Quirky name, but Kadjar cuts a fine figure
Renault is no stranger to the SUV-cum-crossover segment. The underrated Koleos has been around for several years now, while the smaller, sexier Captur has, well, captured the imagination of buyers since its arrival last year. And let’s not forget the rugged Duster.
The French brand’s latest arrival is also an addition to the range: the quirkily named Kadjar isn’t superseding the more conservative Koleos. It’s an all-new model, sharing its underpinnings with the similarly dimensioned Nissan Qashqai. Talk about idiosyncratic nameplates …
The Kadjar looks like a larger Captur. The design language introduced by design chief Laurens van den Acker is unequivocally expressed here too: a bold face with slim headlights, sculpted flanks, powerful haunches, a high shoulder line and smooth contours.
To be honest, it looks more city slicker than off-roader, despite a 200 mm ground clearance. Top models get full LED headlights and tail lights, and there’s the option of 19-inch wheels with 245/45 tyres, which suit the SUV’s sporty looks, but will compromise its all-terrain talents.
Of course, these days the go-anywhere capability of urban SUVs like the Kadjar is deemed less important by a customer base more attracted by the versatility, the space and the commanding seating position offered by these vehicles.
In the case of the Kadjar, that’s a pity, because the all-wheel drive version will tackle mild off-road conditions and sand with more aplomb than expected. More about that later.
The Kadjar line-up launched in South Africa this week consists of three models, offering a choice of two engines, all accompanied by a six-speed manual gearbox.
Powering the entry-level 1.2T Expression and the midrange 1.2T Dynamique is a 1,2-litre turbo petrol engine, good for 96 kW at 5 000 rpm and 205 Nm at 2 000 rpm. These two models are front-wheel drive only.
The flagship Kadjar is the 1.6 dCi Dynamique, with a 1,6-litre turbodiesel under the bonnet. Output is identical to the petrol mill at 96 kW, but there’s a full 320 Nm of twist to go with that, and both maximums are on offer lower down the rev range, at 4 000 rpm and 1 750 rpm respectively.
A dual-clutch transmission will become available later this year, as will a 1,5-litre dCi turbodiesel engine, to further extend the Kadjar range offering.
I only drove the all-wheel drive 1.6 dCi flagship at the Cape Town launch, and progress was swift and responsive. The diesel drivetrain is smooth and refined, and midrange punch excellent. The well-spaced ratio set makes using the manual gearbox a pleasure, although the shift action is on the light side.
Renault has clearly tried to endow the electrically-assisted steering with more heft, and it has partially succeeded. But while turn-in is crisp enough, there’s still a numbness to the overall feedback – not that it really matters in SUV terms. A decent turning circle adds to the Kadjar’s overall agility.
Renault claims a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 10,7 sec for the 1.6 dCi model, and if anything, the vehicle feels swifter than that figure implies. Top speed is 188 km/h. The 1.2T is marginally quicker, shaving off 0,1 sec from the 0-100 km/h time, while adding 1 km/h to the maximum speed.
Claimed fuel economy is impressive, with combined cycle consumption of 5,8 litres/100 km for the 1.2T and 5,4 litres/100 km for the 1.6 dCi. However, expect those figures to be in the high sixes or early sevens in real-world conditions.
The big surprise is how capable the all-wheel drive version is off the beaten track. The Witsand dunes near Atlantis provided ample challenges for the Kadjar’s low-down urge and traction in sand that was deep, loose and churned up in places.
The all-wheel drive system normally apportions the front/rear power split automatically, but can also be locked 50:50, and with traction control switched off and the tyres deflated, the Kadjar conquered steep ascents, tricky side slopes and some deep troughs with ease.
The slightly extended front overhang and resulting 18 degree approach angle saw the Kadjar’s nose snagging the sand on some descents, but overall progress was consistently competent. And on the standard 17-inch wheels and taller-profile tyres, it would fare even better.
The Kadjar’s cabin is well appointed, with a real sense of quality to the materials and finishes. Accommodation front and rear is ample, but at 370 litres the boot is adequate at best, compromised by a raised load bay floor to accommodate the full-sized spare wheel.
Frankly, I’d rather have the full-sized spare than a Marie biscuit emergency wheel, even if it means less luggage space. The split rear seatbacks can be folded flat to boost cargo space when required.
Spec levels are comprehensive across the board, but especially so on the flagship model. A highlight is the 7-inch colour touchscreen that acts as the control hub for the infotainment system, as well as vehicle settings and the standard satnav.
As far as pricing goes, Kadjar ownership starts at R359 900 for the 1.2T Expression, jumps to R384 900 for the 1.2T Dynamique, and culminates in R449 900 for the 1.6 dCi Dynamique AWD. Relative to the spec and performance on offer, the price tags are competitive.
The compact SUV segment is a toughly contested one, and it won’t be easy going for the Kadjar against big volume players like the Hyundai Tucson and the Kia Sportage, while the keen pricing of Mazda’s CX-5 and the capability of the Ford Kuga will also come into play.
That said, the Renault brand has made big strides in volume and reputation terms, and the Kadjar is an attractive, well-specced and dynamically competent soft-roader with much to recommend it.