Renault Kadjar SUV (2015 - ) review
The Kadjar is Renault’s assault on the fashionable Compact SUV market, and it shares many of its mechanicals with the current class-leader, the Nissan Qashqai. Pretty good start, then…
Interested in buying Renault Kadjar?
Being so closely related to the Nissan Qashqai, it’s no surprise that the Kadjar has very similar proportions to its sister car. The Renault does have plenty of its own character, though. The big V-shaped grille is a design cue shared with numerous Renault models, and the rear end has more than a hint of Clio about it, with short-strip tail lights and curvy haunches. You might want to steer clear of entry-level Expression+ cars, because they miss out on the alloy wheels that other versions get. The range-topping Signature trim, meanwhile, adds spangly LED headlamps and painted skid plates
Climb into the Kadjar, and you’ll experience a mixture of positives and negatives. The interior design looks pretty sophisticated and there are some nice touchy-feely surfaces on display, but some of the other panels feel disappointingly hard and scratchy, while the dark colour scheme adds to a slightly dour environment. The standard R-Link touch-screen infotainment system isn’t the most intuitive you’ll ever use, some of the switches are located in really odd places, and it’s rather disappointing that you have to upgrade to the high-end Dynamique S trim before you get a height-adjustable driver’s seat. However, the seats are very supportive and comfortable, and you get a great view out in all directions.
Like the Qashqai, the Kadjar has a cabin that is very family-friendly. All five seats have generous head- and legroom, the boot is an impressive size, and there’s a false boot floor that lets you open up more capacity or level out the steps in the load area, depending on your needs. What’s more, the rear seats fold perfectly flat, which helps enormously when you’re carrying big loads.
Ride and handling
Unsurprisingly, the Kadjar behaves very much like its sister car on the road, and that’s a very, very good thing. It has a brilliant mix of dynamic abilities, blending stable, secure and controlled handling with a cosseting ride and excellent rolling refinement. Chuck in the responsive, nicely weighted steering, a crisp gearshift and lightly sprung pedals, and the Kadjar is a very relaxed and easy car to drive. That makes it absolutely perfect for the family-ferrying duties for which it’ll most likely be used. Most versions have front-wheel drive, but four-wheel drive can be specified if you wish. However, we wouldn’t bother unless you regularly drive in snow or mud, because it’ll make your Kadjar more costly to buy and run.
The Kadjar weighs in with a mixed performance here, depending on which engine you choose. We’d avoid the one petrol engine on offer, a 1.2-litre turbo with 128bhp. The output sounds prodigious, but with not-quite-so-generous torque, it feels frustratingly flat at the bottom of the rev range. Worse still, it hardly gets any more muscular further up the range, even when you work it to its limits, and it also takes an absolute age to build revs. Sure, a car like the Kadjar doesn’t need to be fast, but it does need to be flexible, and with this engine, it really isn’t. We've also tried this engine paired with the optional twin-clutch automatic gearbox rather than the six-speed manual, and while the engine is no punchier in this form, it doesn't do the performance any harm, either. However, the diesel engines on offer are much better. There are two – a 1.5 with 108bhp and a 1.6 with 128bhp – and it’s the lower powered one that’s the pick of the range. It feels eager when you’re trying to build or maintain speed, which makes your progress nice and easy. It also stays quiet and smooth, even when you have to work it hard. All that is true of the 1.6 as well, but it doesn’t really feel any quicker than the 1.5 in the real world, so it’s not worth the extra you’ll pay to buy and run it.
The Kadjar isn’t a particularly cheap car to buy, but it is a useful bit cheaper than the Qashqai in many of its various comparable forms, and it represents good value for money. It’s likely to be a bit less commonplace on British roads than the Qashqai, too, and that could well give it an edge on the Nissan when it comes to resale values. The official efficiency figures make for pleasant reading, too. The entry-level diesel is the star of the show, with fuel economy of 74mpg and CO2 emissions of just 99g/km (as long as you avoid versions with bigger 19-inch wheels), making it very affordable to run. The figures of the other engines aren’t quite so impressive, but they’re still pretty competitive by class standards. However, go for a version with four-wheel drive instead of front-wheel drive, and efficiency takes a big hit.
Obviously, the Kadjar is too new for much reliability data to be available; and so, for that matter, is the latest Qashqai. The previous Qashqai seems to have traditionally been a reasonably strong performer, so that bodes well for the newer cars. Renault currently sits around the middle of Warranty Direct’s manufacturer rankings, while Nissan places a lot further up. Make of that what you will. However, that fact that the two cars are built in entirely different factories in entirely different countries could well mean that there might be a big difference in how they rate for reliability.
Renault has a reputation for safety that few other car manufacturers can match. The Kadjar comes with a decent suite of measures including six airbags, stability control and tyre pressure monitoring. From second-rung Dynamique Nav trim onwards, you also get cornering foglamps and a package that includes lane-departure warning, traffic sign recognition and automatic headlamp beam adjustment. In crash tests by Euro NCAP, the Kadjar performed just as strongly as the Qashqai, earning a full five-star rating.
Most versions of the Kadjar come pretty well equipped. You might want more than the entry-level Expression+ gives you, although you’re still provided with air-con, four powered windows, cruise control and the 7.0-inch touch-screen infotainment system that incorporates Bluetooth and a DAB radio. Dynamique Nav is the next step up, and apart from navigation, it also adds desirable bits like climate control, automatic lights and wipers, and a leather steering wheel. For us, this is the best compromise of kit and cost. If you have more cash to splash, Dynamique S trim adds front- and-rear parking sensors and part-leather upholstery, while the Signature range-topper has a panoramic roof, among other bits.
Because you like the idea of a Nissan Qashqai, but you don’t like how common that car has become. The Kadjar gives you most of the same virtues as the best-selling Nissan – a great driving experience and classy and functional cabin, to name but two – but with a different look and character. It also happens to be a bit cheaper to buy than the Nissan.