View all Renault Reviews
► Renault’s mid-sized SUV goes on an upmarket offensive
► Trick hybrid powertrain for super-low CO2
► We hit silky smooth Spanish tarmac to test it out
You remember the Renault Kadjar, right? No? Fair enough.
Well, the new Renault Austral is the mid-sized SUV that replaces it and will, in Renault’s words, ‘re-conquest the C-segment’. It comes hot on the heels of its really rather good Megane E-Tech EV, and debuts quite a few new features. Not only does it sit on the latest CMF-CD platform but in the UK it’ll be full hybrid-only with a brand-new engine at its heart.
It’s the first Renault in a long time to get four-wheel steering, uses the latest Android Automotive software, and even the first to make use of Renault’s ownership of Alpine with some hashtag #sporty branding.
What’s in a name? Well, Renault says Austral ‘evokes images of the wide-open spaces of the South, a promise of endless possibilities’. Guess it makes as much sense as Kadjar ever did…
What’s the new hybrid engine like?
It’s worth pointing out at this stage that the 1.6-litre E-Tech hybrid powertrain found in the Austral’s sister car, the Arkana, is among the worst hybrids on sale today.
Though the powertrain fitted to the Austral is fairly closely related, it’s night and day in operation and feels the equal of most of its rivals. Which is good, because even with all its other merits taken into consideration, an Austral fitted with the Arkana’s powertrain would still be rubbish…
It’s now based around a 1.2-litre turbocharged triple instead of a 1.6 nat-asp unit, paired to a similarly complex array of dog ‘box and electric motor. The effect isn’t as seamless as something like Toyota’s continuously variable effort, but it’s a little less clunky than the hybrid setup on a dual-clutch Kia Sportage.
With just a couple of kWh in the battery pack you won’t be driving on electricity for any great distance, but it’ll chop in and out as needed right up to highway speeds. And there’s some meaningful regen, too – controlled by paddles behind the wheel, it won’t take you down to a full stop but is a reasonable sub for engine braking downhill and should save some wear on your brake pedal.
Being based on similar underpinnings to the Nissan Qashqai, Renault could have just subbed in that car’s ‘e-Power’ range-extender drivetrain to save some cash. But engineers we spoke to were somewhat dismissive of their Alliance sibling’s efforts in this field, snubbing the e-Power’s high CO2 and limited drivability, especially at prolonged high speeds.
Renault’s system certainly returns impressive numbers on paper – up to 61.4mpg WLTP and with CO2 emissions below 110g/km across the range. Most of its hybrid rivals return 120-130g/km, so the Austral looks particularly appealing as a company car.
Other markets get two mild hybrids – a 1.3-litre 12V affair which we’ve already seen in the Arkana, and a new 48V unit based around the 1.2-litre. For the UK, though, it’s this full hybrid or bust.
So what’s it like to drive?
It’s a heavy car and feels it, but with 196bhp the Austral’s not in any way underpowered and it makes decent progress down the road. Our near-production car felt a bit hesitant on acceleration, with a pronounced delay after putting your foot down – that complex hybrid system girding its loins, one presumes. Hopefully some software tweaks will put this right ahead of sale.
0-62mph takes 8.4 seconds meaning it’ll beat a Ford Kuga Hybrid away from the lights but won’t trouble the brawnier Kia Sportage.
The most impressive part of the powertrain is its refinement, though – at motorway speeds, wind noise eclipses the engine’s muted hum, and even when you press on the little 1.2-litre triple isn’t too vocal.
As for handling, the Austral goes between largely forgettable and quite impressive depending on your speed. That’s down to the four-wheel steering on our test car.
This system, called 4Control, is an evolution of the system previously fitted to older Lagunas and brings with it a more sophisticated multi-link rear axle to boot. At low speeds, the rear wheels turn by up to 5 degrees to facilitate a smaller turning circle – at just 10.1m, it’s about the same as the much smaller Clio’s.
At higher speeds the effect is less pronounced and you don’t really feel the rear tucking itself in like you do with the latest Range Rover, for example.
The problem is it’ll remain an optional extra even on top-spec cars in the UK. And we can’t think who’s going to tick the box – is the manoeuvrability of a fairly compact C-segment SUV really such a problem that people are going to shell out to improve it? Handling is otherwise fairly par for the course – the tall and squidgy Renault doesn’t corner as keenly as a SEAT Ateca but nor does it elicit cause for alarm if you carry a bit too much speed into a bend.
Ride comfort is a mixed bag. The softly sprung Austral is cossetting on the motorway, but its low-speed ride is decidedly choppy. We suspect that’s a product of the massive 20-inch wheels Renault seems intent on fitting to as many cars as possible these days. We should also point out the buttery-smooth Spanish roads we tested on for the duration of the Austral’s launch route, so we’ll reserve full judgement on the ride until we’re back in Blighty.
Interior looks posh…
The cabin’s heavily inspired by the Megane E-Tech, which isn’t a bad thing at all. Given Renault’s somewhat budget image it’s really pleasant in here, though again that should be caveat with the knowledge that we’ve only driven top-spec cars so far.
The dash is based around two 12.0-inch screens, one in landscape orientation behind the wheel for driver information and a portrait infotainment touchscreen in the centre, canted towards the driver. The centre console gets two rather deep-set cupholders and a strange sliding handrest – Renault says you can rest your wrist here while using the touchscreen, but we found that awkward.
The car runs Google’s Android Automotive software, which brings a variety of apps as well as baked-in Google Maps and Google’s voice assistant. These two are so good that we question why any manufacturer’s bothering with their own versions – when’s the last time anybody had success with Skoda’s voice assistant, for example?
Material quality seems high without too many creaks or rattles, and space for rear-seat passengers is impressive, even headroom under the vast panoramic sunroof. Weirdly less so for the driver, though – our 6’2″ tester had the seat as far back as possible but still felt cramped.
The boot’s only a middling size – with 430 litres it seriously trails the Toyota RAV4 or Kia Sportage, though more competitive with the Ford Kuga.
What else should I know?
Renault claims the Austral has up to 32 ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) under its belt. They include a nice sharp head-up display, the usual autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, 360-degree cameras, hands-free parking, blind spot monitors, adaptive LED headlights… we won’t name them all.
One that you’ll probably want to turn off straight away is the Active Driver Assist, which uses GPS data and its own mapping software to predict roundabouts and sharp turns, adjusting the adaptive cruise control accordingly. But try explaining that when a slight bend on the motorway causes the car to lop 20mph off your speed and irritate following drivers.
Trim levels for the UK will be exclusively high-end, starting with Techno. If you want to spend more, you can opt for Esprit Alpine or Esprit Alpine+. Don’t get excited by the Alpine branding – this is very much an AMG-Line situation and consists solely of visual improvements rather than any sporting character.
Renault says it’s benchmarked the Kia Sportage Hybrid so it’s fair to assume a similar price point. That car starts from around £35,000, but if you want all the bells and whistles that’ll come standard on the Renault it’s more equivalent to a near-£40,000 GT-Line S Sportage. So don’t expect the Austral to be cheap.
Renault’s finance packages are some of the best around, though, so the Austral may well be more affordable than similarly priced rivals.
The new Renault Austral doesn’t excite. Despite headline features like that four-wheel steering or Alpine trim levels, this car is going to be just another Qashqai alternative. Every mainstream manufacturer needs one.
It’s not a bad effort, though, and feels significantly more upmarket than the Kadjar it replaces. The hybrid system’s finally at a point where it compliments the car instead of ruining it, and the interior is a particularly pleasant place to sit.
Cheap running costs, acceptable spaciousness, the potential for good monthly finance packages and more kit than you can shake a stick at means it’s bound to appeal to those who simply must have an SUV and don’t really mind the lumpy low-speed ride or hesitant acceleration. For keen drivers, though, alternatives would be more satisfying to live with every day.
|Price when new:||£35,000|
|On sale in the UK:||Early 2023|
|Engine:||1.2-litre turbocharged petrol hybrid, 196bhp @ 4500rpm, 188lb ft @ 1750rpm|
|Transmission:||Multi-mode clutchless automatic hybrid, front-wheel drive|
|Performance:||0-62mph 8.4s, 109mph, 61.4mpg, 104g/km|
|Weight / material:||1517kg|
|Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):||4510/1825/1618mm|