Renault’s two-pronged assault on the D-segment is reliant on a pair of models, the Talisman saloon and the Koleos SUV. And it’s surely the latter of this pair that will have to sell in the bigger numbers in the region to make the French firm’s venture into terra incognita a success.
Sales of these mid-sized SUVs have boosted a global D-segment by 1.5 million units in a 10-year period from 2005 to 2015.
Sales of these mid-sized SUVs have boosted a global D-segment by 1.5 million units in a 10-year period from 2005 to 2015, with the off-roaders now representing around 30 per cent of the nine million vehicles sold in the category every year. Handily, when it came time to build a brand-new 4x4, Renault didn’t have to start from scratch. Instead, it dipped into the well of development that has built up as a result of its alliance with Nissan, and simply decided to take the X-Trail and re-skin it. You’ll notice this most clearly in the Koleos’ model name, where both ‘All-Mode 4x4-i’ and ‘Xtronic’ are Nissan’s brand names for all-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Of a few engine choices available for the Koleos, here in the Middle East we’ll get a 2.5-litre petrol alone. Driving all wheels through said CVT, this develops 168bhp and 233Nm, enough to bless the Koleos with a 2,000kg towing capacity. Renault hasn’t quoted any performance data, though, which suggests it’s not that quick.
We reckon it won’t be much faster than the old Koleos with the same engine and gearbox, because the new one has a mere 7Nm extra and around a 50kg weight advantage.
One of the big risks Renault has taken is that, unlike the X-Trail on which it is based, the Koleos does not provide a seven-seat variant. Sure, the rear seats in the Nissan are occasional items best suited to children, but even so, choosing to go without even a ‘5+2’ option looks a risky move by Renault. The pay-off, of course, is that the Koleos feels huge inside. It has fantastic amounts of rear knee room (289mm) and headroom all round (953mm front, 911mm rear) and a big boot, too — 550 litres, including under-floor storage, with all seats in place.
There’s some cleverness in accessing all that interior space, as the doors are designed to protect the interior sills from getting dirty and they open wide, 70 degrees front, 77 degrees rear. Clamber aboard and you’re met with the improved corporate interior of Renault, dominated by the 8.7in portrait R-Link 2 infotainment screen in the centre of the dash and the lovely TFT instrument cluster, although annoyingly the 7.0in main screen here is flanked by two old-fashioned analogue dials. With two hand-grips either side of the centre transmission tunnel, there are slightly fewer duff plastics in the Koleos compared to the Talisman saloon, so the interior is a quality item.
The driving experience is competitive too, although like so many comparable SUVs these days it’s never that exciting. There’s plenty to commend — the Koleos has superb body control on-road and precise steering, but any ideas of press-on driving are quelled by the Xtronic CVT. It’s a better unit than other CVTs, mainly because in both automatic and manual modes it simulates seven ‘ratios’ like a conventional automatic, so you don’t get that strained scream of other similar transmissions. Yet there’s still too much of a disconnect between the raucous noise of the drivetrain and the sluggish rate of acceleration when you pin the throttle, so much so that it simply discourages any quick motoring.
The pay-off is that the Koleos is refined in steady-state driving, because the 2.5 and the CVT both go quiet, while the ride on fixed-rate springs and dampers is impressive. There’s a little bit of wind noise emanating from the mirrors, but otherwise it’s a silky smooth cruiser.
That makes it every bit as good as the competition, and we’ve not even mentioned the strong exterior aesthetic — yes, looks can be subjective, but we doubt many will dislike the inventive and distinctive lines of the Renault.
We even got a brief sojourn off-road in the Koleos, although the route was extremely sedate so we can’t tell you how it would tackle a steep dune. Renault says it has 19- and 26-degree approach and departure angles, respectively, plus 210mm of ground clearance. Sadly, its 4x4-i system’s diff lock function — which keeps torque split 50:50 front-to-rear — only works up to 50kph; not much use on deep sand at speed then.
Rivals mentioned by Renault include the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and — of course — the X-Trail.
The price is what tempers our verdict. Renault won’t be drawn on the cost of the Koleos ahead of its October launch in the region, so we’re playing a guessing game. Rivals mentioned by Renault include the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and — of course — the X-Trail. Tilting at the larger, better-warrantied Kia and Hyundai machines is brave of Renault, but there’s an air of classy refinement about the Koleos that means it should be a strong contender… if it’s pitched at the Dh80,000 mark. That will determine whether Renault’s D-segment adventure is a success or a failure.