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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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