First Drive: Renault Kadjar 1.2 TCE Signature Nav 5dr
A Renault, and a rather important one at that.
Why? Looks like a normal crossover-y thing...
It is. The Kadjar is Renault's first big-ish crossover since the ill-fated, Nissan X-Trail-based Koleos, which Renault offered in the UK for a couple of years until fledgling sales forced it to beat a hasty retreat back to Asia, where it's still on sale. And they can keep it. Because it's rubbish.
Is this its replacement?
No, says Renault, even though it's more or less the same size and price. The Kadjar is designed to fill the Qashqai-sized gap between the Clio-based Captur and a new, possibly-seven-seat Renault SUV we haven't seen yet.
And here's another thing: as Renault aims to capture 3.5 per cent of the swiftly growing Chinese domestic market, the Kadjar will become the first Renault to also be built in China, thanks to a partnership with local brand Dongfeng. Cars destined for Britain will be built in Spain. Make of that what you will.
I see. Now tell me about the car...
It's based on the same platform as the Qashqai, X-Trail and new Espace, so don't go expecting anything radically different, exciting or, dare we say it, interesting.
For now there are two engines to choose from, a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol with 128bhp and a 1.6-litre diesel with either 109 or 128bhp. Renault claims the petrol manages 50.4mpg, while the diesels officially make 72.8 and 65.7mpg respectively. If you go for the fruitier diesel, you can even have four-wheel drive. Because crossover.
It doesn't look terrible...
Not bad, is it? Particularly on big wheels, and with the spangly LED daytime running lights of the pricier ones. Inside isn't bad, either. There's space enough for five, and room in the back for tall-ish adults to sit behind other, similarly tall adults. The plastics get a bit Dacia as you spend less, but the seats are plush, the new TFT dials clear, and the revised 'R-Link 2' navigation is pretty responsive. And it does a good job of pointing out speed cameras. Not that you'll be going quickly enough to trigger one...
Not too rapid, then?
Depends on which engine you go for. No Kadjar is quick, but the 128bhp diesel we drove at least has a bit of urgency about it when you mash the throttle into the carpet. It may be turbocharged, but the 1.2-litre petrol never really seems to get going. It's not really an issue around town, where it's as quiet and refined as you could want, but affecting any real acceleration demands a concerted effort and miles of empty road.
Renault claims all 151ft lb of torque is available from 2,000rpm, but overtaking even at motorway speeds is best accompanied by a downshift. Five-up, and with a boot full of luggage, we suspect the petrol might seriously struggle.
Not us. Brits will buy the diesel (mostly the smaller one we didn't get to drive...), and quite rightly. The 128bhp effort is quick enough, particularly hushed at speed and a good sight more economical than the petrol.
How does it drive?
There isn't much fun to be had here. The kindest thing we can say about the Kadjar's dynamic credentials is that it's easy, quiet and comfortable. No, the steering doesn't have much feel and yes, there's a fair amount of roll in the bends but, well, do you care? Really?
All-wheel drive models can channel up to 50 per cent of the power to the back wheels, but even on particularly slippy surfaces we struggled to get the little indicator in the gauge cluster to tell us it'd shuffled any more than 20 per cent rearwards.
Mercifully, Renault has resisted the urge to endow the Kadjar with many driving modes. There's no Sport mode, but there is an Eco button, which just makes everything worse. Leave well alone.
When can I buy one?
July, but you won't see it until September. Prices start at a little under £18,000, and rise to over £26k for a 128bhp diesel with 4WD. Whichever way you look at it, it's less money than a similarly equipped Qashqai. Standard spec is generous, too. If you're after a family bus, you could certainly do a lot worse.