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The Koleos is not a bad-looking car, but it is not distinctive.
The Koleos is not a bad-looking car, but it is not distinctive.

2010 Renault Koleos

Neil Vorano is a little underwhelmed by the Koleos, and a little over superstitious.

If you google "Koleos" and "Sulayem", you'll find a short film on YouTube from last year. It involves Mohammed bin Sulayem, our very own rally racing legend and head of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, behind the wheel of the then-introduced Renault Koleos, taking it up and down soft sand dunes south of Dubai. This, of course, was before Sulayem's infamous crash of a Renault Formula One car at the Dubai Autodrome.

Try another google search with "Koleos" and "Ski Dubai", and you'll watch the same crossover drive up the man-made ski hill in the Mall of the Emirates. You'll also see Nelson Piquet there doing donuts with his Renault F1 car on the snow. This, of course, was before Piquet was unceremoniously dumped from F1 for purposely crashing his Renault at last year's Singapore Grand Prix. What does all this mean? Apart from it being a dire warning to any race car drivers not to buy this car, it's also Renault's attempt at showing other potential consumers the off-road chops of its first crossover SUV.

The French car maker borrowed some 4x4 technology from its sister company, Nissan, when designing this little off-roader. It also has good ground clearance, skid plates, short overhangs at the front and rear, a hill descent feature and a locking transmission to help it on its mission of off-road usefulness, and in the hands of bin Sulayem, it actually does a convincing job of being a decent off-roader.

But the Koleos is not the kind of vehicle that will spend much of its time off the tarmac. This is a people mover first and foremost, meant for families who want some room for passengers and cargo with decent fuel economy. And in that respect, it - again - certainly does the job. It's a crowded market for smaller crossovers, so this Renault had better be good right off the dealer lot.But you also have to stand out from the crowd, and I'm not sure the Koleos does it enough. Oh, yes, it's not a bad-looking car; you might even call it muscular looking. But it's not really distinctive enough from the Hyundai, Ford and Toyota crossovers to draw that immediate and intense consumer interest.

Inside is a clean and well put-together cabin. It may not be the most creative design, but it's a pleasant place to spend a commute and full of good, high-quality materials. The dual sunroof really goes a long way in brightening up the space. For cargo, the rear seats fold flat, and the rear door is a clamshell, two-part design, which is not only handy in tight spots but makes for a nice place for a tailgate party. But while it has 450L of cargo space, it's sister ship, the Nissan X-Trail, (on which the Koleos is based) boasts more than 600L.

Power comes from a 2.5L inline four cylinder that puts out 170hp. I could call this adequate at best, especially accelerating from lower speeds. On the motorway, though, there is more than enough power to keep up with UAE traffic. The engine is mated to a still relatively unconventional continuously variable transmission (CVT). You can't really call it a gearbox, because it has no gears, per se. With a belt and variable pulleys, it theoretically stays in the right gear ratio at all times; better for fuel economy and performance.

The only problem I have with it is a characteristic shared with all CVTs: when under heavy acceleration, the engine revs high - up to around 5,000 rpm in the Koleos - and stays there, with no shifting. It's a bit unnerving, but don't worry, it's working like it should. So why does it have a shift mode that mimics a conventional gearbox, letting you shift into imaginary gears? The only possible reason is for its off-road performance, allowing you to better control the engine speed. Otherwise, why fake it?

The handling isn't what you could call sporty at all. Steering is vague and there is a fair amount of body roll around corners. But the general ride is comfortable for what a family would be looking for. Even at speed, it stays solid and cushy. Overall, I liked the Koleos, especially for the price. It didn't exactly set my heart on fire, but it was a comfortable ride that gave me a feeling it was worth more than the sticker price.

I've given the Koleos back, but you won't find any video of me with it. Call me superstitious; I just don't want to tempt fate. nvorano@thenational.ae

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