We travelled to Zwartkops Raceway to get acquainted with Renault’s ‘Godfather of HEVs’; the Arkana. What was an 8-hour endurance “race” served as the Arkana’s trial by fire (or rather lukewarm water).
What are we driving:
The Renault Arkana is a beguiling four-door hybrid that seemingly blends the characteristics of an SUV and coupe in the emerging segment of morphed body styles.
Two Arkana’s, one in bright red and the other in gunmetal grey, perched on either side of a hybrid Captur model was the first glimpse of the firm’s “SUV-coupe”. Boasting 200 mm of ground clearance paired with an overall length of 4,57 metres easily dwarfed the white Captur’s frame and reaffirmed the Arkana’s SUV DNA. At a glance, the front end seems nearly identical, however, it’s the larger lower grille and conservatively styled LED headlights that distinguish the front fascia of the Arkana from the Captur.
While a three-quarter angle lends itself to showcasing the SUV characteristics of the Arkana, so does the flank showcase its coupe styling. A stout front end leads to a plunging roofline and pronounced haunches, which house 18-inch aluminium wheels. The interior is nothing to fawn over as it’s not that much different to the cabin layout of the already familiar Captur.
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What’s new in the Renault Arkana?
The main component distinguishing the Arkana from our current local lot is its E-tech Hybrid powertrain. The powertrain consists of a 67 kW 1,6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder mated to a 36 kW “e-engine” and a 15 kW High-Voltage Starter Generator affording the Arkana a combined total power output of roughly 108 kW. Furthermore, the Arkana features Renault’s multi-mode dog clutch gearbox, which is directly connected to the naturally aspirated four-cylinder. The E-tech system automatically adjusts the operation of the motors and gearbox ratios to achieve “optimal” fuel consumption levels.
Renault claims that the E-Hybrid system allows the Arkana to be operated in its electric mode for up to 80% of the time when used for travel in suburban areas, aiding in a reduction of fuel consumption by up to 40%. While our stint with the Arkana was on the Zwartkops race track rather than a suburban area, modulating the throttle to maintain a constant “electric power-only” driving was relatively easy. A simple graphic depicting the flow of power allowed the driver to understand just how hard you could plunge the throttle before waking the engine. When needed, the electric motor assists the petrol engine, and that became most evident once we had to recover a few laps nearing the end of our eight-hour enduro.
Why is the Renault Arkana significant?
The Arkana is Renault’s “tip of the spear” in the battle for dominance in the HEV space. The firm has identified the demand for HEV and, in response, has turned its attention to filling that gap within the local range. If it were sold locally, it would pioneer hybridised mobility in Renault’s fleet. However, an unfavourable performance from the Rand stands as the biggest obstacle in the way of the Arkana’s immigration to South Africa’s market. As a point of curiosity, if it were greenlit and brought over immediately, the sticker price would hover somewhere in the region of one million Rand.
Renault hopes to introduce the Arkana into the local arena sometime around the middle of next year. If it does arrive according to the schedule and the Rand improves, we could see the price of the Arkana set somewhere around R700k.
What is it like to drive?
Eight hours of continuous driving around the 2,4 km raceway under the sweltering Johannesburg heat had revealed the chinks in its armour and reaffirmed some of the claims that Renault had peddled in the morning briefing. Climbing into the familiar cabin, electrically adjustable leather seats with suede inserts, gloss dashboard with a carbon fibre weave, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel elevate the sense of luxury compared to the standard Captur. The headroom is compromised in the second row as a result of the slopped roofline. Larger occupants may struggle to sit comfortably given the reduced second-row headroom and an equally diminished knee room clearance.
The suspension is soft, and on a public road, this becomes a positive aspect of the Arkana’s package. Careening through corners faster than what would be experienced in a regular daily commute on track revealed a noticeable amount of body roll. Additionally, the 200 mm ground clearance affords the Arkana the ability to shrug off a speed bump with relative ease. However, coupled with an excessive amount of body roll and high driving position, results in a sense of disconnection between the driver and the tarmac when carving apexes in the name of efficiency.
The 1,6-litre powerplant is slow to pick up speed and requires a flat-footed throttle input to coax the 1,9-tonne car to speeds exceeding 120 km/h. While it may be slow to reach near illegal speeds, linear powerband fairs well in a regular driving scenario. The most noteworthy component of the powertrain was the multi-mode dog clutch gearbox. Driven with fury and driven conservatively, the dog clutch gearbox offers commendable gear changes and seldom falters or fumbles when the throttle input suddenly switches from light inputs to plunging into the accelerator. Renault claims 5,0 L/100km, but after nearly 560 km and 246 laps (and a teammate that set the fastest lap time of the day, in an endurance challenge ironically focused on fuel consumption), ours rose to 8,5 L/100km.
Once the dust and sun had settled, it dawned on me that the Arkana that we had driven from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. had never faltered. Renault’s attempt at injecting a hybrid model into its lineup is commendable, and the Arkana is by no means a mediocre HEV. From power delivery to interior refinement, the coupe SUV could rub shoulders with some of the established HEV models currently available. However, its projected price tag is the main drawback of its appeal. Time will tell if it eventually features on our market.
Renault Arkana E-Tech hybrid 145 AT Fast Facts:
- Engine: 1,6-litre, naturally aspirated, four-cylinder
- Transmission: Automatic multi-mode dog-clutch
- Power: 67 kW @ 5 6000 r/min (combined 108 kW)
- Torque: 148 N.m @ 3 600 r/min
- 0-100km/h: 10,8 seconds
- Top speed: 172 km/h
- Driven wheels: Front
- Fuel consumption: 5,0 L/100 km (claimed) – 8,5 L/100km at Arkana endurance event
- CO2 emissions: 98.8 g/km
- Price: To be determined.