We've said this once, but we'll say it again. The Kadjar is just what the doctor ordered for Renault in Australia.
Compact and mid-sized SUVs are some of the only cars (almost) defying the sales slide afflicting our market at the moment, and it straddles those two segments with a mid-sized body and a price nudging compact.
Pricing kicks off at $32,990 before on-road costs for the mid-spec Zen you see here, making it $3000 more expensive than the base model and $5000 less expensive than the range-topping Intens.
Despite its lower sticker price, the Zen is powered by the same 1.3-litre turbocharged engine as the top-spec car, mated with the same seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Its outputs are 117kW and 260Nm, making it comfortably punchier than the naturally aspirated Nissan Qashqai, Mazda CX-3, and Honda HR-V. Only the Hyundai Kona with its 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine option can match the Renault for punch.
Standard spec is relatively generous for your money, although there are a few important omissions across the entire Kadjar range.
Automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control with speed limiter, LED running lights, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, and autonomous emergency braking without pedestrian/cyclist detection are included, but buyers miss out on adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.
Externally, it misses out on some of the chrome trim bits from the Intens, along with its 19-inch alloy wheels.
Compared to the base model, the Zen gets side parking sensors, lane-departure warning, and keyless go. It also gets factory navigation, lumbar support and leatherette bolsters on the seats.
As in the range-topper, there's a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen sitting in the middle of the dashboard running Renault R-Link. The graphics are a bit low-rent compared to the best, and the mapping feels a bit tacked-on, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are on hand to deliver a smoother user experience.
The corollary of that is the digital instrument binnacle, which is crystal clear and attractive, with four different layout options.
It isn't just the digital speedo that looks sharp, the entire Kadjar interior is logically laid out and handsome. The dashboard is clean and simple, the buttons integrated into the climate controls are a nice touch, and there's ample storage in the centre console.
There are a few touches to make Francophiles happy, too. Renault's long-running media pod still sits behind the steering wheel, and the cruise/speed limiter controls are on the transmission tunnel. Otherwise, there's very little to offend.
Although they're not leather, the seats – complete with glossy 'quilting' – are comfortable, and the steering wheel is a lovely compact unit. It does feel a bit cheap in the Zen, though, because it's trimmed in pleather instead of the soft leather you get in the Intens.
I'd argue the slightly more forgiving cloth and pleather seats are more comfortable than the leather units in the Intens, and the driving position is otherwise perfectly accommodating.
With a bigger body than the Qashqai, the Kadjar's dimensions really pay dividends when you put people in the back. You'll be able to fit six-foot passengers behind six-foot drivers, and head room is surprisingly excellent.
Add in the rear air vents and dual USB ports, and the Kadjar makes cars like the Kona and CX-3 look laughably limited if you need to carry people around.
Boot space is a respectable 462L, expanding to 1478L with the rear seats folded.
On the road, the Kadjar makes a good impression. Its engine was developed alongside Mercedes-Benz, and it's a strong performer in the real world.
Renault claims it'll hit 100km/h in 9.6 seconds from standstill, but an abundance of low-down punch means you're never short of performance in the city. Claimed fuel economy is 6.3L/100km on the combined cycle, but we saw sub-6.0L/100km on the highway and 8.0L/100km in mixed conditions.
The engine is surprisingly willing to roll out to redline when required, although its slightly rattly sound doesn't exactly encourage you to push hard for fun.
Dual-clutch transmissions can be less-than-refined in low-displacement, low-output engines, but the gearbox in the Kadjar is an exception to the rule. As we've previously said, it shares its bones with the Alpine A110.
It pulls smoothly away from intersections on light throttle inputs, doesn't get caught between first and second gear, and snaps happily through the ratios as you accelerate.
As we said in our Intens review, it's a shame there are no paddles because the ’box can occasionally be reluctant to kick down, but there is a push-for-up and pull-for-down manual mode for the gearstick.
Like most dual-clutch transmissions, it'll also occasionally roll back slightly on hill starts, but the Kadjar was less prone to this stomach-churning behaviour than some other DCT vehicles we've tested.
Start/stop is smooth to engage, but it completely neuters the air-conditioning – and it isn't clever enough to turn itself off when the AC is cranking – which is a problem during the Australian summer. Thankfully, the button to toggle it on and off is easily accessible.
Although it's on 17-inch alloy wheels, the ride in the Zen isn't significantly better than that of the Intens on its 19-inch hoops. That's no bad thing, because the Intens rides incredibly well for a car on 19s, but it's interesting nonetheless.
We'd suggest the Michelin Pilot Sport tyres offered on the Intens play a role in smoothing out its ride, whereas the Zen is on Continentals. It's still a comfortable, quiet way to get around, no doubt about it.
The steering is pinky-twirlingly light at low speeds, but easy parking hasn't come at the cost of stability on the highway. It's perfectly inoffensive in essentially every situation.
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.
As we said in the Kadjar Intens review, the Kadjar delivers on the promise of platform sharing like few other cars. It blends the right amount of Renault flair with sensible Nissan underpinnings to create something of a segment-straddling goldilocks.
Although the top-spec Intens is lovely, it's tough to argue it's $5000 lovelier than the well-finished, sensible mid-spec Zen pictured here.
Unless you absolutely must have leather seats and big wheels, it's tough to ignore the value on offer in the Zen. The only problem Renault will have is convincing people to check one out.