The concept didn't work, as I say. The market, always sovereign in these things, said that what they wanted were asphaltic crossovers, versatile as MPVs instead of SUVs closer to the TT. At Renault they've learned their lesson and have corrected the shot. As the conceptual change was big, even the commercial name of the product has changed. The Kadjar was born as a French Qashqai, much more aligned with what the market demands, and with great assets to work really well in our country.
Under its skin it shares almost half of the components with the Qashqai, something that its general appearance already lets you appreciate, given that the "hard" points are the same (distance between the front axle and the base of the A-pillar, inclination of the windshield, main arches of the roof ...), but all the bodywork on the outside is specific to Renault, as is the passenger compartment and even the seats.
The question is to appreciate the differences with the Nissan model and evaluate the Renault: is it different enough to go for it instead of the "original", does it offer something that the Nissan doesn't?
We rode Renault's new C-segment crossover from Madrid to a viewpoint in Ávila, with the aim of clearing up some of these doubts, in the absence of a week-long in-depth test of Renault's new and predicted best-seller. The route included a good stretch of motorway out of Madrid, accompanied by an ascent of a mountain pass first, and then a route along dirt forest roads with huge holes caused by the past rains.
Our test vehicle was the most expensive version of the current range, the 130 hp dCi with all-wheel drive, which has a knob with a roulette inside that allows you to select an "automatic" torque distribution program, one of front-wheel drive or one with the center differential locked that forces the car to be a rigid 4×4 "a la Lada Niva" for complicated situations, but that is disabled when you go over 40 km / h.
Already on the outside it looks a bit bigger than the Qashqai, and it is. It's reminiscent of the current X-Trail (which has seven seats, something the Kadjar doesn't). When you open the door you find a cabin that, it will be a matter of taste, to me it seems better resolved than the Nissan. You have all the controls at hand, although the browser is perhaps a little lower than we would like. It integrates, yes, the latest version of the R-Link infotainment system, which gives much better results when interacting with it than the view in the Clio: here you can touch everything with several fingers, pinch to change the zoom on the map, and when you make a wrong exit, it takes less time to calculate the modification of the route. But it still says "in one kilometre".
The dashboard is quality, with soft plastics on top and a good fit. It's more driver-focused than the Nissan's (which is symmetrical), and has a grab handle for the passenger to hold on to when cornering. The seats, which as I said above, are typical of the Kadjar, seem to me to be better than those of the Nissan, and more comfortable for cornering, although I would have to test them more hours and kilometers to give my opinion.
On the move
Driving the Kadjar is very similar to its cousin-sister. The steering feel is slightly more satisfying at its weight, but otherwise, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference, at least in this version. The engine is the familiar 1.6 dCi 130 hp version. It doesn't vibrate much and is not very audible in the cabin. No, it's not an engine to get excited and accelerate like crazy, in fact you'll see that it gets a bad mark in the performance section, given its 0-60 in 11 seconds, but it does well to move this car in real life, especially helped by its torque figure (320 Nm from 1,750 rpm) and the fact that, if you are above 2,000 laps, there is not too much delay between pressing the accelerator and the car pushes.
On the road the ride is like a big saloon, and if things get twisty you can just control the mass and height you're holding in your hands. It's clearly not a nimble car, and I'd go so far as to say it leans a hair more than the Qashqai in corners, but we didn't have time, nor was it the situation, to tickle the test car's M+S tyres, so I'll save my judgement on their suitability for hill climbing for a longer test. It should be noted that under civilized driving conditions it performs as well as any of its current rivals.
The surprise, for the better, came at the start "in the countryside". We entered to ride on a forest track quite destroyed with holes. Having the ground dry, without rocks, mud or gravel, we weren't going to give the traction system any problems, but I was surprised that with an announced angle of attack of less than 19 degrees, the car didn't "hit the front end" in some of the holes in the road (remember, I'm the same guy who stuck a rock in the nose of the Qashqai a few months ago for playing off-road). In fact, the Nissan has better absolute angles than this Renault for playing off-road, but the fact that the diamond car has the front end "rounded on the sides" rather than a splitter of sorts means that if you enter a bit sideways, you won't "nail anything".
Despite the bumps and body roll, the car didn't creak, and the all-wheel drive is always good if you ever, for whatever reason, get into a bind on wet grass or in a muddy patch (again, this from someone who got stuck in the aforementioned Qashqai).
It's clear that a crossover like this isn't meant to do the kind of tricks that were done with a Terrano II or the first X-Trail, but if you buy this car and you have any intention of exploring beyond the tarmac, go for this variant with all-wheel drive, as it will always have an extra guarantee.
Otherwise, the behaviour is "decent". Or more than decent, depending on how you look at it. I would say that the current Megane doesn't have such a solid ride on motorways. It's clear that it handles tight bends better, but as things stand, most of the potential customers for these cars are limited to very open roads, and in that respect, the Kadjar does just as well as a compact.
The Kadjar, like other crossovers in its segment, is an MPV that doubles up as an SUV. Renault already tried this formula with that mythical Scenic RX4, an MPV that had some country style and an all-wheel drive system. Now the thread has gone a step further. This Kadjar, in many ways, is similar to that Scenic. It has all-wheel drive, and makes the versatility and height of its cabin and driving position points in its favour, but it has the aesthetic advantage.
People like the aesthetics of SUVs more than MPVs, and that's the trick. The fact is that there's plenty of space in the front seats. The rear row of seats is also generous, with good space for two adults, and "justete" for three, both for knees and shoulders.
The trunk has 472 liters of capacity, and is divided with a small receptacle to create a double bottom. With the receptacle covered, the luggage compartment floor is flush with the load opening. You can then open up the trunk and use its upholstered plastic plates as load dividers. What's clear is that there's plenty of room for a whole family's luggage.
There are solutions, such as the remote folding of the rear seats by means of handles located in the trunk, which are particularly practical, leaving the seats flush with the floor of the trunk. In addition, there is longitudinal space of two and a half meters if we fold forward the passenger backrest, which can also be done.
It lacks the glove compartments and storage compartments to be like the first Scenic and finish the curl, but I do not think anyone is missing holes to leave things. In these terms, the Kadjar also solves the problem of being an MPV.
What I can not fail to comment, although I have left it for quite late, is the aesthetic theme. Laurens van den Acker has applied the same language known in the Captur, Clio and Espace, in this Kadjar. While its overall shapes may remind you of the Qashqai, and its rear wing set to the Mazda CX-7, overall the car looks and feels like a Renault.
It's not a beaut, but it does achieve dynamism, a certain feline and personal touch, with a French flavour, without sinning in the excesses of risky design of some of van den Acker's predecessors, who messed up by playing with the Megane II or VelSatis. It is a car that here fulfills the objective of not displeasing anyone, and even like a little bit to everyone.
The Spanish range is articulated for the moment in two diesel engines and a gasoline. The basic diesel is the 110 hp dCi, which is only available as front-wheel drive. The 130 hp diesel can be ordered with front or all-wheel drive, while the petrol is the TCe with 130 hp and only 1.2 litres of displacement that the times we have been able to test it has seemed a little lacking in muscle, especially for using somewhat open gear ratios.
Consumption ranges from 3.8 litres for the 110 hp dCi to 5.6 litres for the petrol TCe 130. In our opinion, the 110-horsepower diesel engine can be a bit thin on the ground if the car is used under full load. The 130 hp petrol is capable enough on paper, but we think it will be a bit short on torque when the car is loaded (we'll have to test it in any case). So we would advise the 130 hp diesel "yes or yes".
Between front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, it depends more on your real driving needs. The extra driveability of the 4×4 will come in handy for those who venture off-road, and also for those who use the car in areas where it rains and snows a lot. If you don't fit either of those two needs, the front-wheel drive will be more than enough.
In terms of equipment, the Life, Intens, Zen and X-Mod trim levels are offered. The equipment is quite "elegant", so we advise you to go to the dealer to clarify what each solution is, but as a quick summary, Life is the "attack" version, the most bare, Zen the top of the range. Zen is the top of the range in terms of equipment, and X-Mod offers a "country touch", which on front-wheel drive models also means adding a wheel (Extended Grip system) to activate a stability control function that helps traction in slippery conditions.
In any case, the amount of driving aids and infotainment elements of the car is up to the most ambitious expectations, with semi-automatic parking, automated braking to avoid accidents, lane keeping aid, side radar and warning of vehicles in the blind spot, sign recognition system...
Prices range from £19,850 for the Kadjar 130 hp petrol to £28,800 for the 130 dCi 4×4 with Zen trim. Comparing like for like, the Kadjar dCi 110 hp with access finish and front-wheel drive (the version most likely to sell) is at 21,850€, when the Qashqai, with the same engine, is at 22,950€. It's a thousand euros and a little difference, which we doubt will be decisive.
All in all, after three and a bit hours at the controls of the Renault, we are left with a clear but at the same time diffuse picture. Clear in the sense that, this time, Renault has a crossover exactly in line with what the market is asking for. It is a car as good as the Qashqai, and has for itself one of the most powerful commercial networks in Spain, which will favor it to become, de facto, the biggest rival of Nissan in terms of sales lists.
But the fuzzy part of the picture is the differential character. Beyond "being a Renault" and having a somewhat different aesthetic, we are left with the feeling of having driven "just another car". Yes, versatile, decent, dignified, competent, but lacking in character. Perhaps this is the fate of the sector, where crossovers are imposed as transport appliances. And that's not to say that this car doesn't do well, it does, but that I was left with the feeling of not having any feeling at all. Of not having a key to say now to close the article and say "it's better for this, or worse for that".
Anyway, we'll save the final judgement for when we can have it in our garage for a week and give our opinion with more kilometres on it. In the meantime, if you're looking for a compact crossover and the Renault has caught your eye, I'll tell you that "it's as good as the Nissan", at least. And that should be good enough for most buyers, right?