- Car Reviews
Looks good, is very quiet and economical in the suburbs, nice cabin
If you're just looking for cheap space, this isn't it
What is it?
This is Renault's first convincing attempt at a mid-size family crossover, a kind of car that sells in huge numbers. It comes only as a full-hybrid. That pitches it against the Nissan Qashqai e-Power, Toyota RAV4, and Kia Sportage HEV.
Renault isn't doing a diesel, because people no longer want them. 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.
It comes to the UK early next year with prices from just over £35k.
So it's a decently powerful car, and trim levels are high too. The screen system is comprehensive and connected, and the rear seats slide for extra versatility. In other words, there isn't a base-spec car in the Austral range.
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 Fortunately the Austral doesn't seem out of date as a result.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 them extra time to hone the complicated powertrain and four-wheel steering.
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.
Yes, and it's Renault's geared hybrid system, E-Tech. In which you have a 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.
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. The hybrid rivals are mostly around 125-130g/km.
Four-wheel steering? Ambitious.
Yup, it's actually an option, and comes with multi-link rear suspension. That's the suspension we tested and it's very good, both to make the Austral easier to thread through cramped streets and multi-storey ramps, and in main-road stability.
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.
But it’s a family car, so the cabin matters.
Indeed. It's decently roomy, and a sliding rear seat lets you share the legroom and boot space to suit. The trim and material quality is well up on the Nissan, Ford, Toyota and Kia. There are some handy storage touches, and excellent connectivity.
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 choices, especially from the Stellantis and VW Groups, but even then it holds its own in most ways.