The Renault Rafale has landed, and gets a high-performance variant | Top Gear
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
The Latest US News & Reviews
USA News
Saturday 2nd December

The Renault Rafale has landed, and gets a high-performance variant

As promised, the French car maker brings 'gusty wind' to the 54th Paris Air Show

Published: 19 Jun 2023

Renault has launched yet another electrified vehicle. With some arguably tenuous connections to aircraft and French for ‘gusty wind’, the Renault Rafale is here and it’s as trope-y as ever there was a trope to be had.

So what do we know about the coupe version of the Austral? We already knew that it’s being built on the CMF-CD platform. And we also knew it would be a hybrid. What we didn’t know is that Renault had a high-performance variant planned. Of course it did.

Advertisement - Page continues below

The standard Rafale has a 1.2-litre three-pot turbo engine that guzzles petrol politely, eking out a claimed 60mpg and 151lb ft torque – with the help of a 50kW electric motor.

For customers wanting more than the standard 197bhp E-tech powertrain, there’s going to be a high-performance plug-in hybrid available. That ramps things up to 296bhp, with some 4x4 fun thrown in too.

For either car, the automatic gearbox, using F1-inspired ‘multimode’ tech, is apparently super efficient during regenerative braking. The Rafale has a raft of new tech built in to make the car more solid when driving and – though yet to be certified – CO2 emissions sit around the 105g/km mark for the standard. Renault makes some bold claims, saying this transmission cuts fuel use by 40 per cent around cities.

Rafale’s head engineer, Gwenaël Le Merrer, said: “Our new 200hp [197bhp] E-Tech full hybrid powertrain uses the electric motors as much as possible, whatever the circumstances, to optimise consumption. The fact that you can use the electric motor up to 80 per cent of the time in cities ranks the car among the best in its category.”

Advertisement - Page continues below

Styling wise, it’s got the grille and light signature that features on the new Clio; indeed Renault has made a BIG thing of the grille, which features some 3D-type modelling used when designing the Birds Nest Olympic stadium in Beijing. Alexis Martot, exterior design chief at Renault, said: “The all new Rafale’s grille moves the way clothes move over skin; the interplaying shadows, reflections and colours animate it, it looks like it’s alive.” Sure thing.

It sits on 20-inch wheels and comes in a choice of red, black, grey, white or – introduced specially – Alpine Blue. Though, it is – by Renault's own admission – not quite the same Alpine Blue that is used on the Alpine A110. Er, okay…

The Renaule Rafale is not small. It’s up there dimensionally with the Hyundai Tucson and the Audi Q3 Sportback, albeit a not insignificant 210mm longer.

This longer wheelbase means there’s rear headroom and no compromise on rear windscreen visibility by Renault’s reckoning. What’s more, akin to a (much shorter) city car, the Rafale has a 10.4m turning circle.

Top Gear

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

Inside, there’s a massive and dead fancy panoramic roof. It has darkening technology, so you can literally throw some shade on command using voice control, or old-school, using a switch. Renault says the laminated glass will keep the cabin temps comfortable in summer and warm enough in winter.

Other notable interior features are the recycled Alcantara - reaffirming Renault’s commitment to going leather-free from 2024 - and the cork, wood and slate accents. Opt for the Alpine trim and the lights in the seat backs will light up with your heartbeat. Nice touch.

There’s a capacious 647-litre boot and Renault’s integrated USB ports into the armrests and fold out screen stands for rear passengers – the kind of practical, parent-minded features we can get on with.

The OpenR cockpit combines a 12.3in horizontal display with a 12in vertical tablet-style display. Moving away from traditional gauges, a colour-changing diagonal digital display indicates higher engine revs or speed. There’s also a configurable head-up display which Renaults says pays tribute to its aviation connections.

The operating system is based on Android Automotive 12, so Google Maps and 35 other apps from the Google Play store are available. Still, drivers can run Android Auto and Apple CarPlay wirelessly, if they prefer.

There are 32 driver assistance features, including all the usual suspects like Lane Keep Assist, Cruise Control and Speed Limit reminders. There are also remote updates, because that’s life these days. OpenR also builds in AI-based suggestions – like switching off the air-con if a window is open.

The Rafale is special to Renault as it's the first production car wholly designed by Gilles Vidal, who joined the brand in 2020 after leaving Peugeot. Orders are being taken now, with a view to deliveries starting in spring 2024.

More from Top Gear

See more on Alpine

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

Get your first 5 issues for £5