The Renault Koleos, in its second-generation format, is a much more competent car than before. So, should you take the plunge?
For: Spacious cabin, smart looks, value, composed ride.
Against: Lacks latest infotainment options, not over-powered.
Go on, admit it. Unless you’re especially in tune with French cars, invariably one or the other of those descriptives is going to be employed when discussing that subject. Words that that seem to naturally attract, oui?
So to the Renault Koleos. Surely there’s nothing more (insert preferred word here) than a French-penned car largely engineered by the Japanese, built in South Korea and, for the last few years of its life, exiled from France.
The previous car was a strange old thing and it struggled to work. So much so that the reason why it fell out of France is because car buyers there simply snubbed it.
Given this, it might seem rather brave for the new one to stick to the exact same design/construction regime, but it’s not as nutsy as it sounds, because while Renault is a fringe performer here, in the big world this brand is a giant. It basically ‘owns’ Samsung (yeah, the tele, whiteware and exploding phone people) which builds the car and Nissan which engineered it. Actually, from late last year, it took control of Mitsubishi, too. So, not a brand to take lightly.
Also, the reason why they’re going again down this route is that the Koreans are best placed in respect for production and geographically. This time the car will be sold in both ‘homelands’ as well as 78 more countries.
New Zealand is one of the first right-hand-drive recipients, right behind Australia, with both beating England by more than half a year. Feel important? Well, our location – not quite on the doorstep of the factory, but certainly pretty much in the same timezone – helps, as does our modest requirement, though for all that it is a key model here. The ever-growing popularity of SUVs here means this could be the brand’s biggest player, physically and volume-wise. A core model aimed at the fastest-growing new car segment in the country.
Offered in two grades Zen – which is on test here - and yet-to-land top-shelf Intens, the model occupies a price bracket spanning from $$44,990 to $54,990. Zen is offered in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations; Intens in AWD only. All models are equipped with a constantly variable transmission as standard and the only engine availed for the time being is naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre petrol four-pot with a modest 126kW and 226Nm. However, a 2.0-litre turbodiesel is on the way.
THIS car might represent as a Samsung Something in its birth place, but visually it’s all Renault, kinda like a giant version of the brand’s Captur, which is no bad thing. The Clio-based city SUV is a slick-looking utterly modern design and so, too, the Koleos.
As a colleague noted, in regard to to street appeal, it’s gone from hum-drum to humdinger. None of the old car’s gawkiness has carried across; it’s the gosling that’s grown into a graceful swan. There is one total weirdness, though, in that the front doors have an attached ‘air vent’; I don’t mind that it’s fake – they almost always are – but wouldn’t it look better on the front wing and shaped the other way around?
As well as being bolder, this Koleos is also substantially bigger than the last, and that’s a better thing, too. Putting a lot more cabin between the axles makes it substantially more spacious on the inside, and no-one will complain about that.
The upsize is all the more impressive given that it’s built on the Renault Nissan Alliance’s Common Family Module (CFM) architecture that also underpins the latest Nissan X-Trail. Though that the Japanese model wasn’t anywhere near as big was confirmed when we found one to compare with. FYI, Koleos shares not just its platform with X-Trail but also its engines, all-wheel drive system and transmission. Just getting that out there now so there’s no confusion.
One surprise: Regardless that it measures 4670mm from nose to tail, is 1843mm wide and 1678mm tall, so is set to be one of the longest offers in the medium category, it’s a five-seater. And Renault seems steadfast in keeping it that way. They keep suggesting that no third-row configuration will be offered. That might seem wasted opportunity, but on the other side of the coin it’s spacious enough to look immediately competitive with every obvious rival.
Anyway, Renault claims ‘record-breaking interior space’, as well as rear knee room of 289mm, which is really quite decent.
The boot offers 458 litres of storage space with the rear seats in place, and up to 1690 litres with them dropped down. Folding the rear seats is a one-touch operation from the boot via handles, but you do have to reach right in to grab these. Also, the seats don’t fold totally flat. The Intens variant gets a powered tailgate, but it’s not so hefty to make the manual operation inconvenient.
The interior is also a big step up over the old model (and, ahem, the X-Trail) in respect to the trim quality. For sure, you can locate hard plastics if you try, but they’re hardly front and centre. In fact, there’s a good chance that most things you see and touch in daily operation are either soft or good quality matte finish plastics. Leather at this level comes from an oil refinery, not a farm, but it looks okay.
Construction quality also wins points; the test car was well put together, with even panel gaps, good paint and no rattles. So far, so Korean. Insofar as the control layout and design goes, it’s all so Renault – and all so much like the Renault Scenic I owned, like, 15 years ago in respect to the fiddly multi-controls for the stereo and the multi-function display panel that sites between the speedo and tachometer. Clustering like-minded controls is a good idea, but because these are hidden behind the steering wheel boss it’s all touchy-feely. Good if you have familiarity, less so if you do not.
There might be some level of infuriation, too, from the cruise control/speed limiter toggle switch’s placement. Why hide it on the centre console behind the shift lever – forcing drivers to take their eyes off the road as they search for it – rather than out in the open is … well, not wholly logical.
Even though it’s the starter pack, Zen has a lot of kit: Six airbags, ABS brakes, electronic stability control, a reversing camera, hill-start assist, automatic dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning, a tyre pressure monitoring system, rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloys, tinted rear windows, heated front seats, electric driver’s seat adjustment and keyless entry with automatic walk-away door locking, plus front and rear foglights, with a cornering function up front, all feature.
Would you want more? Perhaps I might, actually. The Intens adds remote engine start, LED headlights, hands-free tailgate, real leather upholstery, has heating and ventilation for both front seats plus adjustable ambient cabin lighting, electric-powered panoramic sunroof and a Bose audio system with 12-speakers, subwoofer and digital amplifier.
The infotainment system will sustain taking an external player, but Renault’s inability to provision Apple CarPlay (and, presumably, Android Auto) might cost sales. Also, the monochrome screen seems a cost-cutting too far in this age of colour, especially when you see that the Intens has a larger, much snazzier tablet-style touch screen, akin to that in the Volvo XC90.
If you’re into advanced driver-assist technology, too, then Zen doesn’t hit the target as well as Intens. The latter alone has the trendy implementation of an ‘Interurban’ emergency braking system, though Zen at least delivers forward collision warning, blind spot and lane de
All initial stock is powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing 126kW of power at 6000rpm and 226Nm of torque at 4400rpm, in marriage with a continuously variable transmission. A turbodiesel, also with this CVT, is coming. It will, of course, provide a lot more torque but surprisingly is also 3kW more powerful than the petrol.
The claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption in front drive format is cited as being 8.1 litres per 100km, whereas it was 9.3L/100km previously. The four-wheel-drive editions present 8.3L/km, down from 9.5 before. CO2 emissions also drop.
This is the same engine that ran in the old Koleos, and sources from Nissan (the ‘Xtronic’ descriptive for the CVT is a bit of a giveaway, oui?) Renault claims tweaks include increased compression ratio, lighter components, and friction reduction.
The petrol maintains its 2000kg braked towing capacity; no detail about whether the diesel will be brawnier has been forthcoming but one assumes it might well be.
So it’s bigger, it’s heavier, it has no more oomph than the old one … and, yet by and large it’s a bright, sunny day after a dark, grotty night.
Renault was extremely generous in allowing us almost a fortnight in this car; that’s not likely to be an experience ‘real’ wanna-buyers will be afforded when they seek a test drive. But the good news is that the Koleos expresses itself so coherently that, basically, you’d probably be sold on it even after just a hour’s driving.
Let’s not get carried away. This model doesn’t rewrite the rules. However, it certainly gives Renault here an excellent opportunity to really get ahead, because it really makes a strong case for consideration.
For sure, you don’t want to take the ‘sport’ part of SUV too seriously here. It’s a family vehicle, not a Grand Prix contender. But performance is really quite good, if not eye-openingly excellent, given that it is, after all, a 1611kg car with all-wheel-drive. Yet it feels light enough on its feet to make you want to doublecheck that figure.
Yes, the CVT has influence on how it lays down the power. There are occasions when you think an orthodox auto would be better; mostly that’s when taking off from a standstill with four aboard. Then you get the usual thing where the engine feels – or at least sounds – as though it’s pulling for Africa and yet the car itself is going nowhere especially fast. That’s CVT for you.
Yet, aside from this occasional low speed and take-off clumsiness, it is one of the better gearless gearboxes around. Almost on part with Subaru’s Lineartronic, which I have plenty of experience with, being an Outback diesel driver. What I do like about the Xtronic is that, like Lineartronic, it becomes smooth and seamless once the car has achieved reasonable pace; in town that’s from around 40kmh, on the open road from around 60kmh (yes, I know that sounds slightly oxymoronic, but that’s just how it is). It certainly operates sensibly when attacking hills and being asked to overtake. A lot less of the shrieking temper tantrum flaring that blights some other CVTs, including some of the older Nissan types. There’s a manual mode for the transmission, and perhaps you’ll use it on occasion, though it’s not mandatory by any means.
All of the above might leave impression Koleos is well sorted for power, but that’s not really the case. More would make it merrier, there’s no doubt about that. The car has ability to sail along, of course, but not only is the claimed 0-100kmh time of 9.8 seconds modest but you might have cause to wonder if the watch Renault used was running fast. Certainly, if you put this car against some a Mazda CX-5 it would be left looked a bit silly. Yet it doesn’t lack for driveability to the degree where it sounds strained. So while it won’t come home with silverware, neither is the straggler that crosses the line long after everyone else has gone home. All the same, you might feel compelled to try the diesel first; often in Euro fare, the compression-ignition engines turn out to be the star pupils. That might be the case this time. And, in any event, diesel is still in tune for this size of SUV.
The all-wheel-drive system is just as it is X-Trail and Qashqai; unobtrusive and well-sorted. I prefer all-wheel-drive to be working all the time, rather than in the front-drive prioritised format that this system allows, but in saying that the Koleos felt assured on gravel, so clearly the arrangement to send up to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels is not that sleepy.
Would you use it as a 4x4? Well, the ground clearance of 210mm is decent for this kind of car yet a modest approach angle of 19 degrees and short travel suspension reinforces my thought that it’s better suited to light duty off-roading than full-out exploration. All the same, the four-by-four Lock switch which can be used in low-grip situations might come in handy if you’ve strayed, say, onto wet grass and start to lose grip.
The steering is a touch heavy, but consistent in its feel and feedback, and that goes for the brakes, too. If there was a German SUV, it’d be firm, perhaps to the point of brittleness. But it’s French, so there’s a great deal of absorbency. Some might call it pillowy. Others might use a ‘w’ word. But while the softness dos temper the driving style, it also will be appreciated by passengers.
And, let’s be realistic: It’s only conforming to sensible type because, after all, primarily a car like this is about convenience and comfort. The driving position is more car than bus – in other words, quite the opposite to the Scenic we used to own – and there’s enough good adjustment on the seat for drivers of all sizes to find a good driving position. The provision of reach and height adjustment on the steering column is also appreciated.
The middle section of the rear seat is of width and shape that suggests it needs to be reserved for the thinnest and/or smallest member of your party, this is genuinely commodious car, far moreso than before. Renault’s desire for Koleos to be seen as good family choice means there are ISOFIX mounts for the two outboard seats and top tether anchors for all three positions. The rear seats are a standard 60:40 configuration.
No, it’s not the class leader. At the same token, you could a lot worse. In fact, drivers of the previous Koleos did. This car, in its second serving, is a hugely superior and much tastier effort. It comes into the market with classy looks, a reasonably strong specification, a sensible price and a far more coherent sense of purpose. Simply, it has come up to scratch. You can feel a lot more confident, now.