French brand scores well with first SUV
What you get Specifications
Renault’s Koleos is its first foray into the SUV world, and mostly it succeeds.
It has individual looks which are not as quirkily over-the-top as the just being phased out Megane, but nor do they blend anonymously into the compact SUV mainstream.
Though its interior and loadspace are roomy and practical, Renault has managed to achieve that without sacrificing style; on the school run it will look very smart indeed, holding its head high among vehicles much dearer than its $44,990.
It will fit in very nicely in Parnell, or Ponsonby or Remuera or Karori; which is probably just as well because the newcomer has been assigned an important mission – get the Renault brand back on the New Zealand automotive map.
Renault’s New Zealand pricelist – current at the time of the Koleos’s launch in October – is almost as brief as a Gordon Ramsay restaurant-rescuing menu.
It contained eight vehicles: one was available only to special order, another was only for a batch of five cars, and two were for Megane models on run-out and which won’t be re-stocked with the Megane III until late 2009 at the earliest.
Also in there was the Scenic which used to be a characterful compact MPV but which is now like a taller, less bustle-bummed but still five-seat only version of the Megane. Significantly the square for “status” in the Scenic’s pricing information was blank.
Which means? Probably that someone would really have to want one before any more were imported, because at $44,990 the Scenic II is identically-priced to the Koleos which can perform the same function but with the advantage of an SUV’s command-seating driving position.
So effectively there are three vehicles on the list, the accomplished Laguna III station wagon and the Koleos in 4WD and 2WD ($37,990) forms.
And it’s on the Koleos that Wal Dumper, the savvy boss of NZ Renault distributor, Motorcorp Holdings, is pinning the brand’s hopes of a Kiwi market resurgence.
The Clio can’t be sold here cheaply enough, the Megane III is a year away, and the Laguna wagon is scarcely a mainstream car.
So for the time being, it’s all over to the Koleos – a big call, but after sampling a couple of them, I’m inclined to think it has more than an outside chance of succeeding.
It’s a multi-national effort – Nissan chassis/platform and four-wheel drive technology, Renault engine and automatic gearbox put together in Pusan, Korea, by Samsung (Renault owns Nissan and a big chunk of Samsung).
Effectively, the Koleos is a Nissan X-Trail under the skin and that’s no bad thing because the Japanese 4WD is an accomplished off-road performer and a pretty good on-road handler.
The Nissan is all boxy, upright and practical and looks a lot like its less-accomplished predecessor (Nissan explains that away by saying the styling is an evolution of what went before, a sort of why fix it if it ain’t broke approach. Really?). By contrast the Koleos is all soft edges, subtle curves and inspired French design.
Interestingly, though, the Nissan is the sportier handling of the two, with a balanced feel, taut suspension and minimal understeer.
Renault makes much of sportiness in the Koleos’s marketing and advertising, using the slogan “long legs, cute butt, obviously sporty.”
But in on-road handling terms, sporty isn’t a word that springs to mind when you’re punting the Koleos along a winding country road at a good clip.
No-one expects an SUV to corner like a sports car, except maybe Porsche Cayenne buyers and I’m not sure even if they do, though most are probably staggered to discover just how high their high-priced 4WD’s handling standards are.
But any Koleos buyer who approaches the vehicle expecting sporty dynamics will be disappointed. Its handling is competent and predictable and the 225/60 tyres help provide excellent roadholding, but there’s just a little too much understeer despite programming in the stability control that is designed to reduce that trait.
It’s not sledging understeer, just a tendency to run a little wide, requiring you to wind on more lock; and subjectively, the Nissan version of the chassis was less prone to do that.
The trade-off in the Renault is supple ride quality, and in that the car excels. Where Peugeot has been happy to sacrifice traditional French suppleness to gain handling sharpness, Renault still cherishes a vehicle’s ability to hammer over a washboard as if it were a billiard table, transmitting few of the shocks to the occupants.
Ride quality that is one of the keys to the Koleos’s charm, along with an exceptional level of all-around refinement that’s unusual in an SUV.
It extends even to the turbodiesel engine which delivers a useful 110kW of power and 320Nm of torque in a creamy flow that peaks at 2000rpm.
At cruising speeds or at anything other than full throttle or when the car’s idling, you’d be hard-pressed to identify the engine as a diesel. Clatter is blissfully absent, and the best indication that it’s an oiler is the strong-shouldered but beautifully-smooth stream of torque.
The torque also makes the six-speed automatic gearbox’s manual shift mode seem unnecessary, even when you’re pressing-on along demanding roads. The torque means there’s little shifting of the smooth six-speed auto if you leave it in Drive.
The Koleos’s extreme quietness at cruising speeds amplifies the mechanical refinement. Wind noise is low and road noise pleasingly-absent even on coarse chip-sealed roads.
We didn’t drive the Koleos off-road, though on the car’s media launch we racked up many kilometres on rutted and rock-stream loose-surfaced roads in the Tokoroa forest where it performed well.
However, we’ve driven the X-trail extensively in tougher off-road going, where it behaved impressively using the same running gear as the Koleos, so we have little doubt the Renault will cut the mustard off-road.
It has a hill-start hold mechanism, hill descent control for going down steep and slippery off-road inclines, and a four-wheel drive lock for slippy going.
Front and rear overhangs are minimal and the Koleos has useful approach and departure angles, though for more serious off-road work, the 188mm ride height might seem a tad low.
Mostly the Koleos runs in front-wheel drive and transfers drive to the rear to give four-wheel grip if the fronts start to slip or spin.
The cabin is roomy and well-equipped, the seats are excellent and the Koleos is easy to live with. There are plenty of storage spaces, and nice touches like the air-chilled glovebox and the sunblinds on the rear cabin windows.
There are gimmicky touches, like the card-type electronic key which fits into a dashboard slot and you start and stop the engine with a dashboard-mounted button.
There’s one “gimmick” I love – the electric parking brake. You push down a little lever/flap on the centre console to release the brake and lift it up to apply. Yeah, I know it’s another electric item that might fail but it’s infinitely superior to a foot-operated parking brake.
Renault says the Koleos is good for fuel economy of 8.3 litres/100km on the combined cycle. We managed a figure in the low 10s in running that was slightly skewed toward city use.
Overall, the Koleos is impressive, with outstanding refinement, good performance, excellent ride and a good level of standard equipment, all at a competitive price.
Its weakest point is its slight lack of handling finesse with a little too much body roll and understeer for our tastes. It’s not a sporty vehicle despite the advertising slogan and wasn’t intended to be.
What it does it generally does well, and we figure it has a good chance of helping put Renault back on the NZ new-car map.
autotrader.co.nz rating: three and a half out of five.
What you get for your money
Renault’s Koleos is nicely-finished and comes with a good list of standard equipment.
Seats are upholstered in dark charcoal cloth, and the steering wheel and gear shift lever are leather-wrapped.
The driver’s seat is height-adjustable, and the steering wheel can be adjusted for height and reach.
It has power windows and power-adjustable exterior mirrors, and the rear side windows have sunblinds. The exterior mirrors have electric demisters, and can be folded electrically for parking.
The Compact Disc sound system has four speakers and is MP3-compatible.
Driver and front seat passenger can choose individual setting for the climate-control air-conditioning system which has a cabin filter. The glovebox is air-chilled.
The front seatbacks have fold-out, airliner-like tray tables incorporating cupholders, and the Koleos abounds in storage spaces, including under the rear floor for safe storage of valuables.
Central door-locking is controlled by a remote key card which fits into a slot in the lower dashboard. Engine stop/start is by push-button, and the parking brakes is electrically activated, using a console-mounted mini-lever.
A seven-function trip computer is standard, along with cruise control.
The headlights switch on automatically in low light, and the car comes standard with foglights. The windscreen wipers switch on when sensors detect rain.
The tailgate is in upper and lower sections which can be opened individually or together, clam-like.
Satin-finish aluminium roof rails are standard, and the door handles are satin-finish chrome. Bumpers and side mouldings are body-coloured.
The Koleos has a Euro NCAP five-star crash test rating, and safety kit includes front and side airbags for the driver and front seat passenger, and cabin-length side curtain airbags.
There are three-point seatbelts for all five occupants, and front seatbelts have pretensions (double for the driver). There are three child seat anchorages in the rear cabin.
The Koleos has ABS anti-lock braking with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist which increases pedal pressure in panic stops. The electronic stability control includes understeer control.
2009 Renault Koleos specifications
Type. Five-door station wagon SUV.
Engine. 1995cc four-cylinder diesel. Water-cooled turbocharger. Common rail injection. Particle filter. Maximum power, 110kW at 4000rpm. Peak torque, 320Nm at 2000rpm.
Transmission. Automatically-engaged four-wheel drive. Six-speed automatic gearbox. Electronic Stability Program. Hill descent control.
Suspension. Front, MacPherson strut. Rear, multi-link.
Brakes. Front, 320mm ventilated discs. Rear, 292mm ventilated discs. ABS anti-lock program with electronic brake assist.
Wheels. 17-inch diameter, 6.5-inch wide alloy. Full-sized spare wheel.
Tyres. 225/60 R17.
Steering. Electrically-assisted variable ratio rack and pinion.
Fuel consumption. Combined cycle, 8.3 litres/100km. City, 10.5 litres/100km. Highway, seven litres/100km.
Performance. Towing capacity, 750kg (unbraked trailer); 1350kg (braked trailer). Approach angle, 27 degrees. Departure angle, 31 degrees. Ramp-over angle, 21 degrees. CO2 emissions, 221 grams/km.
Dimensions. Length, 4520mm. Width, 2120mm (including mirrors). Height, 1710mm. Wheelbase, 2690mm. Front track, 1545mm. Rear track, 1550mm. Ground clearance, 188mm. Boot capacity, 450 litres. Fuel tank capacity, 65 litres. Kerb weight, 1713kg.