Renault’s new crossover sees the Koleos name return, attached to an SUV of a quite different stripe

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If mention of the Renault Koleos nameplate has you furrowing your brow and staring meditatively into the middle distance, don’t worry: that serves to confirm the level of impact the car has made in the UK up to now.

For the record, the first-generation model was launched in 2007 as Renault limply embraced an early flush of enthusiasm for crossovers.

Love them or hate them, dramatically large wraparound lights have become a recent Renault trademark

The reason you might not remember it is because, despite sharing its platform with the supersonically popular Nissan Qashqai, the Koleos wasn't the most visually appealing crossover the world has ever seen, and didn't really do much to reward closer inspection.

Before the third year was out, Renault pulled the plug on UK sales, although it continued production for the rest of Europe until 2015.

Its replacement, already more than a year hence from its unveiling at the Beijing motor show, isn’t really a replacement at all.

The old Koleos was a tall hatchback yet the new one, alike only in name, is at the top end of the mid-sized SUV category and is intended to head up a soft-roader line-up that already features the supermini-sized Renault Captur and Qashqai-related Renault Kadjar. It was suggested that Renault might call the new model the Maxthon, but instead it’s second time round for the Koleos badge.

Name aside, the product makes total sense. The manufacturer desperately needs something to fill the void left by an absent D-segment saloon and to compensate for the steady shrinking of the MPV class's popularity.

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The prospect of a largish family crossover has worked for a host of mainstream rivals and, clearly, Renault’s relationship with Nissan means all the engineering resource is in place, including the Samsung factory at Busan in South Korea.

Now the British buying public just needs convincing that a Korean-built, supersized, French facsimile of an Anglo-Japanese crossover is just what the doctor ordered.

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Renault Koleos C-Shaped day running lights

With no pre-existing model template to adhere to, Renault has taken the opportunity to be fairly bold with the Koleos’s exterior.

The influence of the Talisman (the firm’s unfamiliar but really rather good-looking saloon) is obvious enough, as is the same well-groomed design language that produced the current generation of the Mégane and Renault Scenic.

I like a good grab handle. But their prominence in the Koleos is rather at odds with the conventional car-flavour interior elsewhere in the cabin

The selective use of brightwork – that chrome strip running down the front wing, for example – is a somewhat unsubtle wink to premium-market shoppers, although the Koleos’s real attention-getter is arguably its physical size.

At 4672mm, the model is significantly longer than the average modern volume-brand SUV and it comes as a mild surprise to discover that the inside is strictly limited to five seats rather than seven.

Certainly, the modular platform beneath was conceived with boot-mounted jump seats in mind. After all, it’s the same CMF-C/D architecture that underpins the Nissan X-Trail (and the Espace and Renault Scenic, for that matter).

Therein lies Renault’s people-carrying problem: it already sells an established seven-seater in the UK and would Renault prefer not to pinch sales from the Grand Scenic.

Consequently, the Koleos is pitched as big in the desirable manner of an executive saloon rather than a commodious workhorse.

Be that as it may, the model doesn’t avoid the usual selection of workmanlike engines. There are only two on offer, both diesels and both four-pots. The 128bhp 1.6-litre dCi props up the range with a standard six-speed manual gearbox and is limited to driving the front axle alone.

The more expensive 175bhp 2.0-litre dCi can be twinned with either manual or CVT auto gearboxes, but both drive Renault’s All Mode 4x4-i all-wheel-drive system. We tested this version with optional X-Tronic CVT transmission.

If all that sounds familiar, it’s because the engines, gearboxes and four-wheel-drive system are all shared with the X-Trail, too – as are the front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link suspension.

The All Mode four-wheel-drive system features an electronically controlled coupling on the rear axle that is capable of delivering up to 50 percent of the available torque to the back wheels when the system deems it necessary, or if the driver has opted to ‘lock’ the split manually via a button on the dashboard.

Alternatively, ‘2WD’ can be selected, reducing the Koleos to a humble front-driver but potentially aiding fuel economy in the process.


Renault Koleos interior

The Koleos’s healthy external proportions are carried through to the cabin, so it is an appreciable step up from the space on offer in the Renault Kadjar.

Sacrificing the option of seven seats has contributed to the sense of spaciousness in the back, too. With no runners or third-row access mechanisms required, there’s plenty of room to mount the 60/40 bench a handsome distance from the front seats.

Having said previously there’s no way to disable auto zoom on the R-Link 2 nav set-up, I finally found the relevant menu in the Koleos; at the fourth time of asking

Renault claims it to be among the best in class as far as knee room is concerned and it feels that way. Only the very tall indeed will have to worry about making simultaneous contact with both the seat back and the conspicuous bulge of the standard panoramic roof.

Consequently, with a 579-litre boot behind, the Koleos feels like a crossover that’s capable of accommodating the whole family without the strain that starts to show on a C-segment contender.

Nevertheless, although they would be spaced at a courteous distance from one another, it is unlikely that any occupant would be moved to praise the encircling brand experience.

Renault’s attitude to interior design is nowhere near as progressive as its exterior styling, and despite a wall-to-wall coating of stitched artificial leather, the Koleos is uninteresting to look at and barely any more appealing to touch.

The portrait-orientated infotainment touchscreen is at the centre of the dashboard and at the heart of the car’s problems.

Renault’s efforts to sweep switchgear onto it has resulted in a sparse, rudimentary appearance to the fascia in places, while all too often impeding the model’s basic functionality. On-screen heating, ventilation and air-con (HVAC) controls, for example, are not to our tastes anyway, but by making the blower’s icon tiny (and therefore easy to miss), Renault has simply compounded the tediousness of pushing at it.

Meantime, the R-Link system itself maintains a painfully slow crawl towards respectability. Possibly the nicest thing to say about the second generation is that it’s better than the first — but that, nonetheless, fails to enable it to rise higher than middling in the broader industry pecking order.

In fairness, all of the right component parts are in place — DAB tuner, TomTom sat-nav, Bluetooth and voice control — but Renault just hasn’t made them particularly pleasant to look at or intuitive to use, and that’s more than half the battle.

The system’s basic functionality — the organisation of menus, the display’s rate of response and its distribution of on-screen ‘buttons’ — remains laboured and trying and it is probably in need of a clean-sheet approach if the manufacturer ever wants to make a proper virtue of its portrait orientation.

Our test car also had an optional £600 Bose sound system, which failed to leave a particularly good impression despite the presence of seven speakers and a digital amp.

These minor grievances are myriad. By the time you’ve added the Signature trim’s faux wood panel strips to the list of bugbears, it’s already abundantly clear that, for all the advantages of its size, the Koleos has fallen short of the high-grade ambience evinced by the Volkswagen Tiguan or the unimpeachable common sense of the Skoda Kodiaq.


2.0 dCi Renault Koleos engine

Probably the most notable issue with the top-spec Koleos’s performance is not the rate of progress but rather Renault’s failure to isolate the car’s occupants from the mechanical repercussions of it.

True, we’ve come to expect a certain amount of tranquillity from tall crossovers – a consequence of them aping the look and dynamic mannerisms of luxury SUVs and, for the most part, mainstream manufacturers have risen to the challenge of hushing up the four-cylinder diesel engines that invariably appear under the bonnet.

Tighter corners are made faintly neater with the 4WD mode switched on, but really it’s the stability control that does the heavy lifting

Not so in the Koleos’s case, where rolling refinement issues are plentiful in supply and centre on an apparent disregard for the sort of sound deadening normally applied with relish in other South Korean car factories.

As a result, the uncontained rumble of the 2.0-litre unit rolls back through the cabin like jungle noises heard from a tree house. The car exacerbates its boisterous oil-burning soundtrack with a brooding, old-fashioned brand of delivery.

This is less immediately the fault of the engine than it is the optional CVT gearbox, which chooses to meet practically every throttle request with half a second of bandy negotiation before making any real headway.

This stifles performance not only away from the line, but also at walking pace when you’re doing something trifling like suddenly joining a roundabout. And once the driveline does achieve some consistency, the progress you end up with is only workmanlike.

Somewhere in the mid-range, for a fleeting 1000rpm, there’s 280lb ft available and, inevitably, this is where the engine does the majority of its meaningful exertion.

Its sub-10sec 0-60mph time is respectable enough in the segment (the more powerful Ford Edge we tested fared no better) but there’s rarely any suggestion that the Koleos is going to confidently overtake the car in front without a significant run-up – or without the driver tugging on a gear paddle to wake up the transmission. 


Renault Koleos cornering

The one advantage of the oilburner’s constant rumination is that it serves not to embarrass the Koleos’s rather mediocre chassis. Indeed, the combustive soundtrack of yesteryear chimes rather well with the anachronistic-feeling settings chosen for the car’s suspension. These cause the oversized body to gently loll about under even modest loads.

Broadly speaking, that might have been fine. It’s a constant reminder of the model’s proportions – which large modern crossovers are typically good at concealing; and obvious size and heft can be charming if managed properly, particularly when combined with a indulgent sense of isolation and comfort.

Koleos’s substantial body invariably wavers through gradient changes, but the weight transfer doesn’t go unchecked

Alas, on standard 19in alloy wheels, the Koleos doesn’t have the cutely damped secondary ride required to make the primary ride seem obliging and organic.

On UK roads, the car takes umbrage at an uneven surface, and even though the wheels are distant enough on the end of their typical spring travel for the ride not to seem overly brittle, the sheer noise produced by each bump is at once considerable and unavoidable. The Koleos thumps its way over broken tarmac, frequently making you hear impacts even when you do not feel them.

Ultimately, this failure to properly shield its occupants from low-level tremor and higher-pitched resonance is to blame for the model’s central failing: an inability to live up to the cosseting refinement levels suggested by not only a crossover of the Koleos’s size and cost but also one that sits virtually at the zenith of a manufacturer’s line-up.

The car’s relative lack of sophistication also undermines the other more worthy facets of the handling: the steering, moderately slow at three turns lock to lock, is well matched to the model’s bulk and the car is wieldy enough at most speeds to take modest advantage of its handling accuracy. Real charm, though, stays in very short supply.

Rather predictably, the Koleos does not prove to be the last word in incision or involvement when subjected to our Hill Route course. No large crossover could claim to be exemplary in the circumstances but, nonetheless, the Renault undershot our hopes and expectations of it.

Mostly, this was because of the uninspiring amount of grip it generates in sharp corners and the languid roll rate that comes with it. Switching between two and four-wheel drive makes only a fractional difference because the power delivery is plainly biased toward the front end even when there’s the option of sending some of it aft.

Elsewhere, on a constant-radius corner, it’s possible to mark the rear axle’s assistance in holding a given line, but the effect is too fleeting to make a notable impression on the model’s heavy-footed preference for understeer.


Renault Koleos

Having trimmed its line-up to only feature models capable of achieving significant volumes in the UK a few years ago, Renault has moves back into an expansive phase now and, feeling the uplift of its recent design rejuvination, could even be said to be in confident mood. But that confidence does the Koleos, the brand’s most expensive product, no favours at all when a five-seat, 148bhp Kodiaq 2.0-litre TDI SE with DSG can be had for practically the same £27,500 that buys you a 128bhp Koleos Dynamique S.

Still, Renault can claim to be on firmer ground with the all-wheel-drive 2.0-litre version: at £30,400, it moderately undercuts the equivalent Ford Edge, Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe.

Residuals are expected to perform below the standard set by the likes of Kodiaq and Tiguan but competitive with other rivals

Ironically, this may well be the version to go for because it gets the 18in wheels likely to help with the car’s irritable ride quality and a centre console that retains physical HVAC controls.

Also, the lesser car’s spec does without our test car’s lacklustre X-Tronic transmission – a £1500 walk up – which means you get marginally better efficiency, at 50.4mpg and 148g/km CO2 emissions.

Both are inferior to the aforementioned Skoda Kodiaq, mind, but very competitive compared with the rest of the cars in this segment.

With the CVT-equipped car, we didn’t equal the 47.9mpg average claimed by Renault for combined fuel economy, although the 37.8mpg recorded on our touring run suggests that it’s about par for the large, two-pedal crossover SUV course.

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3 star Renault Koleos

The Renault Koleos feels like a good car that should have been better executed. It’s both well sized and fairly well priced, but several important constituent parts of it simply aren’t up to snuff.

Even a rudimentary round of benchmarking would have told Renault that the CVT’s performance was outmoded and the suppression of engine and running-gear noise was inadequate. However, neither of these problems has been prevented, ultimately, from coming between the car and a more glowing reception.

The potential for a better car exists here but it remains untapped

Elsewhere, the issues are a little more subjective and therefore a little more forgiveable. For our money, the interior, its functionality and the ride quality aren’t quite where they ought to be and Renault will be disappointed that the Nissan X-Trail (no model of perfection itself) scored higher in all departments.

Being large, SUV-shaped, reasonably nice to look at and not unreasonably priced still makes the Koleos a bright idea, of course – just not nearly the best around.

Which is why overall the Koleos doesn’t make our top five, which means the big Renault is lagging behind the Honda CR-V, Ford Edge, Skoda Kodiaq, Mazda CX-5 and our leader the Volkswagen Tiguan.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Renault Koleos 2017-2020 First drives