Friday, May 05, 2017

TEST DRIVE: THE RENAULT KOLEOS 2.5L - Renault goes upmarket with this classy SUV


The thing with most cars these days is that they are mostly built to a certain level of standard and quality. If you bought a compact city sedan you most like would get a stunted looking car based on hatchback with hard plastics everywhere. If you bought a slightly larger compact family sedan like a Honda Civic everything moves up a notch but they’re still keeping lots of stuff out of the car in terms of material used and also bits that make it look classy as well as refined. Some even limit sound deadening material and some limit styling. Basically when you buy an affordable car you usually get less even though the specs say it has everything inside it.

This is the case with most companies these days. If you buy a Honda City, Toyota Vios or eve that slightly ugly Nissan Almera, they are actually pretty similar in terms of what is given. Some have better plastics, some have way better handling, some have a better badge but overall they are all competent cars to a certain extent. Anything built today is usually better compared to a car of the same class fifteen years ago. 


So, how would a car manufacturer prove a point then? What it needs to do is innovate. They need to revolutionise things a little. Move goalposts. If the industry standard for a certain segment is such, the usual case is that a manufacturer needs to change it and move the standards up a notch or two. This is where a car like the Renault Koleos SUV I recently tested comes in. 

Usually when I think of Renault I think of quirky French cars which have a lot of flair but with the build quality of French pastries. They’re tasty in that they drive very well but they may have additional toppings that actually make it too sweet for regular consumption. Some interior bits feel like they are croissants in which they will flake off and some of the tarts look just too fashionable to be considered as food. But with the Koleos, Renault has actually given us a car which is actually good to look at and everything inside feels solid and well built.

The styling

It has very striking looks for a mid-sized SUV. The front end has some attractive headlights with some unique daytime running lights (DRL). The grille is massive looking with a big fat logo in the middle. There are chrome bits everywhere to give it that slightly glitzy and premium look to it. The car has some taut body sculpting and it looks very proportional in terms of how it looks. If you view it from the front or rear three quarter angle it looks very modern and portrays all that is needed in a SUV. It has that look that says ‘I am a SUV and I can get dirty if I wanted to’. This is even though the Koleos was mainly designed for urban commuters in mind. The rear end styling is also good. I like the rear lights and those integrated faux tailpipes. All convey a certain toughness that a SUV must have. It also has that German take on how a SUV should look. 

But since it is actually French, they do tend to get a little carried away sometimes. Notice that little (fake) vent that appears on the front doors that comes out of the character line in the front fender? That’s just pure styling. I actually spent a good twenty minutes looking at it and I still didn’t get it. Yes, it does look like it is an extension of the lights up front, but that’s about it actually. Aside from that little bit the rest of the car is great. It actually has a lot of road presence. If you look at the Koleos on its own, it looks like a very large SUV. It actually isn’t. It is actually in the same class as the X-Trail or the Honda CRV, slightly larger but still in the same class segment. It is only when you park it beside a similar sized car you will notice its actual size and girth. But speaking about road presence, it has a lot of it. I did get lots of admiring glances from people whilst driving it. The overall impression when you look at the Koleos is that it is an expensive looking SUV. 

The interior
When you get inside it you notice that the cabin is a vast improvement for Renault. The materials used inside are actually quite good. The dashboard is well designed and I love the new clean design it has. It has a more premium feel to it. The doors close with a nice thunk and a lot of the controls seem well weighted. It could be a tad bit heavier for that premium heft that some luxury cars have but this is quite close to it. There is so little clutter in terms of controls, knobs and buttons. Most have been placed on the steering wheel or located on the centre console’s large 7 inch touchscreen. You only get two large rotary knobs for the climate control temperature and some other air-conditioning controls. Then you have the door lock and hazard buttons and a strip underneath it. Everything else is located in the infotainment system which Renault calls the ‘R-Link’. This Koleos feels and looks premium inside and out. Not many cars priced under RM200,000 looks and feels this good.

The Drive Experience
The new, second generation Koleos SUV is quite a departure for Renault. Built on the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s CMF-CD shared platform it actually shares a lot of its underpinnings with the familiar Nissan X-Trail which you regularly see on our roads. Like all large manufacturers these days, platform sharing is nothing new. And the thing about this Renault-Nissan shared platform is that it is pretty good actually. I actually liked driving the Nissan X-Trail and what happens is that the engineers at Renault have reworked it to their own needs and adds a lot of its own character into the drive experience.


When you drive the Koleos the first thing you’d notice is the small diameter flat bottomed steering wheel. It feels nice in your hands but when you’re actually using it whilst driving spiritedly it feels a tad too small. It is a bit wrongly geared for some turns and corners. I do feel that if the diameter was larger, it wouldn’t have that slight awkwardness in terms of its feel. You feel that more steering input than is necessary sometimes. 

The performance of the Koleos is decent for a normally aspirated 2.5liter engine which is the only engine option for Malaysia. As is the drivetrain option. We only get front wheel drive coupled to a CVT gearbox here. But that being said, most people who end up buying such a SUV usually buys it because of its looks and ride height. This is essentially another urban SUV for families. That being said, light off roading in some palm oil estates, construction sites would be easy for this car.

As for its on-road performance, I must say that for a normally aspirated 2.5liter it feels torquey. The engine works well with the CVT and power delivery is quite smooth throughout the rev-range. The CVT is also quite a surprise. It actually mimics a traditional automatic gearchange quite well. At full throttle it would rev to its redline and then drop off a thousand or so rpm as if it were shifting through some gears. I like the fact that Renault actually gives us this rather than keep the CVT at 5,000rpm whilst the road speed catches up to the engine speed. So it acts like a proper refined car instead of just being brutally efficient. Sometimes you need to be refined instead of just caring about efficiency. Furthermore, this is supposed to be a slightly more premium SUV instead of some econobox. If I could afford one of these, petrol is not so much of an issue.

Speaking of fuel consumption, I did managed 10.5liters/100km from being a heavy footed driver. If you put a slightly less aggressive driver I predict a fuel consumption of around 9.5liters/100km easily. This is a good figure for a 2.5liter car. 

The ride is firm but the overall drive feels smooth and it gets better at speed. The refinement is pretty good. No harshness from the engine and sound insulation is pretty good too. Quite in character with its overall premium looking design actually. As for handling, it corners like any SUV could if you try drive it like a hot hatch it isn’t. The Korean made tyres (as is the whole Koleos – imported from South Korea) squeals with ‘delight’ in some tight corners. Usually starts squealing at about 65kmh if you try attack a tight hairpin over enthusiastically. The smallish and flat bottomed steering wheel also does not really help much. It feels like it is geared too fast for the large sized Koleos making it slightly pointy and lurches in tight turns. But drive it normally and it feels all nice and serene at 160kmh. Typically European on high speed cruising. It may be French, but it is still engineered for high speed autobahns to a certain extent.

Other details that I have to mention are that the blind spot indicators of the side mirrors work but they aren’t as sensitive as the ones in some Ford, Volvo and Hyundai. They work, but not as sensitive as the ones mentioned. Equipment levels are very high and the overall fit and finish is impressive. Renault has moved things a notch higher. It feels good to be sitting in one.


So in conclusion I must say that the Renault Koleos is quite an impressive SUV. As a total package it is quite complete. There are some quirks in its fabulous styling and there are some quirks in the steering feel as I mentioned above. The rest is actually impressive for something French. Yes. I suppose I do have some bias when it comes to French cars but these days, they are always proving to be interesting and memorable drives.

The fit and finish is very good. It has premium looks inside and out. It also seems premium for something priced under RM200,000. It is also spacious inside. 5 seats and not 7, but because of this, legroom front and rear is very good with tons of bootspace.

It has also moved the goalposts slightly in terms of what I perceive as a SUV from a manufacturer usually known for building regular family cars. It looks like Renault has improved in leaps and bounds in terms of perceived quality and actual quality with the Koleos. 

However if Renault (under TC Euro Cars here in Malaysia) would locally assemble the Koleos here like they did their small Captur it would tick a box called ‘even more affordability’. This would draw more people into trying out this nice Renault SUV. Even so, this SUV is for someone who wants a premium SUV with a price under RM200K and wants to stand out from the rest of the crowd. 
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Pros: Different from the norm, premium styling inside and out, very Germanic in overall proportions, high equipment levels, good materials used inside, clean looking dashboard layout with large touchscreen display& infotainment system, good refinement, interior space is good front and rear for a 5 seater, interesting and nice to use CVT gearbox, economical and has road presence, one of the better urban SUVs under RM200K.

Cons: A tad bit overstyled here and there, especially those faux vents in the front doors, smallish flat bottomed steering wheel at odds with its actual turning ratio – the only real kink in its otherwise competent handling, some may want an All-wheel drive option, some may want 7 seats too and the slightly high price for a mid-sized SUV – if it were locally assembled and about RM15k cheaper it would be attractive to many more people. 

Summary: The Renault Koleos actually moves the goalposts for the mid-sized SUV segment. It goes upmarket. It offers a lot of interior space and good refinement. It gives you an interesting CVT gearbox too. Some may want all-wheel drive (I don’t) or some may want more seats (which I don’t). But it actually gives us premium looks that is usually reserved for something higher priced, together with some pretty good interior finishing and equipment too. If I see anyone driving this SUV on the road I would not fault his or her choice in buying one.


The 2017 Renault Koleos 2.5L (with more photos below)
Prices:
From RM182,800


Specifications:

Engine type
Normally Aspirated

Fuel type
Unleaded Petrol

Capacity (cc)
2,488

No of cylinder /valves
4/16

Max. power (PS)
171 / 6,000rpm

Max. torque (Nm)
226 / 4,400rpm

Transmission Type
X-tronic CVT automatic transmission
Driven wheels
Front Wheels

Top speed (km/h)
200

0-100 km/h (s)
9.5 (tested – 10.0seconds)

Urban cycle (L/100km)
10.4
Extra urban cycle (L/100km)
6.7
Combined cycle (L/100km)
8.1
Actual (three day test period – mixed/combined conditions)
10.5


Emissions CO² mixed cycle (g/km)
188
Fuel tank (L)
60
Weight
1615kg

Safety

· ABS + EBD + EBA + ESP + ASR

· Driver & passenger adaptive front airbags

· Lateral pelvis and chest-level airbags for driver and front passenger

· Front and rear curtain airbags

· Emergency warning lights activated under heavy braking

· Hill Start Assist (HSA)

· Electronic parking brake

· ISOFIX child seat fixing points on rear outermost seats

· Auto-door lock when driving

· Automatic 'walkaway' door locking


Equipment
· 12V socket - front, rear and boot

· 2x rear USB charging ports

· R-LINK 2 - Navigation and multimedia system with voice control and custom home screens

· Portrait 8.7" capacitive touchscreen, AUX, 2x USB and fingertip controls

· 3D sound by Arkamys with 8x speakers

· Bluetooth® phone pairing with audio streaming (Bluetooth compatibility may vary depending on phone.)

· Cruise control with speed limiter

· Blind spot warning

· ECO mode

· Front and rear fog lights

· Cornering function in fog lights

· Automatic dusk sensing headlights

· Automatic windscreen wipers with rain sensor

· Pure Vision Full LED headlights

· LED mirror indicator lights

· C-shape front LED daytime running lights

· Front and rear lights with 3D Edge effect

· Headlights with "see me home" function

· Wide-view driver side mirror

· Electrically adjustable and folding door mirrors

· Rear screen wiper with automatic activation in reverse gear

5 Year / unlimited mileage manufacturer warranty

















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