Renault Kadjar Iconic TCe 160
I cannot help but pronounce ‘Kadjar’ as if it were a medieval cry of celebration. Unfortunately, that’s about as animated as I can get when discussing Renault’s trendy crossover.
You could be forgiven for confusing the Kadjar with the Nissan Qashqai, and for good reason: they share the same platform. Like the Qashqai et al, I struggle to understand the appeal of what is essentially a pumped up hatchback. But is the Kadjar different to the others?
An early morning drive from Swindon to Canterbury would see me pass through various types of road, from motorways and A-roads to the speed bumps and cobbles of Faversham, a sleepy town ten miles outside Canterbury. With weekend luggage for two stowed in the boot and travel essentials crammed into every available cubbyhole, the Kadjar was all set for a thorough assessment.
Our test car—in 'Iconic TCe 160' trim—had a turbocharged 1333cc petrol engine. As the badge would suggest, that unit pumps out 160bhp, and it is not particularly frugal. I managed to dispatch almost an entire tank of fuel over a 300-mile round trip; I’m yet to be convinced that the real-world mpg of a downsized petrol engine can match that of a comparable diesel, but any effort to curb particulate matter should be respected.
The Kadjar in this form is not a fast car, with a stated 0-62mph time of 9.9 seconds. Overtaking does provide a certain level of theatre, at least to your eardrums, but this is not a vehicle for thrills. Instead, it is positioned squarely as a family barge. That said, even cars destined for little more than the school run or a jaunt to the country should offer a bit of fizz. So far, it just feels flat.
In fact, this is one of the rare occasions where I would opt for an automatic gearbox with a diesel lump. I found shifting from first to second incredibly lurchy—usually a criticism that could be levelled at an incompetent driver. Forgive the unavoidable humble brag, but when you drive a wide range of new cars, it is easy to recognise points of difference such as this.
I cannot help but feel that small turbocharged petrol engines do not work in larger cars, but there are exceptions; the Peugeot 5008 SUV is slightly larger than the Kadjar but feels smoother and nippier even with just a 1.2 petrol. Driving dynamics aside, once the Kadjar is up to speed the ride is beautifully smooth, and leads us to its best qualities.
Long-distance comfort is certainly a plus point for the Kadjar. Road noise is minimal even at motorway speeds and the seats provide ample lumbar support. My scientific evidence: there were no groans or ‘oofs’ when getting out at a service station. Crawling through town is also no bother: the steering is light, speed bumps are absorbed nicely and tighter turns elicit only the slightest body roll.
The interior of the Kadjar is a very nice place to be. It feels spacious and the synethic leather-cloth upholstery does well to avoid feeling cheap. Front passengers benefit from cavernous storage in the doorcards, the centre console has room to stow the USB cables needed to charge two phones at once, and LEDs light up the central cup holders. If you run out of Highland Spring on a journey, I'm fairly sure the armrest storage bin is deep enough to reach ground water and serve as a well. In the rear, ISOFIX points are on the outermost seats, and passengers have an extra couple of USB ports from which to charge. Boot space is a little to be desired—two average-sized suitcases took up more room than one might expect of a family SUV.
The touchscreen system is not the most intuitive. It required a fair amount of eyes-off-the-road time to adjust the bass setting that had kindly been ramped up to 11 by the previous user, and the Bluetooth took a while to sort itself out. Otherwise, the screen is responsive and the colours bright. Annoyingly, neither of the wheel-mounted thumb-scrolls adjust the volume—that has to be done either by the touchscreen, or by a stalk underneath the steering wheel (which happens to be very nicely trimmed and soft to the touch).
I have a bone to pick with the Kadjar’s car key. It is shaped almost exactly like an Apple mouse, just made from cheap plastic. There is no hole to add a key ring either, which meant my house keys had to rattle around loosely in my pocket. Somehow, my ageing A3 has a nicer-feeling key fob. In its favour, the handsfree keycard does automatically lock the car if you forget to press the button when walking away.
For those that are interested in aesthetics, the Kadjar is very easy on the eye from all angles. Our test car came in a deep 'flame' red, offset nicely by 19-inch 'Zeus' alloys.
As can be expected of a new car, the headlights come with full-on Dame Edna Everage daytime LEDs, which nicely emphasise a rather conservative front grille. There are lovely sweeping grooves that make the Kadjar appear almost muscly, helping to create a sense of sportiness, which ultimately feels a little misleading.
I did find myself looking back at the Kadjar after parking up. It is a handsome car that trumps competitors such as the Nissan Qashqai, Volkswagen T-Roc and Kia Stonic on the catwalk.
Despite traversing various types of road, I still couldn’t figure out exactly why cars like the Kadjar have become so popular. Even with a couple of extra passengers, I can imagine my week may have been just as comfortable in a smaller vehicle that would be more fun to drive and less thirsty. Don’t get me wrong; the Kadjar is a perfectly capable machine but I can’t help but feel like it is just a pumped up Clio on stilts.
Alas, there is a saving grace: the Kadjar is available with four-wheel drive. Our test car was front-wheel drive, but it is comforting to know the option is there; I would argue that four-wheel drive should be standard on any car that touts the label of SUV. What’s more, that spec is only available with a diesel engine: it’s a win-win.
Maybe the Kadjar is not a fraud like the other faux-by-fours knocking around. If optioned correctly, it could reasonably be taken off-road without the worry of being stranded in a muddy festival field. It may also pay dividends during one of the UK’s sudden snow blizzards in the winter months. I’ll make sure to notify my neighbour, who blocks the junction to our road with his second car—a jacked-up Toyota Hilux—for 364 days of the year.
Price as tested: £23,550
Chutzpah rating: 3.5/5