Car reviews - Renault - Koleos - Dynamique 2.0 dCi 5-dr wagon
Performance, economy, handling, packaging, interior presentation, Nissan’s 4x4 system, compactness, safety levels
Room for improvement
Big turning circle, tight rear seat space
22 Dec 2008
IF IT walks like a duck ...
Renault’s first foray into the compact SUV segment is the Koleos – a 4x2 and 4x4 wagon crossover that is roughly between the size of a Nissan Dualis and Nissan X-Trail.
But not only that, the Koleos feels suspiciously similar to drive.
And then, the penny drops – could it be an X-Trail underneath?
Happily, the answer is a resounding yes. The Koleos is a Renault-designed, Nissan-engineered SUV that is built by the French conglomerate’s South Korean outpost, Renault Samsung.
Or, in other words, the French fashioned it (we think there is a hint of the company’s seminal 1960s classic ‘16’ in the rear, while the nose and general surfacing can be nothing else but Renault), 4WD specialists Nissan created it, and the car is built extremely well and inexpensively at a modern Renault facility in South Korea.
But, you know what? There is nothing inside that feels even vaguely cheap or sub-standard.
And the simple truth is that the Koleos feels like a roomier and more refined version of the already wildly underrated (in Australia at least – those Europeans can’t get enough of it) Dualis.
The dash is an expert piece of industrial design – attractively presented to give the Renault a European look and feel, but with just the right amount of no-nonsense SUV “ruggedness” to remind you that you’re not sitting in a Megane (or Tiida for that matter).
A metallic finish for the console sides, circular vent outlets, instrument dials and grab handles add a touch of class.
The front seats are a little short on cornering support, but are still quite accommodating even after a long spell at the wheel, setting the driver up comfortably and within easy reach of all the controls – even the rather too-low down audio switches to the left and ESP button to the right.
Vision is fine for a modern vehicle, with the side window in the C-pillar and large rear glass aiding reverse parking in what is really quite a short car.
Smart, clear instruments are sited ahead of the driver, who has a lovely three-spoke steering wheel that houses Renault’s exemplary cruise and speed-limiter controls, with remote audio controls living at the 3-30 hand position just behind the wheel.
Excellent ventilation headlines an orchestra of impressive detailing in the Koleos.
For the driver, these include the one-touch start button as part of the Renault key card procedure, which can be done with little practice in one easy movement. Germans, take note.
Meanwhile, the rear occupants enjoy a 60:40-split backrest that reclines, a front passenger seat that folds forward on to itself, a hidden drawer of impressive length and depth to hide stuff in (augmenting another one in the centre armrest that also includes cupholders, as well as a hidden tray underneath one of the front seats), a two-speed fan control for the well-located pillar vents to cool the outboard-seated people, airline-style back-seat trays complete with yet another cupholder (bringing the total out the back to six!) and a power socket for games or re-charging mobile phones.
But what about the actual rear seats themselves, you ask?
As expected, the outboard ones are sufficiently comfy if a little short on knee room if you’re very tall and sitting behind another large person. And the middle one is not a place of punishment as it can be in many compact SUVs – but only if you’re under 170cm in height.
Furthermore, headroom is fine shoulder room suffices the rear windows fully retract, and feature a handy sunshade. There are map pockets for smaller items too.
Renault has obviously thought long and hard about the living space in the Koleos.
More good news is to found in the luggage area – thanks to child seat anchor points located with minimum interference to the reasonably deep luggage area (complete with a full-sized alloy spare underneath) a BMW X5-style split tailgate for easy access to the back and – most entertainingly – a set of levers on either side, as fitted to the Dynamique model, that move both the back rest and cushion of the back seat in one simple motion for extraordinarily fuss-free maximisation of the Koleo’s load area.
And belying the fact that this is actually built in a low-cost country, everything that opens and shuts in the Renault feels solid and expensive – even down to the rear-seat armrest. If we didn’t tell you that Renault Samsung manufactures the Koleos in Korea, we believe that you would never know from the feel (or smell) of the car.
Our only gripe is with the hard, scratchy plastic cupholder area just behind the electronic park brake release. It is more “Nissan” than “Nice” in this particular French vehicle.
Dynamically, the same is true too in the way the Koleas reacts, drives and feels – like a well-sorted Nissan.
We drove two six-speed dCi diesel versions of the Koleos – an auto and a manual – and while we came away quietly impressed with the smoothness and pace of the former, it was the spirited urge of the latter that proved to be quite the revelation for us.
Oh the acceleration! Oh the control! Oh the satisfying feeling of being flung forward as if we were a weightless object! Until the Ford Kuga arrives, this stick shift SUV is the sportiest and most fun of the compact 4x4s on sale in Australia.
Armed with a useful 137kW of power and 360Nm of torque, it sprints into action in a un-SUV fashion, and then keeps on piling the speed as the quiet and refined diesel engine gets right up into its stride.
That we averaged just 8.4L/100km is further testimony to Renault’s expertise in building world-class diesel engines.
Only an occasionally sticky first-gear shift action marred an otherwise fun and frisky driving experience, with sixth being as calm and tractable a ratio as you would hope.
Of course, choosing the dCi with the six-speed automatic calms things down a lot – particularly as there is ‘only’ 110kW and 320Nm to play with – but the self-shifting Koleos diesel is still a refined, urban thing.
Response steering – with a nice amount of weight and sufficient feel of the road – further enhances the manual Koleos’ overgrown hatch feel, while making the auto version a pleasant experience.
But does this car need to have such a big turning circle?
Strong brakes that pull up short and sharp is another Koleos plus point, as is the firmish but still comfortable (if a little vocal) ride quality. This vehicle is a classic case of hearing the suspension working rather than actually feeling it.
We didn’t venture off road in the Koleos, but its X-Trail DNA certainly augers well for this car to be capable as a soft-roader with some off-road ability.
To that end, it has 209mm of ground clearance, as opposed to the Nissan’s 200mm (and the Ford Territory’s 180mm), as well as Nissan’s All-Mode 4X4-i part-time 4WD system which automatically selects drive to the rear wheels if traction losses are sensed.
As with the X-Trail, it switches from the standard 2WD mode to Auto on-demand 4WD (which means it stays in 2WD until slip is detected and then torque is directed up to 50-50 front/rear), or the driver can select Lock – which fixes drive 50-50 front/rear, but only up to 40km/h, after which it resumes back to Auto mode.
This set-up features sensors that measure information such as G forces, yaw rates and steering angles, which then help determine how much torque is channelled to all four wheels to achieve maximum grip.
Aiding this is standard stability and traction control functionality that works with the ABS brakes and electronic brake force distribution (EBD) for best possible traction.
Also cribbed from the X-Trail is a hill descent control, which only works in Lock mode, to maintain a controlled speed of about 8km/h downhill, and a Hill Start Assist device that maintains brake pressure for about four seconds to prevent rolling backwards during a hill start.
Also on the 4x4 front, ground clearance in the dCi is 188mm (206mm in petrol powered Koleos models), and approach and departure angles are 27 and 31 degrees respectively.
While we cannot expect the Renault to roam the bush like a Range Rover, such 4x4 inclusions mean owners might be able to get through places where a regular car would struggle.
We did not struggle with the notion of the Koleos.
Far from being the patchy first-SUV attempt that it might appear, the little 4x4 diesel from Renault is a shining example of a company that is leveraging all the available know-how to create a complete little package.
The more time we spent in the Koleos, the more we grew to like it a lot. This is perhaps the most convincing (non Renaultsport) vehicle the French firm has sold in Australia for years.
In the 1970s, an old ad campaign for the classic Renault 12 proclaimed something like: “Try it, we think you’ll like it.”
We did, and we ended up taking to the Koleos dCi 4WD like the proverbial does to water.
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