CAPE TOWN – When last did you see a Koleos on the road? Since the local introduction of the French midsize SUV just over a year ago, I’ve seen fewer than five examples on local tarmac (lockdown notwithstanding). It’s not a bad car by any means, so what is it about the Koleos that just doesn’t capture the attention of South African consumers? Well, when the range-topping Dynamique 4x4 rolled into the CAR garage, I decided to spend some time with this Gallic rarity in an attempt to find out why local buyers aren’t flocking to Renault dealers in droves.

Let’s take a look at what’s new on the facelifted model. Well, aside from a number of exterior and interior tweaks, not much really. Under the bonnet is the same naturally aspirated 2,5-litre four-cylinder, which produces an unchanged 126 kW and 233 N.m of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels, unless four-wheel drive is selected.

Visually, the refreshed Koleos benefits from a more prominent grille design, a revised bumper design and restyled foglamps. At the rear, the changes have been kept to a minimum; aside from an update to the rear bumper and third brake lamp, things are pretty much the same. Finally, newly designed 18-inch alloys finish off the stylish SUV.

It’s not the looks that are putting consumers off, then. In fact, on a recent drive out to Franschhoek, a passer-by commented favourably on the unique and classy design. Perhaps it’s the interior then? Well no, not really. It may not feel quite as solid as a Volkswagen Tiguan or Mazda CX-5, but the Koleos features a very pleasant cabin. The upper part of the facia is trimmed in soft-touch materials, while the door cards are a mix of leather, high-quality plastics and some less desirable plastic.

The electrically adjustable leather seats are comfortable and offer plenty of support. It’s well equipped, too. Keyless entry, an electrically operated tailgate and a comprehensive infotainment system (which includes satellite navigation and a reverse camera) all form part of the package. The only thing missing is a sunroof. The infotainment display is large and intuitive; like those of modern Volvos, the vertically positioned 8,7-inch screen controls the majority of features, including the climate control. While physical dials and buttons are preferred, the system in the Renault is one of the less distracting out there. 

Rear legroom is impressive. When we road-tested the pre-facelift model in 2019, we measured a roomy 724 mm of space for rear passengers to stretch out in. That’s not far off the 739 mm the second row of the notably bigger BMW X7 offers passengers. The boot is equally impressive. With the seats up, the Koleos provides a sizeable 344 litres of packing space; with the rear seats folded flat, it matches the 1 368 litres of utility space the larger Mercedes-Benz GLE offers.

Okay, it seems to be shaping up pretty well so far, I thought. So maybe it’s the driving experience that people just aren’t warming to. Certainly, the Koleos isn’t going to enthral you with its hot-hatch-aping driving dynamics. It isn’t a sporty vehicle, with the CX-5 and Sportage offering a more entertaining drive in this segment. No, the Koleos takes a more relaxed approach to covering distance. The ride – albeit bothered by sudden bumps and sharp ridges – is smooth on the long road, adding to the refined and relaxed aura. Equally excellent is the roadholding. While body roll is present through corners, the Koleos gives the driver a great sense of security, thanks to communicative steering and plenty of grip from the 225/60 R18 tyres fitted front and rear.

It's certainly not the first car you'd pick to explore the Sahara, but on an impromptu detour off the tarmac, the Koleos certainly surprised me. Pop the Renault into four-wheel drive and it does reasonably well. Despite the gravel surface and steep incline, the Koleos took everything in its stride, including the potholes and uneven surfaces. Of course, every vehicle has its limits and when the path got a bit too steep, I turned around and headed back down. Still, the Koleos proved itself capable of more than its soft-roader image might suggest.

The 2,5-litre petrol engine can sound a bit gruff at times, especially when you need to overtake and the CVT sends the revs racing to the redline. Speaking of which, the CVT doesn’t really make itself known in town driving or stop-and-go traffic. Still, it can (and does) frustrate, particularly when you require an extra bit of grunt. Then again, this is a criticism that can be levelled at pretty much any CVT-equipped vehicle. 

After a brief stint driving around urban areas, the trip computer indicated the Koleos was consuming 8,90 L/100 km. On the long road, that figure dropped to a more palatable 7,90 L/100 km. As a reference, the pre-facelift model managed 8,30 L/100 km on our 100 km fuel run.

It is rather puzzling that the Koleos doesn’t enjoy the success a number of its rivals do. It’s a practical, well-equipped and good-looking family SUV that doesn’t do much wrong. Perhaps the lack of a diesel powertrain is putting the traditional buyer off the idea of a Koleos. But at R529 900, there is no denying the excellent value on offer. The French contender is R100 000 cheaper than a similarly equipped RAV4 2,5 VX, and R30 000 cheaper than a Tiguan 1,4 TSI Comfortline. If I were in the market for a midsize SUV I’d certainly consider the value-driven Koleos. Better still is the two-wheel-drive derivative, priced at R489 900.  



FAST FACTS

Model: Renault Koleos 2,5 Dynamique CVT 4x4
Price: R529 900
Engine: 2,5-litre, four-cylinder, naturally aspirated petrol
Power: 126 kW @ 6 000 r/min
Torque: 233 N.m @ 4 000 - 5 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 10,69 seconds
Top Speed: 199 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 8,10 L/100 km (claimed)
CO2: 192 g/km
Transmission: CVT
Service Plan: five-year/90 000 km