The compact crossover marries plenty of practicality with much-improved styling
Road test: 2018 Renault Koleos
Renault is on a roll. The French carmaker sold a record 3.7 million vehicles globally last year, and the Renault-Nissan Alliance (which also includes Mitsubishi) is now the world’s largest automotive group, with its 2017 sales tally of 10.6 million vehicles leapfrogging it above the Volkswagen Group and Toyota.
You might not guess that this is the case, judging by the number of diamond-logoed vehicles on UAE roads, but things are even starting to look up locally, with a revamped line-up that includes the new Talisman, Megane, Captur, and now the Koleos.
All these vehicles bear the stamp of chief designer Laurens van den Acker, who has been doing for Renault what Peter Schreyer did for Kia with his wholesale design revolution. To my eye, his styling treatment works, although some might argue that the Koleos looks like it is wearing spectacles, thanks to its unusual daytime-running-light clusters that frame the headlights.
Whatever your point of view, the new Koleos is a far better-looking – and significantly larger – vehicle than its frumpy predecessor. Renault has used its tie-up with Nissan to source the Koleos’s chassis from the Nissan X-Trail, but you would probably never realise, because French and Japanese cousins’ styling differs markedly.
Step inside and you will be greeted by a cockpit that is remarkably well-appointed for an SUV with a starting price of Dh77,900. That said, my test vehicle is the up-spec SE model with full leather interior, multiple airbags (front, side and curtain), 18-inch alloys, panoramic sunroof, seven-inch touchscreen tablet, rear-view camera and various other bits and bobs.
The cabin enjoys good visibility in all directions and generous levels of kneeroom for rear-seat dwellers. There is decent luggage space, too, with 550 litres on offer with all five seats in place, or 1,690 litres with the rear pews folded down. Curiously, though, the electrically-powered tailgate in my test vehicle doesn’t open all the way up on its own. It arcs its way up until it was at eye level (for me, anyway) with a hand-assisted push required to get it the rest of the way up.
The Koleos cruises in relative comfort and silence, and the overall driving experience is composed and capable without being in any way remarkable. The 170hp, 2.5-litre engine does an industrious job of hauling around the 1.6-tonne chariot, but unfortunately it is mated to a continuously variable transmission, which I dislike with a passion – these transmissions tend to make the motor drone monotonously.
Off-road ability, you ask? The Koleos isn’t really marketed as a serious all-terrainer, but it does offer a respectable 210 millimetres of ground clearance and an “intelligent” four-wheel-drive system that apportions torque in a 50:50 split between front and rear axles. Translation: the Renault is fine for tackling rutted tracks and wadis, but it isn’t what you would call a dune-basher. That should suit its target market just fine, because most will be using it for the school run, office commutes and other urban adventures.
All in all, the Koleos is an enticing package in the bustling compact-crossover segment. The touch-and-feel elements have a real sense of quality for a vehicle at this price, and that is backed by a spacious, sensibly laid-out cabin, good kit levels and driving dynamics that are at least par for the course. It is another step in the right direction for Renault.