Renault Kadjar 1.6 DCI 130 4×4 Zen – Life is a crossover image

Anyone remembers the Koleos? We do, because it was a capable off-roader, but other than that the reality is no one needs such “niche” sport utility vehicles anymore and everyone actually wants them to be crossovers. Renault resolved the issue with the Kadjar.

It’s an odd thing to deliver a miss in the SUV segment considering the alliance partner has an ample experience in the segment, but there it is, Renault saw the Koleos model wasn’t really successful and after proving itself it can deliver a class beating crossover it started work on a model that will successfully slot in the higher, compact class. The Captur showed the French automaker how things can be done – it quickly rose to the top of the sales charts even though its alliance partner Nissan had the Juke – the initiator of the small crossover craze in Europe. And having a viable cross between Renault knowhow and Nissan 4×4 tech in the form of the Dacia Duster SUV meant they were ready to tackle the issues highlighted by the Koleos’ tepid reception. By the way, the latter is not actually being replaced by the Kadjar, as the Koleos will receive its own successor in the near future – of course adopting all the changes bestowed recently on the Renault model range.

Time will tell if the Kadjar is a winner in the compact segment – but certainly the work is being cut out for the new model. The smaller Captur asserted itself inside a rising niche segment but the Kadjar comes to play in the broad compact SUV segment, which includes all manner of competitors – from Germany’s Volkswagen Tiguan to South Korea’s Kia Sportage or Hyundai Tucson or Japan’s Honda CR-V. Renault is on its way to reshape its entire brand language design and the Kadjar is one of the focus elements alongside the top selling Megane or the newly introduced midsize executive sedan Talisman. And they are also very careful with the links to the Nissan brethren – the Qashqai – as both models are based off the CMF-Cd architecture. We’re fine with this actually – this play has been used by the Hyundai/Kia SUVs for years and both have been entirely and highly successful without anyone accusing them of being copycats.

Design, Interior and Gadgets
So, starting off with the design, the Kadjar is a proud display of Renault’s latest design language – which calls for more fluent lines and some bold amenities – like the massive diamond logo up front on the grille. The latest models in the Renault range are sure to draw attention on themselves, as some of the elements might be considered over the top and be branded as over-design. The thing is such stylistic choices are becoming increasingly common among automakers that seek authentication among the myriad of brands that slap the same lines and overall design from the smallest to the biggest model in the range – prime examples might be considered Volkswagen in the mass-market segment and Audi in the luxury roster. As such, it appears to have been catatonic for the designers penning the Renaults of late to have the executives approve their ideas – flaunting as they might be. After all, they did have prior experience inside the group in letting the Nissan Juke live with its extravagant styling.

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Starting with the front, the Kadjar features a few crucial elements: the grille with embedded and enlarged logo, and the front bumper assembly – if you look at it from certain angles you’ll notice a shimmer of smile in a move to deliver a state of well-being. The side is highlighted by the flared wheel arches and the back is anchored by the LED taillights. On the subject of styling, the liftgate could have been bigger but as the model needs to assert its SUV credentials as well, there’s a rather big chunk of the bumper dressed in black plastic – you’ll have a rather high access level to the trunk so be weary when putting inside heavy stuff.

The interior design also highlights how far Renault is willing to go to depict its new styling language – the Kadjar brought some of the goodies that were later on transferred to the Megane and Talisman. We’re talking here about the new digital instrument cluster with 7 inch screen but also about smaller things such as the new steering wheel and chain of command buttons on it (and levers at the back of it) or the electric parking brake and location of cruise control/ speed limiter buttons. The Kadjar can also feel like a progressive model that somehow also passes the torch – for example the design of the center stack with the R Link 2.0 infotainment system is more in line with the older models featuring a landscape arrangement – the Megane and Talisman now have the screen in portrait mode (we can parallel this to the Apple vs. Android tablet battle – the former is a prominent adopter of portrait and the latter of landscape). The Kadjar has also resolved some of the issue we had with the Clio or Captur – less black hard plastic surfaces and more leather-like soft arrangements that were prominent on the preceding Megane. Since we’re talking about an SUV here, this is all the more welcomed – even the lever on the side of central tunnel is leather-wrapped, so there are numerous nice touches here and there.

While the steering wheel is brand new and has more buttons that usual, settling inside the Kadjar if you have driven current Renaults is an easy affair – we still have the command block for the audio components and the R Link tablet-like interface is already well known across the range. Since everybody loves crossovers and the Kadjar needs to call out to all types of customers, there are also interesting gimmicks – for example the digital screen of the instrument cluster can change color (alongside the theme on the main display on the dashboard) and even the way of displays information. More importantly, a wide array of information can be seen in its secondary areas, such as the transfer ratio between axles if you opted for the all-wheel drive version.

Speaking of gadgets, the Kadjar has them all – from changing themes, accessing applications to the usual array of Bluetooth and USB connectivity (it has two ports, so you can conveniently charge your smartphone and listen to music from a USB stick if you want). Accessibility is good inside the Kadjar and the driving position seems to have been well thought – you’ll never have a hard time reaching out to the infotainment system’s display to access functions. Speaking of gadgets, the Kadjar does come with one major loss – sharing the platform with Nissan means it has lost the clever hands-free door operation: you still get a card and push start button but you can say goodbye to the automatic lock/unlock scenario where you simply walked from or to the car to have it ready for you to enter.

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The interior space falls in line with the compact class and its dimensions – the Kadjar has a wheelbase of 2646 mm, which is right in between the VW Tiguan (2604 mm), Honda CR-V (2630 mm) and the Ford Kuga (2690 mm) for example. The new seats boast ample side support even though you’re not going to hit the track in a crossover anytime soon – but it appears automakers have finally understood the thing is not just for sporty drivers, it also increases comfort when taking longer journeys. The dimensions of the front seats are good for any type of driver and the position behind the wheel is easily adjustable – you still get some “cab-forward” feeling but it’s less pronounced than in other models from the competition. In the back seat there will be space for three adults for quick rides but you might be watchful if you have two kids – more and more automakers restrict the space on the sides when setting up two kids seats (for safety reasons as well, since they’re situated more towards the center) – leaving little space if an adult needs to accompany them in the back (this may also be a way to promote child independence). The trunk is again just average – 472 liters is the minimum against Kuga’s 456 liters, Tiguan’s 470 liters and CR-V’s 589 liters. But there’s catch – you have a multitude of smaller spaces – the floor has two “drawers” and hooks on the side so it’s really practical for daily use.

Engine, Transmission and Handling
The Kadjar can be had with a wide array of engines – we first saw it doing the rounds with us with the petrol 1.2 TCe under the hood sporting the same 130 hp power as our 1.6 liter DCi turbodiesel unit. The differences are stark and any other way I put it there’s no way I would select a downsized gasoline unit over a regular diesel – the 1.2 TCe is really suitable across the lower classes even if the Kadjar is not your Goliath in terms of weight. Anyways, the 1.6-liter turbodiesel comes packing one main advantage over the gasoline models – torque: at the same power level the 1.2 TCe sports 205 Nm from as low as 2,200 rpm while the dCi unit comes with 320 Nm from 1,750 rpm. This means you’ll get better results (0-100 km/h in the TCe is handled in 10,1 seconds versus 10,5 for the dCi) in the real world (not hypothetical crossover drag races) when overturning a car on the interstate.

The Kadjar feels like a regular crossover – there’s nothing chunky or clunky to its road demeanor even though we still get on the central tunnel a switch to command 2WD, AWD and 4×4 lock. No nasty vibrations, no interior noise from the turbodiesel mill even under heavier loads – the upscale feel is right at home here and it may come down to such small traits to make the difference between the myriad of models in the segment. Renault managed a homerun in this department – the Kadjar is more silent and vibration free than some upscale sedans I tested over the years, all the while without breaking the bank. The road feel does appear to be slightly biased towards comfort – steering wheel assistance will obviously change depending on whether you’re parking the car or riding at highway speeds.

The steering wheel input is pretty standard for any electrically assisted model – meaning it’ll go where you’re telling it to but without ever acknowledging your inputs in any way. Also, having the rather relaxed suspension means you’ll also notice you’re in a high-riding model when cornering but there’s a catch here as well. Since we’re talking about a shared architecture with Nissan the all wheel drive system is actively assisting the driver when manhandling the vehicle. The torque transfer between the wheels is fast enough that an intervention from the ESC would come way later than usual – around the time when sensible drivers would have called it quits and throttle back the accelerator pedal – even the TCS system was left idling when the Kadjar handled slippery surfaces with different levels of grip (winter testing does have its way of allowing you to test such limits easier and at safer speeds above all).

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Because the Kadjar’s diesel engine packs 130 hp and the competitors usually deliver the all-wheel drive system mated to stronger powertrains (150 hp for the Kuga and Tiguan and 160 for the CR-V, for example), the French representative is not going to win the performance specification war. Instead it will have a small advantage when comparing average fuel economy – which is here at 4,9 liters/100 km whereas the aforementioned rivals all stand above the 5 liter mark. Of course such fuel consumption levels will never be seen in real life unless you submit to the automaker’s full array of eco-conscious coaching (it’s pretty extensive) and this one is an exercise in patience above all. The start/stop system would be here to assist you in the city driving conditions but during winter at freezing temperatures these technical gimmicks tend to decide to rest in front of the fireplace (they are off-duty to protect the powertrain).

Pro: interesting exterior design language, with bold features and choices that pause just before causing a love/hate relationship. Interior space and NVH (noise and vibration) levels – first is average but well in the norms while the latter is delivering an upscale atmosphere. All the latest technical gimmicks are available, including configurable digital instrument cluster.
Against: the R Link is adding more and more features, meaning there are more and more ways to get lost in today’s packed infotainment systems. The six-speed manual gearbox has the issue I mentioned on other occasions – the final ratio is too short to deliver good fuel economy on the highway.

Starting price – Renault Kadjar 1.2 TCe 130 Life – 17,600 EUR
Tested Version – Renault Kadjar 1.6 DCI 130 Zen 4×4 – 23,450 EUR

Engine: 1.6L four cylinder, diesel, direct injection, variable geometry turbo, intercooler, start/stop (1598 cc)
Power: 130 HP (110 kW) at 4000 rpm
Torque: 320 Nm at 1,750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual

Dimensions: length – 4,449 mm, width – 1,836mm, height – 1,607 mm, wheelbase – 2,646 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 65 L
Trunk Capacity: 472/ 1478 liters
Weight: 1611 kg

0 – 100 km/h: 10,5 s
Top Speed: 190 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 5,4L/100 km, highway – 4,4L/100 km, average – 4,8L/100 km
Rating: 4.4 / 5