2017 Renault Kadjar 1.5 DCi Dynamique Nav (GB)

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Just as the hatchback came to dominate the family car market, in preference to a conventional booted saloon model, during the 1970s, so the MPV upped the ante a stage further in the mid-1990s, with even more space and versatility in the space form factor, and then a few years later, the Crossover became the vehicle of choice for those looking for something to accommodate people and belongings and to fit into their busy lives. French car maker Renault was very much a pace-setter in the first two of these market transformations. Their R16 was launched in 1965, and it was another 4 years, with the appearance of the Austin Maxi, before the formula was copied. During the 1970s, just about every volume manufacturer introduced cars, of varying size from economy-sized to luxury saloons with a fifth door at the back, but without having the slightly utilitarian look of the traditional estate car. And having defined the People Carrier or MPV with the Espace of 1984, Renault extended the formula down a size in 1996 with the innovative Megane Scenic, and soon found that the car had a host of rivals as all their competitors rushed to offer their take on the tall and commodious family car. So, it is perhaps a surprise that Renault appear to have been somewhat late to the Crossover party. Actually, that’s not strictly true, of course. Sister company, Nissan, did much to popularise the genre in family-car size with the hugely popular Qashqai of 2007, and Renault did then come up with their own take on the type, with the largely forgotten Koleos a few months later. It was an odd creation, designed in France, but engineered in Japan and built in South Korea as part of Renault’s Samsung tie-up. It was quietly dropped from the UK line-up in 2010, following a very low sales success rate. However, with Crossover sales continuing to grow, this was a sector that Renault could not ignore, though, so it was no surprise when soon after the launch of the second generation Qashqai in early 2014, pictures of a heavily disguised Renault version started to appear online. Following Nissan’s lead in coming up with a name which looks awkward when written down and is equally hard to spell, the French product was christened Kadjar, which is apparently the name of a now-defunct Persian tribe. With looks that are clearly related to the popular smaller Captur, Renault wanted to show that they were serious about this sector, by offering the Kadjar with the option of four wheel drive and a wide range of engines and trims. Under the skin, the two products are very similar, sharing not just the same platform, but engines and many of the bits you can’t see, but all the visible details are different, and the Renault is priced to undercut the Nissan by a significant margin. There are quite a few of them on fleet with Hertz in the UK at present, who seem to have done a sizeable deal with Renault, so I was not that surprised to find one with my name on it for a recent reservation. Having sampled the Qashqai in both 1.2 litre petrol and 1.5 litre diesel guises a while back, and been impressed by both, I was keen to see how different the Renault would be.

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The test car had the 1.5 DCi engine in it, which generates only 110 bhp. Not enough, you might think. Indeed, when Autocar magazine tested one at launch in 2015, their test car took a very leisurely 14.5 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standing start, the slowest time they recorded in the whole year. Whilst this is not a rapid car, it is nothing like as painful to drive as that. The engine is decently refined. It does sound like a diesel when you start it – with a keyless button to the left of the wheel – but only just, and once underway, it proves decently refined with the tell-tale diesel clatter well suppressed. With 192 lb/ft of torque available, 110bhp of diesel is always going to be preferable to the same number of petrol-fuelled horses these days, and so it proves here. Provided you make reasonable use of the gears, you can keep up with the traffic flow without undue difficulty. There is a gearchange indicator, and it wanted me to change up at unfeasibly low revs – well below 2000rpm – which might do wonders for fuel economy, but my mechanical sympathies simply said “no”. Ignore this, and go past 2000 rpm, and acceleration is actually decent enough as you find the best of the available torque. The upside for this engine is its impressively low CO2 rating, of just 99 g/km CO2, whereas the more potent 1.6 DCi model measures 113 g/km, and offers far inferior fuel consumption. No wonder this 1.5 DCi unit features in around 33% of all Renault models sold these days, and although it has been around a while, Renault continue to refine and develop it. The gearchange is nice and precise, with just sufficient resistance to the movement so you feel confident of having selected the next ratio. If you do use the torque from one of the higher of the 6 forward gears, you will find acceleration is pitiful and that it is much better to change down one, two or even three gears, and then all is well – even if the Eco Assist assessment, that I will come to, downrates your score. I drove the Kadjar for 496 miles, and needed to put 44.11 litres in to fill it up, which computes to 51.05 mpg, a good result for a car of this size. Indeed, the Kadjar can reportedly achieve the same maximum speed on each of 4th, 5th and 6th gears.

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Renault could not resist changing some of the chassis and suspensions settings compare to the Qashqai. They should have left well alone. My biggest complaint was the handling, which I described in my notes as “sloppy”, with a lot of understeer evident event a low speeds on a roundabout. This is definitely not a car that enthusiasts will relish driving. Whilst the steering was OK, with decent weighting and some semblance of feel to it, the fact that the car leaned a certain amount on cars and simply did not follow the line you expect event at moderate speeds made for something of a disappointment, especially as these were not traits I found in the Nissan. This trim of the Kadjar comes on 215/60 17″ wheels, and with those fitted, the car rides smoothly. It is telling that although 19″ wheels are standard on higher spec models, there is a no cost option to reduce these to 17″, and the launch cars were so equipped, suggesting that there is probably a penalty to be paid for larger wheels that goes beyond raising the CO2 emissions to 103 g/km. There were no issues with the foot brake, which had a good bite from the first application of pressure to the pedal. The same cannot be said for the electronic handbrake. These are generally loathsome devices, and the one here is one of the worst. You set it using the small lever in the centre console, and there is no problem with this. But releasing it is a different matter. The idea is that as you press the accelerator, slightly, it should release itself. But it proved reluctant to disengage this way unless you pressed the accelerator far harder than you usually would for a smooth departure, at which point it would release with quite a jerk. If you tried to release it manually, it did not always do so. Cursed device. Visibility proved to be good. There was an optional rear-view camera which projects an image onto the central display screen and (also optional) rear parking sensors to help you to judge the back of the Kadjar, which although it is quite a long way behind you, is not that hard to judge from inside the car anyway. Neither of these are standard on the Dynamique trim, and it would not be too much of a hardship to do without them. Like other Renault models that I’ve driven recently, the key is enormous. Larger than a thick credit card, it can at least sit in your pocket at all times. What really irked me was that as soon as you got out of the car, it locked, whether you wanted it to or not. Much of the time, I did not want it to do so.

Another thing that is different from the Nissan is the dashboard. This one conforms very much to current Renault house style. It is all very conventional, with a sort of grab handle across one side of the centre console reminding us of the Crossover pretensions of the car. Quality of the materials used is perfectly acceptable here, and fit and finish was generally good, though there was an annoying rattle somewhere behind the dash. The majority of the large plastic moulding is black, with subtle chrome highlights around the air vents, gearlever surround and on the doors. There is a gloss piano black inlay on the centre console. You get TFT digital instruments, as is very much the current way, presented under a curved binnacle which is part of an over-arching swooping moulding which goes from the central air vents all the way to the driver’s door. The single large central dial is for the rev counter, with a digital speedometer in the middle of the unit and then to either side, in rather stylised shapes are the water temperature and fuel gauges, using bar chart style representations to report their readings. Even so, all are clear and easy to read. Twin column stalks are fitted, with that on the left incorporating the lights, while the one on the right handles front and rear wipers. There is a separate audio pod mounted behind the wheel, lower than the stalk, to the right. The centre of the dash contains the 7″ colour touch-sensitive screen for the R-Link 2 system which encompasses audio and other media (AUX, MP3 and Bluetooth), the Navigation unit, some settings for the car and the EcoAssist system. Dealing with the last of these first. It assess your driving and gives a score, which in my case was 61%, against criteria of smoothness (got a good score), anticipation (also) and gear-changing (where my score was 1 out of 5 stars, as the system said I should change up a lot earlier – bah!). The Navigation system, with traffic reporting proved fine, with good graphics on the map. The radio was just fiddly. There is now only one knob, an on/off and volume one, to the left of the unit, everything else being done through the screen. Changing a radio channel proved particularly cumbersome, as you had to select “multimedia”, then “radio”, and then a long list of available DAB channels was presented, which you scroll through like you do on a smartphone, needing to stop the one you want in the middle of the screen before you can select it. I repeatedly got an adjacent(ish) channel, by mistake. This is far too dodgy to use whilst driving, so you really do need to have stations in your pre-set list. Beneath this unit are three rotary dials and some buttons for the dual zone climate control. Also a bit odd is the positioning of the cruise control on/off switch in the centre console rather than on the steering wheel boss. There is a release for the fuel filler mounted low on the dash over the driver’s right knee. It sits next to the same size and shaped release for the bonnet and it is too easy to pull the wrong one.

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Although you don’t really realise it when getting in the Kadjar, it is quite noticeable once you are installed that you are sitting up higher than in a traditional hatchback. There are a range of manual adjustments to help you get comfortable. A bar under the seat does seat fore/aft and a turn wheel on the side does backrest angle, and there is a height adjuster. The wheel telescopes in and out. The seat proved very comfortable, in the best Renault tradition. I was struck by the amount of headroom on offer – far more than you would get in a comparable hatchback model. Those in the back are well-provided for, too. There is ample legroom, and with a negligible hump in the middle, the middle seat occupant would not feel deprived of space, either. Headroom is particularly generous, making this a roomy family vehicle. There is a good sized boot to go with all this spaciousness, a nice regular shape and significantly larger than you would find in an equivalent hatch if not quite up to what you might get in a conventional estate car. The floor is flush with the bottom of the tailgate, but lift the floor up and there is space underneath for some more bits and pieces. The rear seat backrests are asymmetrically split and fold down flat to give a long load platform. If you need even more space, well, there are roofrails, so I guess you could put a stowage box up on the roof. Inside the cabin, practicality was clearly uppermost in the designers’ minds. There is a good sized glovebox, bins on all four doors, a cubby under the central armrest, plenty of recesses in the centre console for odds and ends including a couple of cupholders, though these are clearly designed for moderately-sized beverages only.

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Five different trims are offered in the UK: Expression +, Dynamique Nav, Dynamique S Nav, Signature Nav and Signature S Nav. There are choices of engines: the 130 bhp 1.2 litre turbo petrol and diesels in 110 1.5 litre and 130 bhp 1.6 litre guises. There are also options for AWD instead of front wheel drive with the 130 bhp diesel engine. All are available with a dual clutch EDC automatic gearbox. Expression + trim brings you 16″ steel wheels with covers, LED DRLs, front fog lights, halogen front lights, body coloured door mirrors, tinted front windows, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors incorporating indicator repeaters, cruise control, what Renault call a “classic” radio with DAB radio, AUX, MP3 and Bluetooth and manual air conditioning, The £1700 extra for a Dynamique Nav adds roof rails, extra tinted rear windows, electrically folding door mirrors, a speed limiter setting, the R Link 2 infotainment system with a 7″ touch sensitive colour screen, Arkamys sound system, DAB radio, Navigation covering Western Europe with traffic reporting, the Visio System comprising Lane Departure Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition and automatic high/low beam as well as auto lights and wipers, height and lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat, a leather wrapped steering wheel, dual zone climate control and the hands-free key card entry system. Upgrade to a Dynamique S Nav and you get standard 19″ alloys (which you can swap for 17″ ones at no charge), seat upholstery that is a mix of cloth and leather, front and rear parking sensors, height adjustment for the front passenger seat, a one-touch easy folding rear seat. This lot costs a further £1920. The Signature Nav trim, for an extra £1200. gives you full LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, Signature dark synthetic leather and cloth upholstery, a Bose 9 speaker energy efficient sound system with DAB radio, sunvisors with an illuminated vanity mirror, a Nappa leather wrap to the steering wheel, and an electro-chrome rear view dipping mirror. Top spec Signature S Nav, an extra £1400, so listing at £26,745 with the 110bhp diesel engine and a manual gearbox, gives you full leather upholstery, a rear parking camera, all around parking sensors, hands-free parking, heated front seats that are electrically adjustable.

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Although not exciting, the Kadjar is a very worthy vehicle indeed. If you are going to carry lots of people or stuff in one, you might find the extra money for the more powerful 1.6 DCi unit to be worthwhile, thought it will cost more to buy and to run, but otherwise the only real concerns were around build quality. As well as some rattles behind the dash, I noted that the rubber seal around the inside of the driver’s door was part detached on a car that was only a few weeks old. That massive key – a feature of all Renaults – was also an irritation, and the fact that the car locks itself whether you want it to or not also irked. These niggles aside, the Kadjar ticks pretty much every box: roomy, practical, refined, easy to drive, and economical. Should you pick one over the class-leading Qashqai? Perhaps. The Nissan has all the same attributes as the Renault, but wrapped in a body which is completely different yet looking remarkably similar in outline. You may wish to test both, as the suspensions settings are subtly different, and one may be more to your taste than the other. Otherwise, it will come down to personal preference and which dealer will give you a better deal on the transaction.

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