Renault a brother from another mother

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The Koleos has huge potential to be Renault’s biggest local market player in terms of volume. Photo: Renault

Surely nothing better sums up the internationalism of the car business than a French-designed car, largely engineered by the Japanese, and built in South Korea.

That's the snapshot of the Koleos, a Renault made by two brands in its portfolio: Nissan (which does the engineering) and Samsung (assembly).

South Korea is a good place to site production because the Koleos is intended as a global proposition: In all, 80 countries, France included, are taking it. Nissan's involvement is cemented by virtue of this car sharing a platform, the so-called Common Family Module, that underpins the Nissan X-Trail.

You'd be forgiven for not twigging to that latter, because there's little physical similarity to suggest they swim in a common gene pool. Renault's styling is more avant- garde than Nissan's and the interiors have no obvious compatibility.

The Koleos has huge potential to be Renault's biggest local market player in terms of volume. It is offered in two grades: there's the entry level Zen and the Intens, which comes with a $10,000 premium. Zen is offered in front-wheel and all-wheel drive configurations; Intens in all-wheel drive only. Common to all is a constantly variable transmission and, at this point, a Nissan-provided naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, though a 2.0-litre turbodiesel version is on the way.

Even though it's a brother from a different mother, looks-wise the car comes across as being part of the regular Renault family. It's far less gawky than the old car, mainly because they've sorted the stance to lend an impression of more emphasis on width than height. What's a French car without one totally wacky element? With the Koleos, it's the air vent attached to the front door. The weirdness isn't that it's fake but that it would look more natural mirror-imaged on the front wing.

As well as being bolder, this Koleos is also substantially bigger than the last. Putting a lot more cabin between the axles makes it substantially more spacious inside. Some might even wonder why it's not made as a seven-seater. As it stands, it's generously proportioned within. Rear knee room is very decent and also alluring is a boot offering 458 litres of storage space with the rear seats in place, and 1690 litres dropped down. Folding the rear seats is a one-touch operation from the boot via handles, but you do have to reach right in to grab these. Also, the seats don't fold totally flat. A powered tailgate is reserved for the Intens but the Zen's door is hardly so hefty as to make the manual operation inconvenient.

The interior is also a big step up over the previous car. Some hard plastics remain, but there's a good chance that almost every surface seen and touched in daily operation is soft and of good quality. Leather at this level isn't from a cow, but it passes muster.

Insofar as the control layout and design goes, much is by the Renault book - so the stereo and multifunction display settings are controlled by touchy-feely multicontrols on the right side of the steering column - and some is not. Siting the cruise control/speed limiter toggle out of view to the left of the shift lever is worrisome. Might drivers take their eyes off the road in their search for it?

Zen has a lot of kit: six airbags, ABS brakes, electronic stability control, a reversing camera, hill-start assist, automatic dusk- sensing headlights, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, dual-zone climate-control air- conditioning, a tyre pressure monitoring system, rear parking sensors, 18-inch alloys, tinted rear windows, heated front seats, electric driver's seat adjustment and keyless entry with automatic walk-away door locking, plus front and rear foglights, with a cornering function up front.

Would you want more? Perhaps I might, actually. The Intens adds remote engine start, LED headlights, hands-free tailgate, real leather upholstery, has heating and ventilation for both front seats plus adjustable ambient cabin lighting, electric-powered panoramic sunroof and a Bose audio system with 12 speakers, subwoofer and digital amplifier.

The infotainment system will sustain taking an external player, but Renault's inability to provision Apple CarPlay (and, presumably, Android Auto) might cost sales. Also, the base car's monochrome screen is low-rent measured against the much snazzier tablet- style touch screen meted the flagship.

If you're into advanced driver-assist technology too, then the Intens does better, with the trendy implementation of an Interurban emergency braking system.The Zen at least delivers forward collision warning, blind spot and lane departure warning and an electronic parking system.

On the road, you don't want to take the ‘‘sport'' part of SUV too seriously; it is, after all, a 1611kg car with all-wheel drive.

This is the same engine that ran in the old Koleos, and though Renault claims tweaks include increased compression ratio, lighter components, and friction reduction, it still doesn't have huge zest. Also, the CVT has influence on how it lays down the power. When taking off from a standstill with four aboard, you'll be left wondering if an orthodox automatic would be more suitable; here the engine feels - or at least sounds - as though it's pulling for Africa and yet the car itself is going nowhere especially fast. But that's CVTs for you.

It becomes far smoother, quieter and more seamless once the car has achieved reasonable pace. It certainly operates sensibly when attacking hills and being asked to overtake, with little of the shrieking temper- tantrum flaring that blights some other CVTs. There's a manual mode that perhaps you'll use on occasion, though it's not mandatory by any means.

The car has ability to sail along, of course, but think serenity rather than sizzle in the petrol form. You might feel compelled to try the diesel once it arrives, because often in Euro fare the compression-ignition engines turn out to be the star pupils.

I prefer all-wheel-drives that work all the time, rather than in the front-drive-prioritised format that this system allows, but the Koleos felt assured on gravel, so perhaps the arrangement sending up to 50% of torque to the rear wheels as and when requirement is perceived is not that sleepy.

There's a handy four-by-four lock switch to press in really slippery conditions, and 210mm of ground clearance is decent. However, a modest approach angle of 19 degrees and short travel suspension mean theKoleos - even in 4x4 guise - is best restricted to light-duty exploration.

The steering is quite weighty and provides consistency in feel and feedback, and that goes for the brakes, too. Ride quality delivers a great deal of absorbency, a factor that more than anything else might temper the driving style.

Some will suggest newcomers to Renault might find it prudent to bypass the Koleos in its Zen state for the Intens: there's better value with the flagship, that's for sure. Nonetheless, those people who took a punt on the previous car will think this replacement, even in its base form, a hugely superior and much tastier effort than what they have been used to.

Renault a brother from another mother
At a Glance
Price: $44,990-$54,990
Engine: 2488cc fuel injected four-cylinder petrol,
maximum power 126kW@6000rpm,
maximum torque 226Nm@4400rpm
Transmission: X-tronic continuously variable
transmission, front or variable four-wheel drive
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc
brakes, with ESP, and ABS with EBD and brake assist
Safety rating: Five-star European NCAP
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 225/60 R18 tyres
Fuel and economy: 8.1(2WD) to 8.3 (4WD) litres per
100km, fuel-tank capacity 60 litres
Emissions: CO2 188-192g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 4672mm, width 2063mm,
height 1678mm