Kadjar is Renault's new family favourite
The Renault Kadjar impressed William Scholes on the carefully chosen roads the company used at its launch event. But how does it fare on Northern Ireland's highways and byways?
LAUNCH events for new cars are all well and good, but first impressions must always be balanced against the fact that the only test that should really matter to Irish News readers is how the same car performs on Northern Ireland tarmac.
The Renault Kadjar particularly impressed me on the launch event - not only for its style, space, quality and value for money, but for the way it drove.
But launch test routes have a tendency to flatter a car, to show up its positive points while glossing over its negatives; the Kadjar is the sort of big family car that people buy in their droves nowadays, which makes the way it behaves on Irish roads particularly important.
To recap, the Kadjar is Renault's first proper go at building a crossover to compete against established favourites such as the soon-to-be-replaced Kia Sportage, dull-as-dishwater Volkswagen Tiguan and ubiquitous Nissan Qashqai, among others.
The first Qashqai more or less invented this sector of the market - a mash-up of family-friendly hatchback and SUV - and is the class best-seller.
If the Kadjar is to win sales, then, it must at least match the Qashqai. The Renault's mission gets off to a promising start by simple virtue of sharing around 60 per cent of its parts with the Nissan.
Like Luke Skywalker and the Ewoks, the two companies have an 'alliance' but Renault pledges that 95 per cent of the bits of the Kadjar that you can see and touch are bespoke.
It's a claim that rings true. Just look at it: the Kadjar is an exceptionally handsome car. It looks modern to the extent that it makes the Qashqai look a bit last generation.
The Kadjar is easily the equal of the Kia Sportage in the style stakes - and look how successful that car has been for the Korean brand.
Inside, too, the Kadjar's quality and interior design is a notch or two above the Qashqai. In fact, I can't think of an area in which the Nissan is superior.
The Renault has a bigger and airier cabin, as well as a better boot, all of which is just what you need for family duties.
It is well kitted out too, with a good range of standard equipment. It doesn't even cost that much.
This much was obvious on the launch, as was the fact that the Kadjar had been blessed with an unusually appropriate chassis set-up.
It is to Renault's enormous credit that when faced with the challenges of Northern Ireland's roads, the Kadjar remains composed and comfortable - this is exactly how a family car ought to feel.
The ride is soft, ironing out the grumbling imperfections of the M1 at motorway speed and smoothing the thuds of car park speed humps at walking pace.
Generally speaking, cars which are set up for comfort tend to be overwhelmed by enthusiastic driving or, of relevance to a great many Northern Ireland drivers, the undulations and sharp bumps of our rural roads.
But again, the Kadjar manages to be just as willing an accomplice on a Co Down B-road or Fermanagh lane as it does in the Sprucefield car park or Westlink crawl.
It is quiet inside, too, with wind and engine noise nicely suppressed - again, another example of Renault getting its family car priorities right.
The view out is excellent and it is an easy car to drive. It isn't as overtly sporty to steer as the Mazda CX-5, nor does it drive with as much vigour, but for the target audience Renault is seeking, it is hard to think how it could do things better.
Renault offers the Kadjar with one petrol and two diesel engines. The test car came with the lower-powered diesel, a 1.5-litre 108bhp unit called dCi 110 which has previously impressed in the Clio, Captur and various Dacia models not only for its drivability but its real-world frugality.
And so it is with the Kadjar. The extra weight of a larger body inevitably means that it feels less zesty than when installed in its smaller siblings, but be in no doubt - this is one of the best diesel engines on sale today.
The six-speed gearbox's shift action is perhaps not as slick as it could be, but it is testament to the general rightness of the rest of the Kadjar driving experience that this doesn't detract from the overall positive impression.
Renault expect the dCi 110 to be the most popular engine and ticking the box for Dynamique S Nav trim, as fitted to the test car, ought also to be a no-brainer.
It comes with goodies such as automatic dual zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, keyless entry, electrically-folding door mirrors, a boot floor which can be positioned fully flat and in all sorts of other useful layouts, parking sensors, automatic high and low beam, traffic sign recognition, leather and cloth seats, a powerful stereo - the list goes on and on.
Indeed, sat on its 19-inch diamond cut alloy wheels and painted in a lovely shade of dark blue metallic paint, the Kadjar looks extremely well - and far more expensive than the £23k it cost.
The Kadjar, then, is a broadly talented car which goes straight to the top of the family crossover class; expect to see lots and lots of them as sales get into their stride.