With the Captur, the Kadjar and the new generation Koleos – as well as the Alaskan pick-up truck – Renault has built quite a reputable SUV and truck line, one that can hold its own against any of its competitors.
We’ve seen the French take over by storm the subcompact segment with the Captur in Europe – dethroning their alliance counterpart – the Nissan Juke in the process, and we’re pretty sure they would be more than happy to repeat the feat with the Kadjar and Koleos – against the Qashqai and X-Trail, respectively. But while the Captur played on the weakness of the Juke’s design (it’s so quirky it delivers polarizing opinions) and offered a more mainstream design that appealed virtually to everybody, the same can’t be said about the Kadjar / Qashqai pair. And this is for obvious reasons – the Qashqai for example invented the compact crossover notion in Europe and has reigned undefeated ever since. Renault on the other hand came from the disaster that was the first generation Koleos. And they learned their lesson – and possibly their place – the all-new Kadjar that started its life journey back at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show is using the same CMF-D architecture as the Qashqai, just like the second generation Koleos has grown in size and “principles” to slot in as the X-Trail counterpart. And the strategy works out, actually – instead of eating into the Qashqai sales, the Kadjar (fifth in 2016, with a sales increase of 163 percent thanks to the first year of full availability) presented itself as another contender in the compact SUV segment, with both rounding up the performance of the alliance against heavyweights such as the VW Tiguan, Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
The Kadjar is a long running acquaintance of ours, as we tested the diesel and gasoline versions previously – and the main novelty here being the addition of the EDC dual-clutch automatic transmission. Design wise, while the Kadjar and Qashqai are inherently related, sharing numerous components, on the outside there’s no chance to have one mistaken for the other. The Kadjar boasts Renault’s latest corporate design – albeit with a small innuendo: the treatment is done pre-Talisman and Megane, so the new LED daylight driving signature hasn’t been implemented like on the bigger Koleos. That’s not really something to worry about – we’re pretty sure when the time comes for the Kadjar to go through its midlife cycle facelift the issue will be handled swiftly. The corporate design comes with fluid elements and eschews any geometrical shapes – this is the new order at the French automaker, as it strives to implement a more emotional vibe to all of its model roster. Moving inside, we’re again greeted by the best high-tech elements the company has to offer – such as the R-Link 2 multimedia infotainment system. And again – since we also visited the newer members of the lineup – the Megane and Talisman – you feel the same familiar vibe even though you’re not treated to the high-tech portrait tablet-like layout. But the digital instrument cluster – complete with personalize options – is there, just like in a Megane. And the R Link 2 is complete – with navigation, Applications and more – even though it comes here with a slightly scruffier menu (the Megane and Talisman feature a slightly updated user interface) and the regular landscape mode, with a 7-inch touchscreen. While the overall interior layout and design exudes Renault taste, and the designers certainly made sure you didn’t catch the Qashqai references (such as the placement of the mirror buttons on the door and the fact that it shares the lever positioning), there’s one direct “Easter Egg”: the climate controls are virtually the same.
By the way, certainly it’s important to discuss the front seats – both for the driver and passenger featuring a comfortable setup, with very little lateral support. But since we’re well acquainted with the Kadjar, we’ll slide past them – and talk about the rear bench. This is because here Renault has done wonders for families with kids. For example, simple details make the difference. The Isofix fittings are in plain sight and not hidden under the bench like in other cases. The three seats have almost no profiling at all, so putting more than one child seat in the rear will not take over the entire usable space. In addition, even older child seats, with traditional fittings that have no Isofix hooks can be easily secured, especially in the lateral position – the bench is slightly ahead of the C-pillar, not recessed like in other cases, so you won’t wrestle with the seatbelt. We would have liked to see a more modular rear bench – with an angled backrest, but of course, nobody’s perfect. Talking about modularity, we can refer to the boot – which features two separate drawers below the loading surface, for easy holding of smaller items. This makes us excuse the Kadjar for not getting past the 500 liters mark – it has 472 to 1478 liters of space, with an almost flat surface when dropping the benches’ backrest.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
The main novelty here for the Kadjar is the availability of the EDC automatic dual-clutch transmission alongside the TCe gasoline engine. By the way, you might have seen this engine in other companies – the group uses different iterations of this versatile powerplant in various models, either passenger cars (Renault Clio) or crossovers (Dacia Duster has the 125 hp version). Here it comes with 130 hp coming from a mere 1199 cc displacement – which is by far something to wonder about. Yes, we do have a 4,5 meters (4449 mm to be more precise) long crossover, weighing 1434 kg, working with a “mosquito” engine. These are the perks of the fight for efficiency – after the auto industry experienced the thrills of globalization they are now in the downsizing era. And with the diesel engine life’s seemingly condemned by the tightening regulations around the world, we should get well acquainted with these very small displacement gasoline engines. They might be the bridge towards electrification in the near future. Meanwhile, the compact crossover shows no issues when handled with this pint-sized engine. Actually, and this goes to show how well Renault handles nowadays NVH (noise vehicle harshness) levels, if you’re cruising around town at a set speed or on the highway at around 100 km/h you might think the future is now and you’re driving an electric Kadjar. It’s been a while since I experienced such a silent powertrain – the wind and tire road noise were more present than that of the engine during certain driving conditions. You need to rev the little engine to know it’s there, and only then will its presence will become known.
With this powertrain version, there’s no four-wheel drive, so the Kadjar gets the Extended Grip system – designed to increase traction with selectable modes under certain conditions, helped by the 190-mm ground clearance and 18 and 25 degree for the approach and departure angles, respectively. It’s not going to take you far out into the wilderness, but we’re witnessing a switch towards such derivations – the second-generation Peugeot 3008 comes exclusively with such a traction enhancement system and discards altogether the practical, but not so efficient all-wheel drive system. It’s great the Kadjar still offers the 4×4 system option, so you know you can have it if your driving habits require it – or maybe you live in an area where weather conditions make it useful. Given that we’re not burgeoned by an AWD system or a heavy diesel unit under the hood, the Kadjar is light on its toes when it comes to dynamic driving. You can coerce it for a little sporty driving up a mountain road, even though its drivetrain has been geared towards comfort. This is due to the steering and transmission settings, as well as the suspension travel range. The steering is precise but lacks feedback, the EDC is geared towards efficiency unless you use the manual gate (no sport mode here) and the suspension is emphasizing a comfortable ride on and outside the tarmac against quick runs up the hill. And the Kadjar certainly lacks the enhancements from the Multi-Sense technology that can be had on the Megane or Talisman that can tweak steering firmness, accelerator pedal and engine response, as well as adjust the gearshift speed of the EDC. We don’t mind though, because we know the Kadjar, as a crossover, is never going to attract fans of the Megane RS – but the vast majority of buyers that consider today an SUV the best family option. As far as the EDC is concerned, the dual clutch has surged past the early days of the technology – back when it wasn’t running as smoothly as a regular automatic, so we’re gladly giving it our vote. There’s one small issue – while the Kadjar here features the 7-speed version of the EDC, this is not helping efficiency – because it revs too much (above 2500 rpm) when cruising at highway speed, which has no impact on cabin comfort but rather on the fuel economy.