Car reviews - Renault - Kadjar - Range
Comfortable ride, quiet cabin, spacious interior dimensions, capable powertrain, well-shaped seats
Room for improvement
Lifeless steering, tippy handling, mediocre infotainment system
Renault expands SUV appeal with capable and comfortable Kadjar small SUV range
15 Nov 2019
THE age of the SUV is well and truly upon us, with a greater breadth of high-riding wagons finding their way to Australian shores in recent years.
Renault is the latest brand to expand its SUV line-up to appeal to a broader range of buyers, with the segment-straddling Kadjar that splits the French car-maker’s SUV line-up between the small Captur and mid-size Koleos.
Does the Kadjar have what it takes to carve out a niche in the increasingly competitive SUV marketplace?
First drive impressions
Renault is launching the Kadjar with three different spec levels, starting with the Life from $29,990 plus on-road costs, up to the top-spec Intens from $37,990.
This compares well to what is probably its main rival, the Nissan Qashqai which is built on the same platform and kicks off from $29,490 plus on-roads for the automatic ST, and also tops out at $37,990 with the Ti.
While the Qashqai employs a 2.0-litre normally aspirated petrol engine, all Kadjar variants are powered by a 1.3-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder co-developed with Daimler, producing 117kW at 5500rpm and 260Nm at 1750rpm, exclusively driving the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Part of the reason that Renault opted not to bring the Kadjar to Australia when it was launched globally in 2015 was due to the only engine option being a 1.2-litre mill developing 96kW/205Nm, which the company deemed unsuitable for the local market.
The more powerful 1.3-litre powerplant is certainly better suited to Australian audiences, with the extra power and particularly torque helping the Kadjar on our open roads.
Acceleration is solid without inspiring any sort of performance bent, with the four-pot keen to rev most of the way through the rev range before running out of puff as redline approaches.
A nice engine note also accompanies the climbing tachometer – something rarely said of affordable, small family SUVs.
While we are not typically fans of dual-clutch autos in non-performance cars, the seven-speed shifter in the Kadjar generally works well, some lurching gearshifts notwithstanding.
A simple torque-converter unit would help allay some of the low-speed and shifting grumbles associated with dual clutches, however for the majority of buyers the difference will not be particularly noticeable.
Official combined fuel consumption for the Kadjar range is listed at 6.3 litres per 100km, however during our drive we recorded a slightly higher 7.4L/100km – a fairly standard increase for real-world driving.
Driving around the Yarra Valley outside of Melbourne, the Kadjar provided a comfortable and supple ride on its suspension, which comprises MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam configuration at the rear.
Even on the 19-inch rims standard on the top-spec Intens, the Kadjar feels relatively composed and quiet on the road, soaking up bumps and imperfections with ease, where most other competitors with similarly sized wheels can be vulnerable on rough road surfaces.
While Renault has done a fine job of making the Kadjar comfortable and supple, the same cannot be said of its handling capabilities, with the soft suspension set-up resulting in a tippy and top-heavy feel.
When cornering, the Kadjar is prone to pitching more than would be expected for an SUV of its size, which combines with the front-drive layout to result in some unwanted understeer.
The torsion-beam rear end is also a little prone to bouncing around when pushing hard into corners, however we suspect that won’t be a problem for most Kadjar buyers.
Also making spirited driving difficult is the Kadjar’s light and lifeless steering, which is fine for low-speed urban driving but does not inspire much confidence on back country roads. While comfortable, a dynamic masterpiece it is not.
Sharing its underpinnings with the Nissan Qashqai, the Kadjar is one of the larger entrants in the small SUV segment, and as such provides a generous amount of interior space that its smaller Captur stablemate simply can’t match.
With 408 litres of boot space on offer, the Kadjar is slightly down on the Qashqai’s 430L, however space is still ample for couples or small families.
Rear legroom and headroom is also ample for adult occupants, while two USB ports, one 12V power outlet and air-conditioning vents ensure passengers remain well attended to.
Up front, all variants score a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Renault’s R-Link 2 infotainment system and digital instrument cluster, complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
The R-Link system is certainly not the last word in ergonomics or useability, and even some lag was encountered when browsing through the touchscreen’s various features.
Like compatriots Peugeot and Citroen, Renault has also included one of our biggest pet peeves in the Kadjar, with the removal of the traditional audio volume dial in favour of plus/minus buttons that are objectively more cumbersome and difficult to use.
Nevertheless, the R-Link 2 system ticks most boxes for specification, with sat-nav and the smartphone mirroring providing users with just about all the features they will need for day-to-day driving.
The 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster can be arranged in four different layouts, allowing for any user to find his or her ideal configuration.
Whether upholstered in cloth on Life and Zen or leather on Intens, the Kadjar’s seats are supportive and comfortable – a seemingly simple feature that many car-makers struggle with.
While Renaults of past have struggled with an abundance of cheap plastic in the cabin, the Zen and Intens – the only two variants sampled – largely avoid the problem, with soft-touch materials found throughout, and even some premium touches such as a large glass moonroof on the Intens.
The Kadjar should add some valuable volume to Renault’s bottom line, with sales for the French brand slipping by over 20 per cent so far this year.
It represents a clear step up over its smaller and cheaper Captur, while retaining much of the space and practicality of the larger Koleos mid-sizer.
Young couples, empty nesters and small families would all benefit from having the Kadjar on their shopping lists, and the blend of small exterior dimensions and generous interior space should provide extra appeal for urban buyers.
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Model release date: 1 November 2019
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