New Renault Kadjar goes to top of crossover class
Renault can't be accused of rushing to join the Qashqai and Sportage crowd with its own crossover, but the excellent Kadjar has been worth the wait, writes William Scholes
IT'S taken a long time to arrive, but Renault has finally conjured up a shiny new crossover with which to woo customers with a Nissan Qashqai or Kia Sportage on their shopping list. And about time too.
A crossover, as you must surely know by now, is a vehicle which blends estate car practicality and a family hatchback's ease of driving with 4x4 styling cues.
It's proved a winning combination with punters. The Qashqai and its ilk - called C-segment crossovers, in the trade jargon - now represent major business, essentially growing from zero to around 11 per cent of the UK new car market in no time at all.
It means that any serious manufacturer without a crossover is effectively chasing sales with one arm tied behind its back.
With the Captur, Renault already has one of the best smaller - or B-segment - crossovers in its line-up but the competition only intensifies as you move up a size category.
The good news for Renault is that its C-segment crossover, which rejoices in the name Kadjar, goes straight to the top of the class.
The Kadjar gets off to an excellent start by looking like a concept car driven straight from a motor show stand. Highlights include the bold, confident Renault badge on the grille, the muscular wheel arches, a sleek silhouette and lovely detailing, such as the light treatments and wheel designs.
The Sportage was previously the undisputed sharpest looker in its class, but the Renault makes even it look a little ordinary.
The catwalk test passed with ease, it's time to get inside. Less visually striking than the exterior, nonetheless the Kadjar gets a thoughtfully laid out and designed cabin.
There's no 'wow' features as such though the solidity of the materials and the general air of quality will be alien to owners of older Renaults.
In particular the seats are outstanding for their comfort and support.
There's plenty of room up-front for all shapes and sizes of driver and passenger and back seat drivers are well catered for, particularly so when you consider that children are the most likely occupants.
My lanky 6ft-plus frame was easily accommodated in the back seat, and an hour-long journey was comfortably dispatched.
The boot, too, is generous, its 472 litres besting the Qashqai by more than 40 litres. Drop all the seats and a 1,478 litre void is revealed - very good, though beaten by the Mazda CX-5's 1,620 litres.
The repeated references to the Qashqai bear particular relevance to the Kadjar, and not only because the Nissan has been the segment's best-seller for so long.
Nissan and Renault have an 'alliance', which means that beneath the skin the Kadjar is 60 per cent Qashqai. Renault says the shared parts are "out-of-view" and that 95 per cent of the bits you can see and feel are different.
I never found that remaining 5 per cent, but the Kadjar feels better in every respect than the Qashqai: it looks better, is larger and more practical, feels a little posher and better built and is nicer to drive.
At a launch event in Co Durham - I'll be trying it on Irish roads soon - I tried the Kadjar with both of the diesel engines that are available. Each is exceptionally quiet at idle and, impressively, remain so once on the move.
The consistency of the steering and pedals is nicely matched, with only a slightly awkward gear change spoiling the picture.
The steering is neat and accurate, there is an abundance of grip and the Renault engineers have judged the chassis balance between comfort and sportiness just right. The raised driving position and an excellent view out makes the Kadjar particularly easy to place on the road.
An enthusiast driver will find the Mazda CX-5 more satisfying to hustle along their favourite road, but I suspect the Kadjar's set-up will appeal to the family market for its superb comfort, air of refinement and those excellent seats.
A 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine is available and while I've yet to drive it, it is easy to imagine that it might be more easily overwhelmed by the rigours of Northern Ireland's roads than the diesel alternatives.
Renault make some of the best diesel engines around, and its 1.5-litre unit - which it calls dCi 110 - has long been one of my favourites. Renault expect this engine to be the most popular in the range.
Those who prefer a bit more 'poke' will be better served by the 1.6-litre dCi 130 engine. It's also your only option if you want to specify your Kadjar with four-wheel-drive.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard-fit though a six-speed double-clutch automatic can be ordered with the 1.5-litre diesel.
Trim levels start with Expression+, and all models get air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, a USB socket and a digital radio.
Dynamique Nav trim adds a very good touchscreen infotainment system, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control and automatic lights and wipers, and is probably the best value in the range.
Dynamique S Nav adds bigger 19-inch alloy wheels and part-leather trim to those superb seats.
Top of the range is Signature Nav, which gets goodies such as a panoramic sunroof, LED headlights and a Bose sound system.
The Kadjar also comes with a four year, 100,000-mile warranty, has strong residual values and is well-priced - a dCi 110 Dynamique nav weighs in at less than £22,000, which feels like a lot of very good for the money.
Thanks to its mix of style, space, refinement, quality and the way it feels built-for-families, the Kadjar should be towards the top of the wishlist for anyone shopping for a crossover.