Road Tests

First Drive: Kadjar out, new (2019) Renault Koleos in

Koleos, returns

Only locally; in most of Europe the Koleos has never fallen off Renault’s radar as each update strengthens its position as Renault’s flagship SUV. Over there its competitor list is the same as you’ll find here; Honda CRV (expensive), Nissan Xtrail (a 7-seater USP), the Volkswagen Tiguan (unimprovable)  and two SUVs from Korea and another from Japan in the omnipresent RAV4. All of them have entrenched themselves in SA’s SUV vocabulary whereas the Koleos has a 6-year hiatus to reconnect – all without Renault’s CEO and Chairman who is sitting in a jail somewhere in Japan for committing company fraud.

What’s the drawcard?

Probably looks, followed by space. Let’s talk about the latter. Koleos is longer versus its rivals but with a lower roofline than most. It has the same ground clearance as a Renault Duster which means that even 2WD models aren’t bound entirely to tarmac. The boot is class average, but were it not for the full-size spare could it be substantially deeper. No third row of seats because a spacious 5-seater is presumed better than a cramped 7-seater and like all respectable SUVs the seats fold flat thereby doubling the volume behind the front headrests.

We only drove the top-spec Renault Koleos models which influences the design – mostly through the LED lights, panoramic roof and larger wheels – but if Renault can add sprinkles of modernism to the boxy Duster, they had no difficulty in doing the same with a flagship Koleos. But the competition is the best it’s ever been with enough interesting details to be found between them so Koleos is merely in the consideration mix and not edging ahead.

Pedal to the CVT metal

When the presentation finally reached the on-paper mechanical specs I slumped down in my chair and mentally switched off, my mind wandering back to a time when this was a company that rationalised a V6 3.0-litre in the back of a Clio.

The new Koleos is powered by a 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol with a CVT gearbox that leaves no escape for an alternative. Some of Nissan’s not-so-good traits are rubbing off on Renault and surely Renault’s 1.6-turbo petrol with EDC gearbox is the sort of combination befitting a brand’s most premium offering?

How does it drone, I mean drive?

Every brand claims to deliver a CVT that acts and sounds as close to a conventional gearbox, which means CVT R&D surely negates its initial cost-saving. Thing is, everyone knows what the issues with CVT are, but Renault might be, next to Subaru, the closest to mitigating them. While Koleos would be a substantially better overtaking car if it had 50Nm more, the flavourless mechanical package pulls enough miracles to see it sit comfortably above a CR-V and Nissan Xtrail.

When the throttle is not pinned flat in the overtaking lane, the Koleos takes to city and gravel driving with stability, security and smoothness. Now steering feel on a family SUV is an area we usually skate over but isn’t it a nice change when somebody (Renault) spends a few more hours trying to make it good. And the ride, because it’s wearing sensible rubber, makes the suspension work at half the rate it would on low profile rubber.

Is it good value?

The above-mentioned mechanical plainness is why Renault can bring their top spec model in at under R500 000, and ??? for the base model. A price that puts the current Kadjar in the same vulnerable position as Koleos found itself in after 2019 – in fact Kadjar will quietly disappear from Renault showrooms. For context the Kuga comes across cheapest of all and a CR-V bleedingly expensive – in simple English you’re spoilt for choice with factors like ‘what your neighbour drives’ helping pyramid your final decision. We’ve never enjoyed the touch or layout of Renault’s R-Link system, even though its ability to host Android Auto and Apple CarPlay votes it ahead of the system in the new RAV4. Fit and finish is generally brilliant, which goes to show that Renault is able to build a R150 000 KWID and robust duster without letting it distract from the brand’s higher echelon offerings.  

A happy full circle for Koleos?

New Renault Koleos (2019) has been scrupulously adapted to the South African market to give the reborn name a fighting chance against brands who have plied our SUV market from its humble roots.  A sensible family SUV that, through prudent specification, knows better than to attract the comparisons of a BMW, Mercedes and Audi, and starts somewhere near the top of its own pecking order. ANDREW LEOPOLD

Koleos Dynamique 2.5 CVT 4×4                                   R  479 900

  • SPECIFICATION
  • 2488cc, 4cyl petrol, 4WD, 126kW, 233Nm
  • 8.3l/100km, 192g/km CO2
  • 0–100kph in 9.8secs, 199kph
  • 1565kg
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