LJUBLJANA, Slovenia – It’s not surprising that manufacturers are now jumping onto the double-cab bandwagon. Or should that be load-bay?
Even though South Africa has been there for ages, this market is now growing rapidly around the world. Renault has launched its Alaskan, not in Alaska, but in Ljubljana, Slovenia. This turned out to be the perfect location as it provided a variety of freeway cruising opportunities, country lanes with mountain passes and persistent rain to test traction.
While essentially the same as the Nissan Navara on which it is based, the front-end treatment of the French bakkie has been personalised with new headlamps, foglamps and grille. The Renault signature C- shaped styling elements have been assigned to both the foglamp surrounds and to the LED daytime lights.
In typical bold pick-up tradition, a fair amount of chrome is added to brighten up the visual appeal. While this isn’t overdone, it does make the Alaskan stand out and be noticed. While the basic shape of the rear lights has been maintained, the lenses are different to those used by the Navara, as is the metalwork design of the tailgate.
And under the bonnet?
Powertrains are as for its Nissan-badged cousin, with 120 kW single-turbo or 140 kW biturbo 2,3-litre diesel engines mated to a selection of six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic gearboxes. Torque outputs are 403 N.m and 450 N.m for the two engines, respectively. The spread is between 1 500 r/min and 2 500 r/min.
Drive settings are rear-wheel-drive high, four-wheel-drive high, four-wheel-drive low with separate activation for the (optional) rear differential lock. This will no doubt be standard equipment on models destined for South Africa.
Both front and rear accommodation is spacious, with leather upholstery in the top-spec model we tested. We do not, as yet, know what level of trim will be imported to South Africa from the factory in Barcelona, Spain.
Plenty of accessories…
What we did see was a variety of accessories that could turn a workhorse double-cab into a luxury vehicle almost immediately, from dual-zone climate control, sat nav with a touchscreen, heated front seats and air vents for the rear passenger to external side rails that came in handy in the thick mud.
Another feature was a small gas strut to allow the tailgate to be lowered slowly instead of needing to be physically supported. To top it off, even a sunroof was fitted to the model we drove. A 360-degree camera system provided views front, rear and side to help obstacle avoidance, while a very useful lock-up load-bin was bolted to the load-bay – ideal for stowing tools.
In our case, 125 kg of sand bags were placed in the bin to simulate a more realistic, loaded driving scenario. This had no discernible effect on the general agility of the Alaskan. A load-bay liner was also fitted, complete with side rails with three moveable tie-down eyes on either side. Alaskan safety is supported by seven airbags, stability and traction control and Isofix child-seat anchors.
Heading off the beaten track
We were concerned that we would be subjected to only mild off-roading conditions as most other countries do not go exploring with quite as much vigour as South Africans do. We need not have worried as the Renault team had chosen a former ski-slope that was initially grass and gravel with mud splashes and obstacles.
By the time we were finished, most of the ground had been converted into a series of slushy mud pools. We suspected that the bakkie would be capable enough, but were unsure of tyre suitability for these conditions. The tyres fitted were Continental CrossContact LX with a definite on-road bias tread design. To our surprise, they performed really well, despite making do with normal tyre pressures.
We completed a substantial amount of driving both on- and off-road and the more we drove the more we realised that the refinement of modern bakkies such as the Alaskan make long-distance journeys on pretty much any road surface comfortable and enjoyable. The five-link with coil spring setup at the rear smoothed out bumps well, too.
On the tarmac, we noticed some typical turbo-lag (likely not helped by the automatic transmission) on a quick pull-off. This means that you have to be careful when judging gaps in the traffic.
Otherwise, the auto gearbox is great with little hunting through its seven ratios. If you try to shift manually, the transmission will override your shifts if not in a specific rev-range. Steering is hydraulically assisted and couldn’t be easier to use, with near-perfect feel and weighting. Towing capacity is a heavy-duty 3,5 tonnes and the payload comes in at one tonne.
So, when will we see this new bakkie on local roads? Well, the Alaskan is scheduled to be rolled out in right-hand-drive guise relatively soon, set to reach our shores in the second quarter of 2018.
Engine:2,3-litre, 4-cylinder bi-turbodiesel
Fuel Consumption:7,0 L/100 km