► Koleos is Renault’s biggest SUV
► But it’s not a seven-seater
► Diesel engines only in the UK
Renault stopped selling, or rather stopped trying to sell, the first Koleos back in 2010. And it was thing of spectacular unloveliness in every department.
Since then the SUV/crossover D-segment has become every inch as glutted with rivals as the C-segment in which the company’s Kadjar is currently ticking along nicely.
So, though billed as a high-end machine by Renault, the Koleos is more likely to find itself up against the likes of the Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Edge, Nissan X-Trail and the new Skoda Kodiaq than posher offerings from Land Rover or Germany.
Just another large SUV, then?
Well, there are three mildly interesting things which make the Koleos stand out in this glutted arena: Firstly, albeit D-segment sized, it will not be available in 7-seat format. Secondly, despite diesel’s somewhat dodgy current status, there will be no petrol-engined option in the UK. And, thirdly, it sports a CVT transmission that is actually bearable to live with.
Renault justifies its decision not to consider seven seats on the basis that proportion and styling was more important, rather than ‘dressing up the hunchback’, and that the addition of an extra tier would simply cramp second-row space.
With a 2705mm wheelbase – one of the longest in its class – the argument in favour of rear-seat space has certainly been vindicated. But as to proportion and styling… I fear most of the effort has gone into the business end, and ensuring that it is the badge that is firmly imprinted on the retina rather than the box that follows.
On board, the company’s welcome interior design renaissance, which recently reached a degree of SUV maturity in the Kadjar, merely treads water here, rather than advancing further still. In other words, it’s much better than the stack of chrome-lipped smile control panels of yore, but you’d still struggle to be bowled over by the design showmanship of a centre console stack based on a Cyberman’s head.
Still, build quality seems good, the driving position’s fine (though you’ll have to hoick the seat pretty high to even vaguely locate the front corners of the car), and the front seats just shy of being seriously comfortable. And with spacious, easy-fold split rear seats, a power tailgate that may be operated via indolent, under-bumper foot waving, and a total of 1706 litres of loadspace, the Koleos cannot be faulted in terms of space or practicality.
And the driving experience?
At launch, the Koleos will be available with a choice of three powertrains featuring two diesel engines; a 128bhp 1.6 litre unit married to a 6-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive, and a more powerful, 175bhp 2.0 litre unit with all-wheel drive and a choice of six-speed manual or Renault’s seven-speed X-Tronic CVT automatic transmissions.
What impresses most about the 2.0-litre variant is that Renault may well be the first manufacturer to actually (almost) deliver on the promise of a Continuously Variable Transmission that doesn’t sound like a bad day at the abattoir every time you properly put your foot down; the artificial introduction of seven ‘steps’ in the transmission working admirably well.
The Koleos is equipped with the fundamentally soft undercarriage appropriate to a large family cruiser. The upshot is comfortable ride which, though admirable for motorway work, has a tendency to float over larger undulations and allow a certain degree of body roll through the corners.
Closer scrutiny, however, does unearth a little gristle in the blancmange; a little too much nugget in the information the suspension communicates – particularly at lower speeds – about smaller road surface imperfections and other assorted divots.
Largely, the Koleos is pleasantly quiet; the clatter of the diesel at idle quickly replaced as speeds rise by the gently over-intrusive thrum of tyres on tarmac and, given its snub-nosed approach to the management of passing air, an inevitable degree of wind noise.
There’s a marked difference in handling characteristics between the 1.6 and 2.0-litre models. Boasting a somewhat rubber band feel, the all-wheel drive 2.0 litre car’s steering leaves the driver feeling in control, but never truly in charge. This, allied to only modest grip levels, a certain amount of body roll and a ground clearance of 210mm, means the Koleos becomes increasingly grumpy about corners if they follow to soon one after another.
Though the 2.0-litre, all-wheel drive, CVT derivative is expected to be first choice amongst UK buyers, the front-wheel drive 1.6-litre car actually makes a better dynamic fist of proceedings. Not only does the steering feel better weighted, less artificial and a little more engaging, but, with less powertrain weight in the bows, it’s far happier to change direction more than once in the same sentence.
Off-road, the Koleos appears to acquit itself with some aplomb. Not least because of a three-way control switch allowing for front-wheel drive, 4WD Auto – which brings the rear wheels into the equation as and when required – and 4WD Lock, which distributes torque equally between front and rear axles, automatically disengaging at over 25mph.
And what about equipment levels?
The Koleos will be available in the UK in an unusually straightforward choice of just two trim levels – Dynamique S Nav and top-of-the-range Signature Nav.
Renault seeing this car as a range-topping affair, even the former’s specification level is admirably comprehensive, leading the company to suggest that the best-selling variant in the UK – the dCi 175 Auto X-Tronic – will be most popular in the lesser, £31,900 Dynamic S Nav guise.
No surprises, considering that specification includes a hands-free keycard, dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers, a DAB radio with a 7″ touch screen multimedia system which incorporates Bluetooth, handsfree connectivity, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone replications, TomTom live update sat nav with western European mapping, four USB and two AUX ports, part leather upholstery, front seat heating and cooling cup holders, 18” two-tone alloy wheels, heated and folding door mirrors, roof bars, an opening panoramic sunroof, and extra-tinted rear windows for those with spectacularly ugly children.
To this lavish list, Signature Nav adds but 19-inch alloys, full LED headlamps, heated, full leather upholstery, an 8.7” portrait format multimedia screen and a power-operated tailgate which responds to the under-bumper waving foot of the heavy-laden.
Whilst there’s really nothing overmuch here about which to gripe in the practicality, equipment, performance, comfort, ride and handling stakes, there’s equally little to properly blow the frock up.
So the Koleos’ success or otherwise will probably come down to the buying public’s perception of Renault’s position in the busy D-segment pecking order, and then whether a range price-tag of between £27,500 and £34,200 fits the bill.