– Premium exterior styling
– Cabin space and features
– Comfortable ride
– Slightly soft handling
– Limited offroad ability
– Some quirky ergonomics
Truth be told, the previous-generation Renault Koleos was a bit of an ugly duckling. Yet it ran for the better part of a decade with only minor facelifts. So this new model is a massive change for the nameplate — it pretty much introduces luxury-car styling and amenities to a segment that’s only known for safe designs.
Indeed, the styling is a major coup for Renault. Known for alternating between extreme quirkiness and extreme conservativeness over the past couple of decades, the French company has finally hit upon a corporate theme that’s both handsome and futuristically unique. First debuting on the Talisman midsize sedan and soon to appear on the Megane compact hatchback, that C-shaped LED treatment around the full-LED headlights on the front end, together with the razor-thin LED tail lamps across the rear, make for a real head-turner. Our tester further had 18-inch alloys. The addition of that silver trim-line leading up to the front-door “vent” is also attractive, even though the vent is fake. The premium-looking rear exhaust “tips” are also fake, with the real tips hidden underneath the bumper, a trick borrowed from the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Inside, there’s soft-touch materials on all the upper door panels, padded leatherette armrests and even leatherette-covered centre-console grab handles, with hard plastics relegated largely to lower panels. That’s a massive step up from the mostly hard-plastic cabins of its Japanese rivals. The replacement of buttons with a large iPad-looking capacitive touchscreen frees up a lot of dash real-estate for a cleaner look. Even the front cup-holders have a sliding cover — a detail that is being increasingly abandoned by its cost-cutting rivals.
Most of the tech features are controlled via the aforementioned 8.7-inch screen with tablet-like swiping pages, such as radio settings, navigation, Bluetooth phone and other things which we didn’t have time to browse through. The climate-control fan speed and stereo volume are also, unfortunately, controlled via the screen, so it’s way too distracting to set these, especially in a moving car. Thankfully, there are buttons for the stereo on a stalk behind the steering wheel, and some basic controls for the great a/c under the screen.
Other features in our fully-loaded tester included leather upholstery, panoramic glass roof, central LCD display in the gauge cluster, power tailgate, smart keyless entry and start, decent stereo, two charging USB ports in front and two more in the back below the rear a/c vents, indigo mood lighting, foglights, cruise control with speed limiter, electronic parking brake, cooled front cup-holders, sliding front centre-armrest, rear camera with sensors, blind-spot warning, full set of airbags and a Renault-trademark card-shaped key.
The Koleos has gained in size a bit, and this is evident in the fairly spacious interior with good legroom both front and back, and a good-sized boot with a cover. The power-adjustable cooled front seats are moderately bolstered, while the rear bench split-folds 60:40, with a latch in the boot to fold down the seat quickly. There are pockets on front seatbacks and all doors, front and rear cup-holders, and the usual centre-armrest cubby. Overall, the ergonomics are great for the most part, except for maybe some small icons on the touchscreen, the speed-limiter button placed down by the cup-holders, and the key having tiny black labels on a black surface.
The Koleos is based on Nissan’s X-Trail underpinnings, and therefore powered by the corporate 2.5-litre 4-cylinder, making 170 hp at 6000 rpm and 233 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm, still mated to a standard CVT automatic and optional all-wheel-drive. There’s a bit more torque than before, but it’s not hugely quicker than the old model, as we timed our all-wheel-drive tester in the 0-100 kph run at 10.2 seconds, in warm early-November weather. Fuel economy has also improved, as we managed a respectable 11.8 litres/100 km during our test.
The Koleos is slower than most to get going, and the CVT still behaves in a rubbery way even while certain other rivals have already eliminated this behaviour. However, once it gets going, there’s adequate power when needed, especially at mid-range revs where the engine spends most of its time. The CVT even responds quickly while on the move, delivering extra juice when needed without having to wait for downshifts like in a regular automatic gearbox. The driver has the option to select a simulated 7-speed manual mode to benefit from engine braking.
Out on the highway, the ride is pretty smooth as the Koleos still seems to be among the more softly-sprung crossovers in its class. There is moderate road and wind noise at 120 kph and above, but all in all, it’s a comfortable cruiser.
Dynamically, the Koleos doesn’t set any new benchmarks. There’s noticeable body roll and understeer in the corners, with slight floatiness over uneven surfaces, but body control is still decent, better than the previous model. The steering wheel is moderately weighted, erring on the light side, with no feedback and a somewhat springy action when unwinding out of a corner. The ABS-assisted disc brakes are good, with a linear pedal action, again on the light side. However, driving less aggressively without squealing the tyres, the Koleos is a perfectly stable companion.
The Koleos 4×4 version offers front-wheel-drive, automatic all-wheel-drive, and a 4WD Lock function to engage permanent four-wheel-drive at low speeds for 50:50 front/rear power distribution. It’s not built for dune-bashing, but it should get to wadis, sandy camp sites and most beaches just fine, aside from being a safer bet on wet roads when left in 4WD AUTO mode.
The Koleos may not be the most involving to drive, but crossover buyers generally aren’t looking to carve corners, preferring a comfortable daily-driver instead. As such, we believe this Renault, with its stylish exterior and fairly premium interior, may actually be a great alternative to overpriced compact crossovers peddled by second-tier premium brands like Lexus and Jaguar these days.
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