I remain a little confused by the Renault Kadjar, and not just because the name is a little weird. It is a stylish compact SUV that really is a high-riding hatch (given there is no all-wheel-drive option) with more space that any of its rivals, it does everything well but is not spectacular, and it is minimalistic without skimping.
Like so many cars these days, there is cross breeding. In this case there is a big bit of Nissan Qashqai and the significant lump of Mercedes with Renault wrapping. The chassis and underpinnings are from the relationship with Nissan (Renault owns it just in case you missed it) in what is termed Renault-Nissan Common Module Family, which means there is a very competent chassis underneath.
Strangely given the ownership of the platform, the car is built in Spain, so that will keep a large portion of the car buyers looking for European happy. Unfortunately, no matter how much Renault would like, you cannot escape comparisons with the Qashqai which is also built in Europe by the way, given the overriding similarities and similar pricing. But there are differences and that is why you may do one over the other, and one big one that would send me the way of the diamond… later.
Let’s look inside. The interior is simple and appealing, not typically French but certainly not Japanese. The dash is perhaps symbolic of the approach Renault has taken here as well as an indicator to the overarching ‘green’ philosophy of the car. It has one large dial in the middle of the dash, with a digital speedo surrounded by a gauge which indicates fuel economy. This is flanked by gauges for fuel (which doesn’t move too fast) and temperature. That is it! No pretences, no fluff… just what you need.
The steering wheel takes some getting used to. There are buttons for many of the things you need on a steering wheel, but then the stereo controls are on a stick tucked away out of sight and in front of the wiper controls. It is an odd set-up in this day and age, but it works once you adjust to it. It is like the button for the seat heaters, who would you stick them where Renault did? But once you adjust it really doesn’t matter if you can see them or not. I jump in and out of different cars all the time, so the vagaries of design and ergonomics often stand out, but there are not many people that live life like this. That means, so long as the buttons work it doesn’t really matter unless the positioning is just absurd like when Holden used to put the boot release in the glovebox.
The multimedia system is known as R-Link 2 and it is simple to use, even if the screen is a little small. Thankfully it is built into the dash and not a silly stand-up screen and it looks like it has some cool features which you can access as part of your ownership. I think, for instance, you can download a screen saver that is a fish tank. Tré cool. It might have been fun to sit there and fully customise and explore the features and novelties, but there was only a week. Hopefully your friendly Renault dealer can give you plenty of help here.
The seating was good, comfortable and with enough manual adjustment to find the perfect set-up. The rear seats were also larger than expected with plenty of room for a growing clan. The steering also fell to hand easily, what didn’t work though was that I couldn’t send the side mirrors out looking wide enough, but the blindspot monitoring helped there.
There is plenty of other safety kit too, although there is not active cruise control or high speed autonomous emergency braking, and while there is active lane monitoring there is no active control – just a gentle purr like a kitten when you stray. I found myself straying just to get the purr.
If you find yourself in the inevitable Kadjar v Qashqai debate, there is a clear winning advantage to the Kadjar, and that is the drive train with big ticks on both engine and gearbox.
The engine was co-developed with Mercedes-Benz and is a little stunner for what it is meant to do. It is a lusty 1.3L turbo that is able to get up and run, and the economy is stunning. It is Euro 6-certified and is one of the first cars in Australia sold with a petrol particulate filter. In terms of numbers, it has 117kW and 260Nm (at a low 1750rpm which is why it is so easy to drive in city traffic) and these numbers beat most in its class, including the Qashqai and even gives its 2.5L brother in the Koleos a push.
It barely drank a drop of fuel, and had numbers that match a good diesel or hybrid without the excessive cost of those systems. I got just a shade less than 7L/100km in city driving, and that is around the same as my diesel Mondeo, and given the cost and no extra complexities (ie, what are we going to do with those hybrid batteries when they die) this is truly one of the greenest cars in the market.
It is mated to a dual-clutch automatic with seven speeds, and it works really well. Some of the gearchanges are a bit abrupt, but it is programmed well and above all else, it is not a CVT. I cannot begin to tell you how much I dislike the slurred gearchanges of a CVT, and when a standard unit works as well as this, I don’t think you need to ruin the drive experience.
So there’s two big ticks to the Kadjar over not just the Qashqai, but pretty much everything in its class.
The steering was amazingly light, I felt like I could have simply blown at the steering wheel to change direction – which of course you couldn’t – and it did take some getting used to. In car parks it was stunning, but in the Dandenongs not as good. There was a level of detachment that means the Kadjar is no driver’s car, and while it was competent with high levels of grip and safe level of understeer, it just wasn’t engaging because of the steering.
Finally, ownership. There are some quirks to adjust to, but nothing critical. It is a cheap car to run and maintain and there are five capped-price services at 12-month or 30,000km intervals, at an all up cost of $2385 all up including filters, coolant, spark plugs and other incidentals. That is a pretty good deal. The warranty is also five years, so let’s not stress any more over the cost of running a European Car.
The final note is on the key, they call it an access card and that is how it appears. It is flat which is good for pockets and about the size of having four credit cards stacked in top of each other. It is a pretty take on the car key, and is a nice touch.
My week with the car started out with me as a grump, but it ended with me being happy. Part of it is that I am simply not a great fan of this category, I don’t understand why anyone would do an SUV where there are better low-riding options. But I have lost that debate and must adjust.
At a shade under $40k for the Intens, it is a pretty good car. It has enough style to let you know there is a French influence (I didn’t mention how beautifully shaped the bonnet is) and then a great blend of European and Japanese technology to make a great car and it is just so efficient. if you are in the small to mid-SUV market (and you can nudge up to the bigger models because of the space efficiency) the engine and gearbox make the Kadjar well worth looking at.
Kadjar Life — $29,990
Kadjar Zen — $32,990
Kadjar Intens — $37,990