Good: design inside and out, drivability
Not so good: question over residual value compared to rivals
I reckon that the Renault Kadjar is one of the best looking models in its segment. And given the breadth of the mid-size crossover market, whether we admit it or not, looks and desirability play a big part in a buyer's decisions. It's good news for Renault then that its designers have done such a good job with the Kadjar as it has been a while since the word 'desirability' could be used in relation to one of its mainstream products.
For the anoraks amongst us the Kadjar is largely based on the omnipresent and evergreen Nissan Qashqai, and this is no bad thing. After all, using much of the mechanical underpinnings of what is one of the most successful models on sale today, not to mention the one that kick-started the segment, is a foundation that many would envy.
Aesthetically, the Renault trumps the Nissan with an exterior design that looks like it just rolled off a motor show stand and it has plenty of presence, something that for many is key in a crossover these days, but often lacking. There's plenty of family resemblance to the smaller Renault Captur too, such as the oversized badge on the front grille that itself stylishly expands outwards to incorporate the headlights. Around the rest of the car there are fluid lines and contours that create a dichotomy between elegance and a solid chunky design. Topping it all off on this range-topping Signature model are some stylish 19-inch alloy wheels.
Granted that the model tested here is the highest specification grade, but inside, the Kadjar benefits from a clean and simple layout with materials that are of a higher quality than we are used to seeing on Renaults of the recent past. In fact, the centre console feels a little sparse, especially between the seats, though it's a clean design overall. You sit in an elevated position that offers good all-round visibility, helped by the lack of obstructive A- and C-pillars.
But of course what really matters here is how well the Kadjar drives in relation to its competition - and the news is positive. The engine offering isn't the most exciting but there are relatively well proven units that, in the case of the diesels at least, should be capable of giving owners good levels of real world fuel economy. You do get the sense that the dCi diesel units still have the scope for further refinement but a well-insulated cabin helps to compensate for this. Thankfully Renault has also improved its gear ratio offering this time around, with a first gear that is now more useable in stop-start traffic.
Out on the open road the Kadjar feels big, especially on country roads, but despite this it doesn't wallow like some larger SUVs. Body control isn't what you would call sharp but in everyday driving it certainly will not disappoint. The steering reacts well to inputs and returns a sufficient level of feedback to appease those who are more in tune with their vehicle. The more powerful 1.6-litre diesel generates 320Nm of torque and this, combined with the Kadjar's modest 1,429kg kerb weight, means that it rarely leaves the driver wanting for more.
Just as impressive is the suspension setup, which feels well damped and even on the larger 19-inch alloy wheels does a competent job at smoothening out poorer road surfaces. Power delivery to the front wheels is good enough to suit most users but there is the option of an all-wheel drive transmission should you wish to have that extra level of traction, especially in winter.
The big question is: should you buy one over a Nissan Qashqai, its sibling and chief rival in the segment? Yes, put simply. The combination of better looks and a more spacious interior really does give the Kadjar the edge, and there's also the small matter of price. Taking the entry-level diesel engine on both models, the Renault undercuts the Nissan by €325. There is a counter argument that, long-term, the Nissan may enjoy a stronger residual value, but in my opinion, seeing the Kadjar on my driveway each morning would be enough to make up for this.
In the Kadjar, Renault has created a very good follow up to the popular Captur and it seems that the tide is very much turning for the better for the French brand. The once all-ruling Qashqai now has a genuine rival and one that has come from closer to home than may have been expected.