Renault Kadjar review – competent, collected, and almost entirely characterless 

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Renault Kadjar
The Renault Kadjar is a fundamentally boring car that does everything a family would want of it

Kadjar is the car as an appliance. It's inoffensive, it's good looking and it's utterly forgettable, with enough natty extras – alloys, LED lamps and safety monitors – for the marketing department to disport along the 'price walk'. Chassis dynamics take a back seat to finance here, with the rigours of the 36,000-mile, three-year PCP dominating its showroom and web-site appeal.

Like the Mk1, this second-generation Kadjar is based on a platform shared with Nissan, which means a significant part of the running gear is from the post-2013 Nissan Qashqai. In appearance there's been a bit of tweaking at the front to give it a wider mouth and a sort of look-down-your-nose appearance, with corresponding tucks and nips at the rear. There's a bit more chromium, three more colours including 'Euro Green' (form an orderly queue) and, yes, LED lamps on the top version.

Phase Two Kadjar might not be a better looking car as a result of all this, but it's visually more modern, which is vital in a market where Renault names 40 competitors including nine deadly rivals: Vauxhall's Mokka; VW's Tiguan; Nissan's Qashqai; Hyundai's Tucson; Kia's Sportage; Peugeot's 3008; Toyota's C-HR; Citroën's C5 Aircross; and Ford's Kuga. Serious adversaries in this new but extremely crowded market segment. 

In the cabin they've done a fair bit of work with better materials. There's a new facia and centre console including a bigger touch screen, though the actual display part seems no bigger, more connectivity with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, spongier seats and new air conditioning controls. There are four trim levels, rising from the base spec Play which costs from £20,595 with 17-inch wheels, air con and reverse park sensors, through Iconic, the most popular model, riding on 19-inch rims with a sat nav, a reversing camera and all-round sensors and roof bars, costs only a little more at £22,095.

The £23,595 S-Edition adds a sun roof, LED fog lamps and lower skid plates and the top model GT line will relieve you of at least £25,095 for the luxury of leather upholstery and all the camera and radar based safety systems you can shake a cheque book at, including city braking and blind-spot detection. The marketing department stared at its boots when asked why these weren't standard across the range.  

The most expensive model is available with four-wheel-drive, though this isn't anticipated to be a strong seller in the United Kingdom

The interior feels and looks classy and is quite comfortable, but only up to a point; after an hour in the front seats you get fidgety. The rear bench gives leg and head room to spare for two adults, three in an emergency. The boot is a highly respectable 472 litres; 1,478 litres if you fold the seat backs onto the squabs, but it's not a flat load bed.

Lacklustre performance and economy was one of the major criticisms of the previous model and that's been addressed with four new engines. The new 1.3-litre, four cylinder chain-driven cam unit developed with Daimler and Nissan, is called TC3 and is already fitted to the Captur, Mégane and Scenic, and comes with 138bhp, or 158bhp. There's an update on the current 113bhp, 1.5-litre turbodiesel with an Adblue selective catalyst to reduce particulate emissions and better sound insulation.

The top-model diesel is an update to the old chain-cam 1.6-litre unit, given a capacity and power increase to 1.7 litres and 148bhp. This is the only Kadjar model available with four-wheel drive, using same locking centre Haldex-type clutch system as on the Nissan Qashqai and Dacia Duster. It also gets an independent rear suspension instead of the twist beam of all other models; MacPherson front struts are common across the range. You have to stump up £29,995 for the 4x4 model, though, which is a lot of money even considering the top trim level it comes with.

Andrew English is neither pleased nor displeased with this competent family crossover 

(Continental types also get the option of a traction enhancer, which goes with winter tyres on front-drive models to get you off that frozen car park, but Renault's marketing wallahs decided not to bring that useful extra into the UK.)

Transmissions are a choice of a six-speed manual, or seven-speed, twin-clutch semi-auto for the lower-powered petrol and diesel, and a six-speed manual only for the higher-powered vehicles.

As with much of the opposition, buyers are moving away from diesel power and over 70 per cent of UK sales are expected to be of petrol engines, particularly the lower powered example, the TCe 140 (138bhp), which in manual form has a top speed of 126mph, does 0-62mph in 10.4sec, has Combined fuel consumption of 47.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 134g/km.

This is quite a sweet little unit, revving cleanly at the middle of the range (though it's a bit frantic at the top end) and with a decent spread of pulling power. It's not super powerful, but is more than good enough for suburban duties and is refined and quiet at motorway speeds. The bigger petrol has noticeably more weight behind its punch particularly at the top end so overtaking is more easy, but the acceleration figure is only a second quicker and fuel consumption is exactly the same.

The Kadjar is similar to the Nissan Qashqai, but not quite as good

We also got a squirt in the high-power diesel in 4x4 form across a flooded off-road track, where it provided startlingly good traction, terrific low-speed torque and more refined travel than the diesel 4x4 options in a variety of rivals. If you need 4x4, the Kadjar puts up a strong, if expensive, argument.

The ride comes as a surprise, too, especially after the slightly bone-trembling example of the outgoing model. It isn't as smooth as the Qashqai, but it turns into corners better so there's the payoff. All the cars I've driven so far have been shod on 19-inch rims so the sharp-edged bump performance wasn't great, but the body control is accurate and it's fairly refined.

The down side is that there's 5/8ths of bugger all character. And there's the rub. Kadjar, like pretty much everything in this market, is competent but completely homogeneous and entirely undistinguished. For most folk that's really not a problem, but for some of us it's quite sad that family motoring has become so bland. I wonder whether that won't turn out to be a problem for the motor industry as well, and in that singling out Renault is unfair, as they're all doing it.   

*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 17/01/2019 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront.  Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change.  Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.

Renault Kadjar specifications

TESTED Renault Kadjar five-door, mid-sized SUV with 1,332cc four-cylinder turbo petrol with six-speed manual transmission (optional seven-speed, twin-clutch semi automatic), front-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE from £20,595 to £29,995. As tested £25,095. On sale January with first deliveries in February

POWER/TORQUE 138bhp @ 5,000rpm, 177lb ft @ 1,600rpm

TOP SPEED 126mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 10.4sec

FUEL ECONOMY 47.9mpg/38.9mpg EU Combined/Urban. On test 34mpg

CO2 EMISSIONS 134g/km manual

VED BAND 131 - 150 £205 first year then £140

VERDICT

A welcome series of improvements and updates for another innocuous family SUV. Despite being based on the Nissan Qashqai and being quite a bit cheaper (and bigger inside), Kadjar is unlikely to challenge for that model's lofty market leading position, but it should provide decent competition for Seat's Ateca, Skoda's Karoq and Ford's Kuga.

TELEGRAPH RATING  three stars out of five

Renault Kadjar rivals

Seat Ateca from £18,675

Sharp handling and looks mark the Ateca out from the (large) herd. The Ateca uses Volkswagen parts bin bits but given the ride and handling shine. Prices start low, but the little one litre four cylinder engine can feel a bit breathless if all the seats are filled.  

Peugeot 3008 from £22,870

Sister car to the Citroen C5 Aircross and based on the same chassis. So the engines and driveline options are roughly the same, but so are the shortcomings of the electronics interfaces and the somewhat uninspiring handling. Boldly styled and we like the anti-scrabble system on the front-drive chassis.

Ford Kuga from £23,225

Escape in America, Kuga in Europe, but this family SUV is a pleasant enough vehicle to drive if not quite top of its class. It lacks interior space and the styling isn't particularly attractive. Dynamically good, though, and £28,835 gets you into a 4x4 176bhp petrol with Zetec trim, which isn't a bad price.

Kia Sportage from £19,195

Kia's seven year warranty pulls in lots of retail customers and this recent revamp certainly looks superficially attractive. Dynamically it's let down, though with a fidgety ride quality and unconvincing steering. £23,995 gets you into the 1.6-litre petrol with all wheel drive, but most will go for front drive.

Nissan Qashqai from £19,595

Britain's top school-run SUV has bought itself up to date with a a new generation of small capacity turbo petrol engines and a pair of new diesels, but while Qashqai has been gently improved in the last couple of years, without a hybrid option it's looking a little out of touch.