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Car Review

Renault Rafale review

£37,955 - £52,140
710
Published: 05 Jun 2024
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Driving

What is it like to drive?

First things first: Renault is billing this as something of a driver’s car. All but the lowest trim grade gets 4Control four-wheel steering, designed to increase agility at low speeds (when the rear wheels’ direction opposes the front wheels’) and improve stability at high speeds (rears matching the fronts). Renault has used this tech for yonks and it appeared most prominently in the Megane RS hot hatchback, with somewhat divisive results.

It perhaps feels overkill on a plush SUV. It increases in aggressiveness depending on your drive mode (Eco, Comfort or Sport) or can be adjusted independently through 13 notches. Thirteen! It’s with some inevitability that levels six or seven feel most natural, with the higher increments making the rear end feel artificially mobile into quicker corners, startling any passengers idly prodding away at their devices.

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Far be it from us to stifle Renault’s enthusiasm – there’s hardly an abundance of genuinely dynamic crossovers at mainstream prices, and lord knows a bit of excitement is welcome in this sector. But there are two issues: its powertrain isn’t as game as its chassis, and ride quality is a truly mixed bag; smooth and controlled at high speed, but downright fidgety and disruptive in lower-speed urban environs. The kind of places family SUVs spend much of their time.

Oh…

It just feels like Renault has got its priorities a bit mixed up. Because a lower notch of 4Control and a calmer driving style sees this car behave more naturally, the hybrid powertrain at its efficient and hushed best and the generally plush cabin better reflective of what’s happening beneath.

Push harder and the 3cyl engine is coarse and occasionally dithers, making the already plain 8.9sec 0-62mph time feel painfully optimistic. Yet the sort of pace you actually need from this car – smooth bursts of acceleration to filter into gaps or zip down slip roads – is always present. There’s no complication of shifting gears to worry about either, as the paddleshifters adjust the brake regen through its three strength levels (or off altogether). The Rafale will slow keenly down to 6mph – if not a complete stop – in the most vigorous of these. And economy is decent enough, with 50mpg or so eminently achievable in mixed driving. Expect low to mid 40s if you’re corralled into exploring its excitable chassis.

What about the plug-in hybrid?

We’re yet to drive it, but we must surely hope the 296bhp PHEV will feel more of the premium, halo car the Rafale is billed as. An additional e-motor on the rear axle makes it permanently four-wheel drive, it boasts the ability to drive 60-odd miles on electric alone and – in fancier Atelier Alpine trim – gets an adaptive suspension setup which scans the road ahead via a camera to smooth out bumps. Alpine itself has had a hand in tuning the suspension, too. Will some of the A110’s famed suppleness find its way into the Rafale? We can live in hope. It does swell the kerb weight towards two tonnes, though, when this ‘base’ car feels relatively light on its feet at 1,660kg.

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For now, the Rafale feels a little confused about exactly what it wants to be – and is ultimately at its most convincing when it’s driven like any other SUV on the market. Though 4Control does lend it a turning circle akin to a Clio’s…

Highlights from the range

the fastest

E-Tech PHEV Atelier Alpine AWD 5dr Auto
  • 0-626.5s
  • CO2
  • BHP296.4
  • MPG
  • Price£52,140

the cheapest

E-Tech Full Hybrid Techno 5dr Auto
  • 0-628.6s
  • CO2
  • BHP197.1
  • MPG
  • Price£37,955

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