If the Japanese can do it… if the Koreans can do it… why can’t the French get it right?” Long back, when something broke in a French car we had in the test fleet, I remember my colleague Dejan asking me this question. Although he didn’t seem convinced, I recall pointing out that each has its own strengths. It’s true that the Japanese are good at developing cars with bulletproof reliability, and the Koreans have perfected the art of streamlined manufacturing that helps them undercut everyone else, but the French can give either a lesson on how to design a car. And both of us agreed, jokingly, that if there was a car developed by the Japanese, built by the Koreans and designed by the French, it would be the best in the world.
Going by that logic, the second-generation Renault Koleos should be the perfect car. It’s built on a Nissan X-Trail platform, is manufactured in Korea by Renault Samsung Motors, and designed in France by the Renault team led by Laurens van den Acker. After having driven the new Koleos for a week, I can tell you categorically that the aforesaid combination needn’t necessarily result in the perfect car. But I can also tell you that it makes for a much better automobile than if it had been developed and built by Renault alone.
Furthermore, Renault has done a commendable job styling the new Koleos. Although it’s based on the X-Trail, the re-skinning process has been done so thoroughly that there isn’t much on the outside that betrays the Far Eastern blood flowing underneath. While those with a keen eye will spot similarities in the sheet metal on the roof and the doors, overall Renault has succeeded in infusing a generous amount of flair into the Koleos’ looks. The front is distinctly Renault, sharing its new signature grille, prominent badge, as well as LED headlights and daytime running lights with the new Talisman saloon, which is one of our cover cars this week. The rear is also typically Renault with the new wide taillight clusters stretching from either side to the centre of the tailgate, while some subtle detailing overall lends the Koleos much more character than the Nissan it’s based on.
Renault has made its own tweaks to the interior as well. While the X-Trail, in most markets, is available with an additional two seats at the back, Renault has decided to keep the Koleos strictly a five-seater in a two-row configuration. This means, despite sharing the wheelbase with the X-Trail, the Koleos is significantly roomier than its Japanese cousin. In fact, the cabin feels massive for a crossover that competes in the same segment as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and the Mazda CX-5. Rear passengers will benefit from the generous knee room of 289mm, while front and rear headroom are 953mm and 911mm, respectively. Add to these a relatively large boot that’s good to swallow 550 litres worth of luggage with all the seats up, the Koleos becomes one of the most practical and spacious vehicles in its class. The cabin design also mirrors the one seen in the Talisman, with the seemingly Volvo-inspired centre console with the portrait-oriented 8.7in infotainment screen and vertically oriented AC vents. While all these changes create a clear separation between the Koleos and the X-Trail, the driving experience acts as a constant reminder of the Nissan underneath.
The 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-pot makes a respectable 168bhp and 233Nm of torque, but the potentially more impressive performance of the engine is slightly dampened by the Xtronic CVT mated to it. It’s one of those ‘intelligent’ rubber bands that simulates up to seven ‘ratios’ to give you the impression of driving a conventional automatic, but there’s no escaping the persistent drone from the engine whenever you try some enthusiastic driving.
However, when cruising along, the cabin is kept fairly quiet, with the fixed-rate springs and dampers affording a refined, comfortable ride. Body roll is kept well under check, and the steering offers a decent amount of feedback considering the low average standards expected in this class.
The Koleos is equipped with an intelligent 4x4 system, with a diff lock that splits torque 50:50 between front and rear. Combined with 210mm of ground clearance, and 19- and 26-degree approach and departure angles, respectively, it should be able to tackle some light off-road duties. But as with most cars in the segment, it’s best to keep away from heavy duty off-roading.
It’s not the perfect crossover, but it gives customers a unique mix of East and West; French good looks with solid Japanese foundations. These, along with a spacious interior and a relatively refined ride make it a much stronger contender in this class, where its predecessor struggled to make a mark. And starting at Dh74,900, it’s priced right, too.