Looks good, very quiet, economical, nice cabin
Not cheap, ride a little busy, four-wheel steering only available on top trim
What is it?
This is Renault's latest attempt at a mid-size family crossover, and given the popularity of these things currently, therefore a big deal. It comes only as a full hybrid. That pitches it against the likes of the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage HEV, Nissan Qashqai e-Power and Toyota RAV4.
Renault actually designed the Austral to be launched in 2021, but then switched the sequence between this and the Megane E-Tech Electric. However much crossovers matter, it seemed more urgent to get the electric hatch out there. Fortunately the Austral doesn't seem out of date as a result. It gave Renault extra time to hone the complicated powertrain and four-wheel steering. More on that in a bit.
It's also avoiding, at the moment anyway, a plug-in hybrid version, because those are expensive and Renault reckons lots of people don't plug them in often enough to save significant petrol, or buy them for tax benefits. We can see the logic there.
What do you make of the looks?
In that interval between design freeze and launch, Renault got a new design director, Gilles Vidal. But he didn't change much. It's a handsome thing, even if it inevitably finds it hard to stand out among a sea of other crossovers. Especially in profile. Still, it has a good solid stance, the high-spec UK cars running on big wheels. Fancy LED lighting lifts the front and rear views.
And hybrid only?
Yes. It's Renault's geared hybrid system, E-Tech, in which you have a 1.2-litre petrol engine with a simple four-speed gearbox, plus an electric motor with two gears of its own. Those two have 15 different allowable permutations of drive, either combined or singly. In fact, it always starts off in electric drive because there's no clutch; another reason it's simple and light and compact. A second smaller motor starts the engine and synchronises the gearshifts.
In the smaller Renaults this hybrid setup runs at 280 volts and is paired with a basic four-cylinder engine. Here it gets 400V and a three-cylinder turbo, which is more powerful, torquey and quiet. It improves the experience and gives a useful 200bhp combined, plus up to 60.1mpg on paper.
Even more significant if it's your company car: all versions, even on 20-inch wheels with the extra weight of four-wheel steering, score under 110g/km CO2. Its hybrid rivals are mostly around 125-130g/km.
Four-wheel steering? On a family car?
Yup. It gives the Austral a city car-like 10.1-metre turning circle. It also comes with multi-link rear suspension and it's rather good, making it easier to thread through cramped streets and multistorey ramps, as well as improving main road stability. More over on the Driving tab.
Without that option you're running on a simpler torsion beam rear suspension, which will likely mean less steering precision and more road noise. We'll let you know when we've tested that.
What about the cabin?
It’s undoubtedly generously equipped, with a 9.3-inch head-up display, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 12-inch infotainment display, offering Google Maps, Google Assistant and Google Play store functionality, included as standard across all trims. It certainly all looks the part, with both screens bright and high in resolution, while user functionality is on par with, if not better than, the majority of rivals.
Otherwise it's decently roomy, while a sliding rear seat lets you share the legroom and boot space to suit, and there are some handy storage touches too. The trim and material quality is well up on most rivals too. Full details on the Interior tab.
How much does it cost?
Prices start from £34,695, with three different trim levels available. Head over to the Buying tab for the full lowdown.
What's the verdict?
Renault is aiming high here. There's no existing body of Renault crossovers waiting to trade into an Austral. You might have forgotten its predecessor, the undistinguished and poor-selling Kadjar. And the Austral comes only as a hybrid, with no cheap petrol manual.
But it's well trimmed, feels high tech, and uses little fuel. If you want a hybrid crossover, it's a good choice. If the hybrid part isn't important, you've got loads of other strong options, especially from the Stellantis and VW Groups. But even then it holds its own in most ways.