the Kadjar into some comparison tests against rivals soon.