The new Kadjar is exactly what Renault needs in Australia now – at least, it is on paper.
After all, compact and medium crossovers are among the best-selling vehicles in the country, and the Kadjar is something of a segment-straddling goldilocks.
It shares its underpinnings with the Nissan Qashqai, among the strongest-selling compact crossovers in the world, but Renault has given it a larger body. It's knocking on the door of cars like the Hyundai Tucson for size, both inside and out.
Despite its bigger body, the top-spec 2020 Renault Kadjar Intens is priced right in the thick of the high-end compact-SUV action. At $37,990 before on-road costs, it slots between the two Hyundai Kona Highlander variants – an atmospheric 2.0-litre ($36,000) and turbocharged 1.6-litre ($39,500) – and is a perfect match for the range-topping Nissan Qashqai Ti.
Standard spec is generous at that price, too. Automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, LED running lights, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, and autonomous emergency braking without pedestrian/cyclist detection are included across the range. Unfortunately, there's no adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping assist.
Meanwhile, the Intens gets LED headlamps, automatic parking assist, heated leather seats, a Bose audio system, 19-inch alloy wheels, and a panoramic glass roof. You also get a kitschy set of French flags on the doors, for what that's worth.
We'll let you be the judge of how it looks, but to our eyes it's like a slightly more curvaceous, French take on the Qashqai. It's certainly handsome.
It's a similar story inside. The driver and passenger are perched in lovely leather seats with extending seat cushions, and the steering wheel is a compact, leather-trimmed unit.
Although it's plain, the dashboard is logically laid out with a clean design, and the buttons integrated into the climate-control scroll wheels are a neat touch.
Francophiles will feel right at home thanks to the media control pod behind the steering wheel and transmission-tunnel-mounted cruise controls, but otherwise there's very little to offend.
Although it's logically laid out, the R-Link infotainment system has blocky graphics compared to the latest from Volkswagen, and the mapping looks and feels a bit of an afterthought. Thankfully, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and worked flawlessly during our time with the car.
On the flipside, the digital instrument binnacle facing the driver is excellent. It's easy to read, attractive, and doesn't fall into the trap of trying to pack too much information into a small space.
The only real interior disappointment is the transmission tunnel, which is finished with squeaky plastic and creaks every time your knee bangs into it.
The driving position is comfortable with plenty of backrest and base adjustment from the electric seats, but the front seat cushions are a little short for longer-legged drivers, even with the extending segment at full stretch, forcing you to perch on (rather than sit in) them.
The Kadjar's extra size really comes to the fore when you put people in the back, though. You'll be able to fit six-foot passengers behind six-foot drivers, and the panoramic glass roof doesn't totally destroy the head room. I'm six-seven, and my head was just brushing the roof lining back there.
Suffice to say, the second row makes cars like the Hyundai Kona and Mazda CX-3 look hilariously small. Air vents and dual USB ports are welcome additions back there, too.
Boot space is a respectable 462L, expanding to 1478L with the rear seats folded.
Renault's changes to the Qashqai are more than skin deep. Whereas the Qashqai is offered only with an atmospheric 2.0-litre petrol engine and CVT in Australia, the Kadjar gets a 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The engine was co-developed with Mercedes-Benz, and features in the latest A-Class and B-Class line-ups. Here, it outputs 117kW and 260Nm – 11kW and 60Nm more than the Qashqai, although it's slightly down on the 130kW/265Nm on offer in the 1.6-litre Kona.
It's a strong performer, pulling impressively from just above idle and revving out happily enough. It isn't what you'd call a firecracker, with a claimed 100km/h sprint time of 9.6 seconds, but it's more than capable of getting the Kadjar up and running at a decent clip, even with a full load on board.
Claimed fuel use is 6.3L/100km on the combined cycle, while we saw around 9.0L/100km in town, and closer to 6.0L/100km on the highway.
Although dual-clutch transmissions can be uncomfortable partners for low-volume, low-output engines, the DCT in the Kadjar is a good one. It shares its bones with the Alpine A110's gearbox, and is surprisingly comfortable in situations that can flummox the average DCT. It pulls smoothly away from intersections on light throttle inputs, is decisive between first and second gear, and is otherwise an intuitive, unobtrusive companion.
There's an occasional hesitancy to kick down, but that can be overcome by knocking the gearstick into manual mode. There are no paddles behind the wheel, unfortunately, even on this top-spec Intens.
Like most dual-clutch transmissions, it'll also occasionally roll back slightly when starting on a hill, but the Kadjar was less prone to this stomach-churning behaviour than some other DCT vehicles we've tested.
Start/stop engages quietly and smoothly, but it pays to turn the system off in hot weather. Whereas some cars automatically disable it when the air-conditioning is running, the Kadjar's system barrels on regardless, severely undermining the air-con's ability to cool the car on an Aussie summer day.
Steering is video-game light at low speeds, which makes parking a breeze, but it firms up nicely when the speed rises. It's perfectly inoffensive to drive, both around town and on the highway.
The ride is surprisingly smooth for a (relatively) compact vehicle on 19-inch alloy wheels. That's partly down to the suspension tune, and partly (likely) down to the quality Michelin Pilot Sport tyres. Hard-edged bumps and potholes can make things a bit crashy, but for the most part the Kadjar is remarkably quiet and refined.
It's high-end rubber for what is, ostensibly, a by-the-numbers family crossover, and the decision to fit it shows Renault is keen to make the Kadjar ride and handle well. Either that, or it's a case of one French brand looking after another.
The Kadjar is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. It comes with five capped-price services across 12-month/30,000km intervals, costing $2385 all up including filters, coolant, spark plugs and other incidentals.
The promise of platform sharing and large global automotive alliances has always been a cheaper way for carmakers to develop cars, without cars becoming too same-same.
By taking the Nissan Qashqai's underpinnings and sprinkling a healthy dose of Renault on top, the Kadjar delivers on that promise – especially in the high-end Intens.
The Kadjar Intens blends the right amount of Nissan with the right amount of Renault, and the result is a seriously appealing slightly-bigger-than-compact crossover that's 100 per cent deserving of consideration if you're looking for a high-end Kona, CX-3 or Qashqai.