Drive Testing and Reviewing The New 2017 Renault Koleos SUV (VIDEO)

Renault already has a successful family SUV on its books with the Kadjar. Now the French brand is aiming higher with the more spacious and luxurious stablemate to that car, the Koleos. 
Drive Testing and Reviewing The New 2017 Renault Koleos SUV

Those with a keen memory for Renault models will remember the Koleos name, of course - but in truth, this car is a world away from the rebadged Samsung Korean-market product that was sold in UK dealers up to 2010. In fact, the new edition of the car is based on the same platform as the Nissan X-Trail - except that Renault has chosen to keep the car as a five-seater and focus on cabin and boot space, instead of offering even the option of a third row of seats. 

There are six models in the line-up, with a choice of two diesel engines, front- or four-wheel drive and a manual or automatic transmission. The entry-level engine is Renault’s 1.6-litre dCi unit, producing 129bhp; this motor comes with front-wheel drive only, and a six-speed manual transmission - but you can have it with either of the trim levels, called Dynamique S or Signature Nav. It is, by some way, the most efficient option in the range, with official CO2 emissions of 128g/km.

Step up to the 2.0-litre 172bhp diesel motor and you get four-wheel drive as standard, and the choice of either the six-speed manual or Renault’s CVT automatic gearbox, called X-Tronic. This unit emits 148g/km of CO2 if you’re changing gear yourself, or 156g/km if you’re allowing the car to do the work for you.

Renault UK sees the Koleos as its de facto range-topper, so both trim levels get plenty of kit. Dynamique S brings part-leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, a 7-inch touchscreen R-Link 2 infotainment system (which now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity), 18-inch alloy wheels, and heated and folding side mirrors.

Signature Nav switches the orientation of the infotainment system from landscape to portrait, and increases the screen size to 8.7 inches. It also includes full leather upholstery, heated front seats and a powered automatic tailgate. There’s a longer potential options list with this trim level too, including a Climate Pack that brings ventilation to the front seats and heating to the rears, plus a heated steering wheel and a heated windscreen.

Our test vehicle wasn’t exactly to UK spec - a front-drive 2.0-litre automatic, and in the even plusher Initiale Paris trim level that British buyers won’t get until 2018. Still, Renault’s Finnish test route still gave us a good opportunity to try the combination of that CVT transmission and the 172bhp engine.

And the news is good. The high-powered diesel feels comfortable with life, picking up pace quickly when required and then sitting at 70mph with barely 2,000rpm showing on the Koleos’s digital instrument panel. It’s a smooth performer, with no real metallic twang to speak of when you’re revving it up, and nothing more than a background thrum when you’re cruising along. There’s not much wind noise to speak of, either - a fair achievement, given the Koleo’s size and its hefty side mirrors.

The CVT transmission plays its part in the engine’s strong performance, because it’s one of the best types of this gearbox that we’ve experienced. True, it can get a little flustered if you really try to press along a twisty country lane but in the vast majority of situations, Renault’s implementation of X-Tronic is smart and smooth.

The steering responds with a pleasing amount of heft and directness, and the suspension set-up - MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link configuration at the rear - strikes a nice balance between comfort and composure. Throw the car at a suitably tight corner and you’ll experience a bit of body roll, but in the most part it stays admirably flat.

And while there’s a little bit of fidgeting on really pock-marked roads, in the most part the car does a good job of insulating you from finer imperfections. In this respect, the roots of this Koleos’s lineage - back to the UK-centric Qashqai, with which is shares the same basic platform - are clearly evident.

The 2.0 is expected to be the more popular choice with British customers, but anyone opting for the front-drive 1.6 shouldn’t feel particularly hard done by. A shorter drive in this model showed that it has enough power and torque for sensible progress, and that it’s hard to perceive much of an impact on refinement. If anything, the steering is slightly sweeter, and while the manual gearbox has a slightly long throw, it’s slick enough if you go for positive shifts.

The cabin is one of Renault’s best efforts yet, with a clean, functional design (built around the portrait-layout screen in higher-end models) and soft-touch materials in all the right places. The seats manage to be comfortable and supportive, and there should be enough space in there for four chunky grown-ups to manage long journeys without any grumbles.

The boot is a good shape, too, and helped by a floor that can be raised or lowered to prioritise either a flat load bay or outright capacity. With the rear seats in place there are 579 litres on offer - basically the same as in a Hyundai Santa Fe - but the Renault has its Korean rival beaten with the second row folded down (1,795 vs 1,680).

If there’s a weak spot in the whole Koleos package, it could be road noise; Finland’s coarser surfaces exposed a bit of resonating rumble from all four corners, although we suspect that the choice of rubber (Goodyear - a legacy, no doubt, of the car’s Korean assembly process) is as much a factor here as the 19-inch alloy wheel size that comes on Initiale Paris and Signature models. Even so, we’d expect the 18s of Dynamique editions to be slightly more polite.

These are the margins, though, that can make the difference to customers in what is already a crowded, cut-throat market. Renault’s curious decision to only offer five seats could be another; it believes that the seven-seat Grand Scenic will continue to satisfy demand in this area, but the pace with which customers are deserting MPVs for SUVs would suggest otherwise.

The final factor will be pricing - and in particular, the monthly figures. Renault is already offering a deposit contribution that helps keep the numbers down - to the point, in fact, where based on the same downpayment, a high-powered four-wheel-drive auto Dynamique Koleos could be a few quid per month cheaper than a less powerful five-seat Kodiaq. And that’s when things get really interesting. 

There’s a pretty narrow gap between high-end family SUVs like Renault’s own Kadjar and premium models like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. But the Koleos should do a good job of slotting into it. Refined engines, generous standard kit lists and a well-finished, practical interior mean that this car deserves to be on any shortlist that also includes the Skoda Kodiaq, Hyundai Santa Fe or Kia Sorento. But as with any large five-seat SUV, you should ask yourself if you really need that extra legroom and the larger boot capacity before committing to the extra cash.