JUST when I thought I’d identified all the danger signs of advancing age – less hair on top, more out the ears, a default cynicism setting – I learn there’s a new concern to navigate: inveterate SUV ownership.
Okay, I use the term ‘ownership’ lightly, but the fact remains: for someone not fundamentally a devotee of SUVs, I seem to be incapable of escaping them. For me it started in 2014 with Holden’s unlovable Trax; progressed through two variations of quite agreeable Nissan Qashqais, and paused recently after an eight-month stint in Hyundai’s top-spec diesel Tucson.
Now, for this closet rear-drive-wagon lover, it’s back to SUV business as usual. In comes the top-spec Renault Koleos, called Intens, featuring an atmo 2.5-litre petrol four hooked to a CVT transmission and switchable all-wheel drive. It’s priced at $43,490, with our Meissen Blue paint ($600) the only option fitted. (Solid white is the only colour that doesn’t attract an extra charge.)
So the total of $44,090 (or $48,590 driveaway in NSW) makes it a few grand cheaper than my previous Tucson Highlander diesel, but about line-ball with a turbo-petrol Highlander, which is a closer mechanical match. So you’d presume some buyers would cross-shop the two, given the similarity in price, size, and general application.
The next few months will be instructive, then, in terms of evaluating how well Renault has nailed the medium-SUV brief by using the current Nissan X-Trail as platform and powertrain donor.
My first impressions are that the exterior design by Anthony Low (overseen by Laurens van den Acker) has plenty of nice touches, but isn’t quite as chiselled and masculine as the Tucson. I like the semi-clamshell bonnet design, and the lighting treatment, both front and rear, is properly distinctive at night. No visible tailpipe is a curious touch, but the non-functional side vents on the front doors seem a bit of an indulgent affectation. On a more practical level, the rear doors open nice and wide to present a generous aperture to passengers climbing in there, and the black cladding around the exterior edges offers a bit of protection from life’s scrapes.
Ah, but the interior... Sliding inside the Koleos’s cabin is like entering a rich world of luxury compared to the Tucson. My Hyundai may have been the top-spec Highlander, and a mostly admirable SUV, but I’m sure there are cells in Guantanamo Bay with a less austere ambience.
Not so the Koleos, which immediately seduces with proper leather seats (heated and ventilated, but no memory position) an iPad-sized multimedia touch screen (the functionality of which I’ll get to later) and a central TFT instrument display that can be configured into a choice of four displays. The wheel is attractive and nicely tactile, even if the left-side buttons do present an initial challenge in terms of functionality and logic.
A big plus for me (especially compared to the Hyundai Tucson) is the solid-sounding Bose audio system, (see sidebar above) and DAB tuner. I’m also appreciating the glass roof on overcast days, the powered tailgate, and the provision of remote releases for the rear backrests in the cargo compartment (another annoying oversight in the Tucson).
The only ergonomic gripe I can manage at this point is the driver’s seat doesn’t go sufficiently low, and its base is not long enough to provide full under-thigh support.
So, at this point you may be thinking, “Hmm, this bloke is less of a first-world whinger than I recall...” But ... not so fast. Did you read about Koleos’s struggles at Car of the Year last month? If so, no spoiler alert is needed: the moment the driving moves from undemanding urban trundling, the Renault’s challenges begin.
Let’s talk next month.
This article was originally published in the March 2017 issue of Wheels magazine.