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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.  

MAGALIESBURG – Wondering where the Renault Kadjar, the French brands version of the excellent Nissan Qashqai, disappeared to? Well, due to spiraling import costs (the Kadjar was imported from France), Renault SA has replaced it with this, the larger Koleos, which it sources from South Korea at more favourable rates. It, too, has a Nissan relative in the form of the X-Trail and shares many of that vehicles outstanding traits while adding its own unique touches. We spent a day with the flagship Dynamique 4x4 to find it whether the Koleos has the talent to be successful in the cut-throat midsize-SUV segment.

Slick design

It certainly has the looks to set itself apart from the straight-laced crowd. Embracing Renaults current flamboyant design language (one that, to my eyes, render its model ranges the best-looking vehicles in their respective classes), the Koleos is all chrome flourishes, lights that jut into bodywork panels and lines that ebb and flow across the flanks. Dynamique models (of which there are two – see full details here) boast 18-inch wheels, one size larger than the ones fitted to Expression trim.

Equally slick interior

Its a big vehicle, too, measuring nearly 4,7 metres long – most rivals stretch between 4,5 and 4,6 metres – and is wider than most, although the height is average for the class. What this means is the cabin boasts what Renault claims is class-leading rear legroom (the backseat certainly felt commodious even with the drivers seat set to accommodate my 1,85-metre frame) and a generous 464-litre boot which increases to 1 795 litres with the rear bench folded forward via levers in the luggage bay. Theres an additional 35 litres of storage scattered throughout the cockpit, including a 7-litre cubby sited on the centre console.

Up front, the Koleos boasts digital instrumentation as standard (I cant help but wonder how the German brands can keep justifying charging exorbitant amounts for this feature), plus an 8,7-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen equipped with sat-nav and mirroring software for your smartphone. Others standard items on this Dynamique variant include LED headlamps, electrically adjustable leather seats, hands-free entry and start, blind-spot detection and parking sensors coupled with a reverse camera. Its comfortably one of the best equipped vehicles in the segment.

The level of perceived quality is very good, too, with the vehicle I drove on the launch feeling rock solid across pretty patchy gravel terrain. There are some questionable plastics lower down where your eyes and fingers rarely venture, but that applies to most vehicles in the segment.

Not so slick drivetrain

All Koleos models share the same engine and transmission combination, a naturally aspirated 2,5-litre four-pot coupled with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Developing 126 kW and 233 N.m of torque at a lofty 4 000 r/min, the engine is undoubtedly the weak link in an otherwise upmarket package. Despite engineering in artificial steps to the transmission to mimic the operation of a torque-converter, the CVT has no reservations in hiking the engines revs to above 5 000 r/min if the driver makes enthusiastic use of the throttle. That, in turn, punctures the refined cabin ambience with a shrill engine note. Make more sedate, progress, however, and proceedings are more impressive.

Fuel consumption is acceptably frugal; we registered an average of 8,8 L/100 km on our spirited drive and Renault claims 8,3 L/100 km, which seems realistic.

Dynamically, the Koleos is notably polished. The ride on the North Wests pothole-littered tar and dirt roads proved absorbent (although theres a smidgen too much suspension noise) and the steering nicely weighted and direct without displaying any kickback over particularly rocky terrain.

The verdict

The Koleos is a superb SUV crying out for a more sophisticated drivetrain. But, advanced engines cost money and having a modern turbopetrol under the bonnet would have seen the price escalate beyond the current competitive levels. If your driving is sedate, and you favour ride comfort, refinement and practicality, the Koleos is one of the best midsize SUVs. My advice, however, is to bypass this flagship 4x4 variant and opt for the mid-range Dynamique 4x2 which, at R439 900, looks like particularly good value.

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