Test drive: Renault Kadjar 1.2 TCe 130 PS – Stands out from the crowd image

Even if Renault brings a challenger into the big crossover segment a bit late in the game, the French will nevertheless upset its contenders and its Japanese partner in particular. The Kadjar is a worthy competitor for Nissan’s Qashqai, as the compact Capture already outran the rebel Juke.

It has not been long since I drove Renault’s small Captur and I could understand the attraction for French flair at the end of the day. Even if you cannot precisely point out their strongest points, the “Hexagon’s” models definitely have that “je ne se quoi”. And if you have never been persuaded by the French carmakers, you must admit they have improved their game lately. I will admit it, anyway.

There were times in the past when Renault was “afraid” to bring major design changes to its models, preferring not to step out of its comfort zone. But not anymore, and the Kadjar is a good example of that mind shifting, “forcing” you to take a closer look at the model. Better late than ever, I would say. Renault did not jump right away when the market had a high demand for crossovers and SUVs. Other automakers did not hesitate and recorded solid sales in those segments. The demand is still up and so are the profits. The “diamond” brand made an attempt with its Koleos, but failed to attract those customers who desired to feel uplifted by a car.

Renault’s alliance partner, Nissan, was feeling very confident over its crossover range, with Juke and Qashqai being well liked by customers. The Qashqai has been the traditional segment leader in Europe for the past six years, but for the following period it will have to look over its shoulder, as Renault has high hopes for the Kadjar. And for good reasons, as the compact Captur is comfortably sitting on top of the small crossovers European sales list. But what are the assets Kadjar is bringing to the market?

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Design. Interior. Trims
The first, as one of the most important features for a lot of customers, is the design that allures people towards this segment. Renault made bold statement with Captur’s styling, but Kadjar’s lines are even more courageous, and the overall stance is almost that of a concept model. It definitely drives your attention with that “look at me” front expression that integrates a big “diamond” badge flanked by a chrome strip that continues across the narrow LED head lights, enhancing the daring visual impression. This is complemented by the shapely side lines, and by the futuristic design of the tail lamps. Kadjar has an imposing posture and looks a lot massive than a Qashqai, even if they share the same underpinnings from the alliance’s joint CMF modular platform.

Step inside and you will be greeted by a view much more appealing than you were familiar with in past Renault cars. The outside’s “concept” design has not been quite brought into the interior, but it is rather stylish with soft materials and plenty of gadgets to play with in higher trims. Kadjar’s interior is definitely over the average of the segment; more than that, it can easily be placed very close to the top, surpassing with ease Qashqai’s cabin feel. The eye-catching feature is the digital instrument dials which offers a choice of four display modes and five colours, depending on your mood. There is a classic speedometer, with an analogue rev counter and the speed indicated in the centre, a sport dial, with the speed indicated in the centre and a simplified rev counter, an “economy” speedometer, with a graph indicating the optimal fuel consumption range and the speed, and a streamlined one, with graduation of the speed and no rev counter.

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In the top trip, with starts from 23,300 euros for the 1.2 TCe petrol engine (18,200 euro in entry level, and depending on the market), you also get the R-link 2 7-inch tablet offering navigation, connectivity features, and also the possibility to download applications. And if you need to know how “green” you are driving, there is an ECO Driving feature telling you how gentle the gas pedal was pressed, how good were the shiftings, and if the system is happy with your driving style, it also gives a score so you can tell your friends how “eco-friendly” your driving was. The R-Link’s display is more responsive and has a better resolution that the modest Media-NAV system that you can get in Captur’s lower spec.

There are also plenty of safety and driving aids system if you tick the higher spec version: Active Emergency Braking System, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Warning, Front, rear and side parking aid, Reversing camera, Easy Park Assist, or Traffic Sign Recognition with Speed Alert.

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As the Kadjar is part of the full crossover/ small SUV segment, its customers are looking for a spacy cabin, beside the aesthetics. And Renault delivers plenty of it, with sufficient room in the back for tallish people and a 472 litres modular luggage space, with two-tier boot floor. Even if it has same underpinnings as Qashqai, the longer rear overhang is giving Kadjar a 33 litres advantage over its Nissan sister model. Fold all the seats down, buy a touch of flap, and total load volume increases to 1,478 litres, which will be more than enough for most people.

And before you go on the road, the high SUV-like sitting position will make you happy, as you feel uplifted compared to Captur, even if both models have the same 200 mm ground clearance.

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On the road
It has been quite an effortless quest for Kadjar so far to challenge Qashqai, but further on the road it might not be so easy. The compromise between a hatchback and a bigger SUV that a crossover model must make have to be brought into question again. It is difficult to find the right balance between the suspension comfort of a beefy tall model and the handling of a more compact family car. Nissan’s Qashqai has always been appreciated for its composed ride and Kadjar also has to deliver the same feel. But when the style is more important than the function, some 19 inch 225/45 wheel are not helping at all, or at least what you are getting in the top trim.

Renault claims the name KADJAR is built around KAD- and –JAR. KAD- is inspired by “quad” representing a go-anywhere four-wheel vehicle and –JAR recalls the French words ‘agile’ and ‘jaillir’ representing agility and suddenly emerging from somewhere. “The sound and spelling of the name have an exotic feel which suggests adventure and discovering new horizons”, the marketing team stated when the model was announced. Not many people are likely to take the Kadjar “anywhere”, but it has to able to “eat” some gravel at least, if the situation requires it to do so, and with 19-inch low profile rollers a very slow and steady pace is required. The suspension comfort also suffers, at low speed bumps in particular and on really broken surfaces, any kick reverberates into the cabin. Therefore, the 17 inch standard wheels are particularly recommended if you want a software ride.

If the road does not give you unpleasant surprises, Kadjar will settle nicely at higher speeds, with a balanced posture and steering on curvy roads. Do not expect the most agile performances in segment, but expect from it to be confident enough not to throw you out of the apex much.

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The most difficult job would be to convince the customers to shift from the regular diesel choice in the segment to a petrol engine. The model tested came fitted with the little Energy TCe 1.2-litre turbo unit, delivering a hefty 130 PS. You should be a hard, real-life petrol-head not to go for a well-known and respected Renault diesel engine, such as the 1.5 dCi or the 1.6-litre one. I have always been fond of the tranquility offered by a petrol engine with its lack of useless vibrations and twitches. The TCe unit feels lively enough while driving town, but a 1,200 cc displacement needs some hard work at high speed till its 5,500 rpm limit. With a 10.1 sec from 0 to 100 km/h, the turbo petrol engine is almost as fast as the 1.6 dCi 130 PS unit.

The biggest downsize for a small engine requiring higher revs is its fuel efficiency, as expected. Renault claims Kadjar will request 6.8 l/100 km in urban driving, but after a short trip with a 17 km/h average speed, the trip computer showed 9,8 l/100 km with the start&stop and Eco Mode systems activated. Going on the highway, at a cruising speed of 140 km/h, the engine stays at 3,050 rpm and it needs 10.2 l/100 km, but if you slow down a bit to 139 km/h it returns 8.1 l/100 km at 2,850 rpm. If these figures are above your comfort zone, you can relax at 100 km/h with a more manageable 5.9 l/100 km, but still around 2.0 l/100 more than a 2wd dCi version.

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Final words
The Renault Kadjar really stands out from the mid-sized crossover crowd. It has a distinctive look, a very nicely put together cabin, almost at the top of the segment, with good soft materials inside, it is also well priced, and with a balanced ride quality, if you stay way from the 19 inch wheels. The 1.2 turbo petrol engine will not be amongst customers’ first choices, but you have to take into consideration the lower pricing tag for this version. And if you feel the need for more grip, a 4WD option is there for you to grab and “go-anywhere”. After the Koleos flop, this new attempt will definitely be noticed by the market. It has not been on sale for so long, and Renault will have to wait another year or so do see if it hits the same success as Capture, but Kadjar has all the necessary advantages to upset Nissan Qashqai at the top.

Technical specs:

Price
Starting price – Renault Kadjar Life Energy TCe 130 – 18,200 EUR
Tested Version – Renault Kadjar Intense Energy TCe 130 – 23,300 EUR

Engine
1,199 cc four cylinder, petrol, direct injection, turbo, start&stop
Power: 131 HP (96 kW) at 5,500 rpm
Torque: 205 Nm at 2,200 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual

Dimensions
Length – 4,449 mm, Width – 1,836 mm, Height – 1,607 mm, Wheelbase – 2,646 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 55 litres
Trunk Capacity: 472 / 1,478 litres
Weight: 1,381 kg

Performances
0 – 100 km/h: 10.1 s
Top Speed: 192 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 6.8 l/100 km, highway – 4.9 l/100 km, average – 5.6 l/100 km

Rating
4.1 / 5