Such is the importance of the compact SUV segment that even those brands with little or no 4x4 credibility are jumping onto the bandwagon. Take Renault for instance. This French brand is better known for its compact hatchbacks and very cleverly packaged MPVs, but now we have the Koleos, another entrant in what has very quickly become a very crowded segment.
Borrowing some off-road hardware from sister company Nissan is a clever move, but even the X-Trail has its faults. And yet Renault is confident that it can compete for top honours, straight out of the box.
Feminine looksWhereas the Nissan X-Trail is all blocky and masculine, Renault has taken a softer approach for the Koleos’s design. It’s a particularly curvaceous-looking car, with a sloping rear section that reminds somewhat of the Audi Q5. The front end is quite “pointy”, as one onlooker commentated, and this is a result of the fitment of a steeply angled scuff plate at the front. The angle of approach is a decent 27 degrees as a consequence.
The ground clearance, by the way, is rather low at 188 mm, but once again the angle of departure is quite good, at 31 degrees. Riding on smart 17-inch alloy wheels and boasting full colour coding with subtle satin silver detailing, the Koleos looks upmarket and ready for the school-run, but doesn’t really inspire thoughts of “roughing it”.
Open the solid-feeling doors and you’re greeted by an interior that quite possibly matches the current champion (Honda’s CR-V) for spaciousness and practicality. This should not come as a massive surprise, seeing as Renault is acknowledged to be a pioneer in the field of practical MPVs. Perhaps the bigger surprise is the perceived quality, which would not look out of place in a German luxury brand’s product. The upper section of the curvy facia is in a soft-touch material, and the steering wheel is trimmed with stitched leather. Black leather upholstery is standard fitment, but the cabin is not too dark, aided by soft, satin silver trim detailing and a generous glass area.
Some of the minor controls on the fascia are quite small and fiddly, but everything works with such slickness and solidity that such quirks are easily forgiven. Renault has really equipped this particular Koleos 2.0 dCi 4x4 Dynamique Premium model very well. Standard features include; dual-zone climate control, a premium sound system, cruise control, automatic lights and wipers and six airbags (including curtain bags). An electronic stability control system is also fitted. Driver comfort is boosted by the rake- and reach-adjustable steering wheel and a seat that is also adjustable for height.
Renault’s MPV experience has also benefitted those seated in the rear. Not only is the legroom impressive, but there are also fold-up airliner-style tables attached to the front seatbacks, as well as a large folding centre armrest with a lidded compartment and drinks holders. Impressively, rear headroom has not been compromised by the sloping roofline. The boot is big, measuring 450 litres and it includes a full-size alloy wheel under its floor. A rather unique feature in this segment is the split tailgate. The boot can be accessed either by opening the rear glass and hoisting your items in, or by folding down the lower section to slide bigger items onto the flat floor. The rear seats fold down very easily – levers are placed in the boot and when pulled, send the corresponding section of the rear seat tumbling forwards and into the floor automatically.
Power and economyAnother area of expertise for this brand is diesel power. Renault knows a thing or two about building powerful and economical diesel powerplants, and the 2.0-litre unit in the Koleos is a fine example. It delivers the most power in this segment (127 kW) as well as the most torque (360 Nm) and yet is also impressively frugal. The 9.6 litres/100 km figure can be easily beaten. Most drivers should average around 8.5 litres/100 km.
The engine is mated with a six-speed manual transmission that has that typically Renault rubbery shift action, but in a vehicle such as this, such a shift action is not the end of the world. With so much torque at hand, you’re unlikely to be stirring the pot all the time to keep the engine on the boil.
As mentioned before, the engine transmits power to all four wheels (potentially) via a Nissan-sourced all-wheel drive system. It usually runs in front-wheel drive mode, but it can also be locked into 4x4 when needed. Off-road, the Koleos puts in an impressive performance, with the soft suspension helping it to coast over and through most obstacles without negatively affecting interior comfort too much.
The good low-down torque also helps it crawl around at low speed very confidently. Plus, there’s a hill-descent control system, too, which limits speeds to 7 km/h. The way in which the Koleos also manages to be a comfortable, stable road vehicle in addition to its rough-road abilities, is really deeply impressive. Renault has done very well.
VerdictSurprise, surprise… The Koleos is quite an achievement. Renault’s first compact SUV is no mere pretender, but a serious challenger for class-best honours. It represents the best of what is available within the Renault-Nissan alliance, marrying the off-road credibility and hardware from Nissan with the MPV expertise of Renault to create a vehicle that ticks all of the boxes.
Except, perhaps, for one… As good as the Koleos 2.0 dCi 4x4 Dynamique Premium is, spending near R400 000 on a Renault remains a risky exercise as resale values are bound to be poor. For that reason, be on the lookout for a demo unit or a one-year old used example. It’s bound to go for a steal.
Spacious, practical interior
We don’t like:
Potential resale value
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 127 kW @ 3 750 rpm
Torque: 360 Nm @ 2 000 rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Top speed: 191 km/h
0-100 km/h: 9.9 seconds
Fuel economy: 9.6 litres/100 km
Honda’s spacious crossover is similar to the Koleos in spirit in that it boasts an interior that is almost MPV-like in its practicality and flexibility. And that 2.2-litre diesel engine is a peach, revving like a refined petrol unit and delivering excellent fuel economy.
Much of what lies under the Koleos’s skin comes from this car. Ironically, the Koleos is the better package, marrying the Nissan’s impressive off-road capability with a far better packaged interior.
A bit more compact than the other offerings here but certainly a sophisticated, beautifully made vehicle with great comfort levels. Engine is down on power and lacks the refinement of the Honda.