Overall rating: 4/5
It's been a long time coming but Renault has finally decided to get into the lucrative C-segment SUV/crossover marketplace with the Kadjar. Borrowing heavily from the Nissan Qashqai, the Kadjar is an impressively refined and pleasant machine, which should bring plenty more customers into Renault dealerships.
In the Metal:
Renault's Kadjar name comes from 'Kad', to make you think of quad bikes, and 'jar', from the French words 'agile' and 'jaillir', which mean agile (obviously) and to suddenly come from nowhere. It's a handsome thing from most angles, although looks are always and ever so subjective. Which is why, when we say we don't like the uncomfortable front-end design, it's probably not going to matter to people who have their hearts set on it. It's just that we think there's something a bit buck-toothed about the Kadjar, as if the grille and the front bumper moulding below it are too deep proportional to the rest of the nose. From other angles, the Kadjar looks fine, especially the Clio-esque rear end, and although the 17-inch wheels of lesser spec versions do look small, by the same token they never appear lost in the arches.
The interior is appealing too, more for its space than for anything. There's a lot of legroom behind a six-foot driver and the boot is larger than that on a Nissan Qashqai, albeit only with the rear seats in place - folded away, the Nissan can carry more cargo. The Kadjar has a lozenge of leather atop the instrument cluster, itself made up of digital displays, while the rest of the dash is well laid out. Everything feels really well-made and the seats are particularly comfy, with a good driving position attainable, despite slightly offset pedals in the footwell.
Three engines, two transmissions, a choice of front- or all-wheel drive and four trims levels are offered. The engines are a 1.2-litre, 130hp four-cylinder petrol, a 1.5-litre, 110hp four-cylinder dCi diesel (likely to be far and away the biggest seller) and this 1.6-litre 130hp dCi diesel. It is only the 1.6 that can optionally be mated to four-wheel drive (all other Kadjars are front-wheel drive), while just the 110hp dCi has the option of the six-speed twin-clutch 'EDC' automatic transmission.
No Kadjar is quick, especially not the TCe 130 petrol - which is almost painfully slow - but the larger 1.6-litre dCi 130 model as tested here does have a meaty 320Nm of torque that makes it far nicer to punt along an open, flowing road. However, what all Kadjars have is a high level of refinement. All engines are proven already in the Qashqai and they're smooth and reasonably quiet no matter how hard they're being worked. The mid-range muscle of the 130 dCi is truly welcome, though, and it's the one we'd recommend, were it not for the fact that it is likely to attract a healthy price premium over the 1.2 and 1.5 engines in two-wheel drive format; in all-wheel drive guise, it'll be more expensive still.
Where the Kadjar scores dynamically is on ride comfort and road holding. It's not a hugely exciting chassis but it has loads of grip, while to elicit excessive body roll requires needlessly aggressive corner entry speeds. That lack of body movement on the springs combines with excellent damping that makes the Kadjar a pleasure to cruise in. It's very, very quiet at motorway speeds and is a slick, easy-to-manoeuvre city machine as well, the gearbox proving to be a light, precise delight to operate. Adding four-wheel drive doesn't really alter either the grip or compliance levels, although it does see the 0-100km/h sprint on this 130 dCi lengthen from 9.9- to 10.5 seconds. No big deal, but fuel economy and emissions are hit hard by the addition of between 107- and 121kg model-for-model - a front-wheel drive Kadjar 130 can return up to 65.7mpg (4.3 litres/100km) and 117g/km CO2, some way ahead of the four-wheel drive's best figures of 58.8mpg (4.8 litres/100km) and 126g/km. For that reason, the 110 dCi is the smartest choice, as it is capable of 99g/km CO2 and combined economy of 74.3mpg (3.8 litres/100km).
What you get for your Money:
You get space, lots of equipment and cultured manners in a high-riding body shell. That's what makes crossovers so popular, after all, not whether they can do 0-100km/h in less than eight seconds and corner like a tarmac rally car. On this score, the Kadjar is highly competitive in the marketplace. Irish specifications closely mirror European trims, so even base models should have DAB, Bluetooth, air conditioning, LED daytime running lamps, cruise control and plenty of safety-related assistance systems. Further up the ladder there'll be the new R-Link 2 multimedia and satnav system, as well as 17-inch alloys, keyless entry and go, climate control and an Arkamys 3D digital sound system among the upgrades. Top-line models have part-leather trim, 19-inch diamond cut alloys, full LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof and a Bose eight-speaker audio set-up. Full details of the Renault Kadjar line-up with pricing and specifications for the Irish market were announced after the publication of this review. Read the full pricing and specification story here.
Hyundai ix35: one of the best in the class, the Hyundai is excellent but the ride and refinement on the Kadjar are better.
Nissan Qashqai: the crossover originator improved markedly for second-gen and uses the same running gear as the Kadjar.
Peugeot 3008: often overlooked, the 3008 is spacious and worth at least considering; however, the Kadjar is better.
The Kadjar is extremely competent, straight-line performance aside - and as no crossover/small SUV buyer really requires that their family transport goes like a scalded cat, this is not a major deal-breaker for the Renault. It is quiet and refined on the move, has a lovely ride and is well-equipped, with a spacious cabin only further strengthening its claim. No manufacturer can afford to be out of this segment and the standard of products available from rivals is high, but the Kadjar enters the fray right in the thick of the action. It's every bit as good as the superb Qashqai with which is shares so many components - whether you prefer the Renault over the Nissan will probably come down to looks and looks alone.