The 2020 Renault Kadjar slips in between the soon-to-be-replaced Captur and the probably-should-be-replaced Koleos. It might have a weird name, but it’s also intriguing.
I can’t imagine how big a sigh of relief Renault dealers all over the world (okay, Europe and here) breathed when the Kadjar finally arrived. Renault had a gaping hole in its line-up – a compact SUV that can fit a family in comfort.
Annoyingly for Renault dealers in Australia, the Kadjar first went on sale in Europe in 2015 and China in 2016. That’s aeons in the car world.
The Kadjar is based on fellow Alliance member Nissan’s Qashqai. Another weirdly-named, the Qashqai is a compact SUV rides and handles very tidily but has a dodgy driveline (CVT – yuk) and a terrible media system. It’s also stretching the friendship to call it compact.
So the Kadjar looks really promising because Renault flung the 2.0-litre Nissan and its crap CVT. In their place are a thoroughly modern 1.3-litre turbo and seven-speed twin-clutch. Rightio, then. Let’s get cracking.
How much is a 2020 Renault Kadjar and what do I get?
Life: $29,990 plus on-roads
Zen: $32,990 plus on-roads
Intens: $37,990 plus on-roads
The Intens, as you can see, is the top of the range Kadjar and starting to push the limits of pricing for a compact SUV. It’s not really all that small, sort of spilling over into the lower end of a mid-sizer. No, it’s not Mazda CX-30 pricing, but there’s something weird and ambitious going on over at Mazda at the moment.
You get 19-inch alloy wheels with very decent Continental tyres, seven-speaker Bose stereo, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather seats, electric driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, ambient cabin lighting, keyless entry and start, reversing camera, all-around parking sensors, auto parking (steering assist), power windows and folding heated mirrors, space-saver spare, huge sunroof and tyre pressure monitoring.
Renault’s R-Link 2 handles the multimedia duties and boy, is it feeling its age. The 7.0-inch touchscreen is at least around the right way (the Megane’s is not) but it’s really slow. As usual, it’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the rescue. Intens buyers also score wireless charging. Which is nice, but kind of pointless when you need to plug in to USB for full smartphone integration.
The Kadjar comes in six colours – Diamond Black, Iron BLue, Highland Grey, Flame Red, Pearl White and Glacier White. Only that last colour is free, the rest stinging you for $750.
Safety – 5 stars (EuroNCAP)
The basic safety package is pretty good but basic – six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, low-speed AEB, blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning.
Is it enough for the segment? Buyers are looking for advanced safety gear and the Intens misses out. It does give you a soft beep if you’re over the speed limit and it does have speed sign recognition. But a CX-30 wallops it, with many more safety features on board.
Despite scoring five EuroNCAP stars in 2015, ANCAP doesn’t yet list its safety rating. On current ANCAP specs, it’s possible the Kadjar won’t get the same star rating because it doesn’t have pedestrian detection AEB.
Warranty and Servicing
Renault’s 555 program is a good start. The three fives tell you it has a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty, five years of roadside assist and five years of capped-price servicing.
You only have to show up to the dealer once every 12 months or 30,000km (good), with services costing $399 for the first three services, a whopping $789 for the fourth and back to $399 for the fifth.
It’s not cheap – the Kia Seltos and Hyundai Kona are both cheaper to service – but it’s not the worst I’ve seen in the segment. I’m looking at you, Suzuki Vitara.
If you’re thinking of keeping it for a while, the engine does have a timing chain so you won’t be doing the belts at 100,000km.
Look and Feel
Renault’s design studios appear to have dodged a couple of impulses. One was to fit the huge C-shaped LED driving lights from the Megane and Koleos. The other was to not do enough to hide its origins, so we’ve come out even.
Then again, this car has been around for five years and predates Megane and the current Koleos front ends. Australia has been waiting a long time for this car. Anyway, I think it’s quite handsome without any overblown features or self-conscious individualism. Only problem with that is Renault is a bit of an individualist brand.
Like the X-Trail-based Koleos, the Qashqai-based Kadjar has a very sensible interior. Renault has begun to err towards more conventional interiors in recent years, so it’s in keeping with that idea. It’s all fairly nice here in the Intens, with that huge sunroof filling an otherwise dark cabin with light. The fake leather is pretty good and I like the brushed alloy effect on the centre console and other places here and there.
Storage and Usability
The boot is a hefty 408 litres to begin with, before you drop the 60/40 split fold. You can see in the photo of the boot that there are two removable sections, covering a few extra litres where you can throw valuables or just have more space. Underneath that is another mat covering the space-saver spare tyre.
You get two cupholders up front, a sensible tray that will fit a big phone (and wirelessly charge them if you have that kind of device), a generous centre console bin and a good-sized glovebox. Each door has a bottle holder for a modestly-sized bottle. The front cupholders aren’t the same size, with one smaller and shallower than the other.
The rear seat is quite spacious for four people, less so for five because of the transmission tunnel. Plenty of legroom and headroom, even with the big sunroof, too. Unusually in this segment, you also get adjustable rear vents.
Drivetrain and Chassis
This is where the Kadjar really stands out. All three levels run the same 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbo. Somewhere underneath the giant mess lurks 117kW and a very handy 260Nm of torque.
For a bit of pub trivia, this engine appears in the Mercedes-Benz A and B Class cars. And Mercedes is entirely sensible hiding that spaghetti under a massive plastic lid.
A seven-speed twin-clutch transmission gets the power to the road through the front wheels. No all-wheel drive for Australia, because Renault reckons nobody would buy it. I think they’re right given it would probably slap $3000 on the sticker price.
As I keep saying, the Kadjar rides on the Qashqai platform and I reckon that’s a terrific car in search of a good engine and transmission package, so Renault has nailed that. Except for the bit where it flings the Nissan’s multi-link rear end and swaps it out for a torsion beam. That could have been bad, but the French marque is rather good at wrangling that cheaper, more compact suspension setup.
All-wheel drive Kadjars get the multi-link, but we don’t get AWD.
The Intens rides on 19-inch alloys wearing 225/45s front and rear. Rather generously, these are Michelin Pilot Sport tyres, which is rather promising because the Life and Zen are shod with Continental EcoContact tyres which are not great.
I was most keen, above all else, to see if the Kadjar’s turbo four-cylinder was all I was hoping it would be. Not surprisingly, it’s great. Smooth and powerful, the 260Nm of torque is more than enough to move things along briskly. So many compact SUV are trapped by low levels of twist coupled with lazy CVTs, but this one is almost warm.
The seven-speed twin-clutch auto can be a bit grabby but once you’re underway, it’s a smooth as anything from the VW Group and more responsive to your right foot. I was quite fond of the Kadjar by the end of my week with it – plenty of go and the engine was more than happy to stick me in traffic.
Renault has a flair for delivering a good mix of ride and handling and the Kadjar is no exception. The Michelin tyres offer plenty of grip with not much noise and work well with the finely-tuned suspension. The ride is quite plush and the suspension copes with the usual mess one encounters in Sydney’s suburbs.
I had a Koleos the same week I had the Kadjar and it was very interesting to see how different they are. The Kadjar is way more Renault than the Koleos and that’s a good thing. While the Koleos is all very nice, it’s slow and heavy, two things the Kadjar isn’t.
Obviously the Nissan Qashqai is a rival, but it’s gotten very old over the years and has a terrible media system and ordinary driveline. Not a great deal actually wrong with it and it’s genuinely lovely to drive once you’re underway, but yeah, buyer beware.
The CX-30 is the newest kid in town and is very good. Loaded with gear but with a so-so engine attached to a good transmission, you’re paying a lot of money for a similar-sized package. The CX-30 drives really well if a bit slowly and is well down on torque but has a great interior and plenty of technology, especially on safety. But Mazda is trying to punch on with BMW and Audi with its upper-end offering whereas Renault is a little bit further away from that edge.
The Kona has been around for a while. At this level you’re looking at the top-of-the-range 2.0-litre Highlander (hmmm) or turbo Elite (better). The Kona has a smaller rear seat and boot but drives well and in turbo form is quick.
The Kia Seltos landed with a bang late last year and is selling like crazy. It’s a very good car and again, you’re looking at the second from the top, the Sport+. It has a turbo 1.6-litre and a twin-clutch, a package I’ve not yet driven. The basic S is a terrific thing, if a bit slow, but it’s also dirt cheap. Lots of gear on the Sport+, including a comprehensive safety package.
The Kadjar is getting on a bit, so it’s probably only going to be around in this form for a couple of years. And at $37,990, it’s pushing the friendship a bit. But, it is really good fun to drive for a compact SUV and does all the things that type of car should.
I doubt anyone in their right mind is paying that kind of money for a Kadjar anyway, so if you can knock them down a few grand, do it. It’s nice to drive, rides well, looks good and has one of the best engines in the class. Can’t complain about that.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.