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We test Renault's Koleos

2009-05-08 10:08

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Renault
Model Koleos
Engine 2.5 CVT, 2.0 dCi
Power 126kW @ 6 000r/min, 127kW @ 3 750r/min
Torque 226Nm @ 4 400r/min, 360Nm @ 2 000r/min
Transmission CVT/six-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 9-. 10-seconds
Top Speed 193km/h, 191km/h
Fuel Tank 65l
Service Intervals 15 000km
Warranty 3 year/100 000km
We tackle the quest to see if Renault’s debut SUV is simply an X-Trail with a French twist or something more stylish and contemporary.

Two years ago at the Frankfurt Motor Show I stumbled upon Renault’s concept Koleos on display. Amongst outlandish concepts, scantily clad show babes and sinister looking supercars, it cut a peculiar presence and begged the question – was there room in a saturated SUV market for a Renault soft-roader?

Other questions lingered too. Would the overly soft styling find any traction in the image obsessed soft-roader market? How capable would it be in local conditions, where treacherous gravel roads and sand tracks would pose a greater challenge than some Alpine snow in your French cottage’s driveway?

Two years later, after having both the 2.5l petrol CVT and 2.0 dCi six-speed manual versions on test, most of my original questions have been answered by experience.

Soft styling

Koleos might be Renault’s first SUV, but the French company, as majority partner in the Nissan-Renault alliance, was able to source many bits off Nissan’s X-Trail for its debut entry into the SUV market.

Styling is an entirely French exercise though and it renders a subtle looking car. There is none of the Japanese SUVs cubist edging or overly bulbous finishes. With a minimalist grille and oversized headlights the front view is oddly proportioned yet quite neat.

Viewed side-on the Koleos roofline tapers off sharply aft of the B-pillar and renders a coupe-like profile. Rear-three quarter scrutiny reveals a peculiarly sporty exhaust tip, with the horizontally split tailgate line balancing the SUV’s generous rear well.

Taken in its entirety, the design is a bit - well - soft. I found the subtle nature and sloping roofline appealing, though overall Koleos lacks the style of VW’s Tiguan or presence of Land Rover’s Freelander.

Clever design

Interior design is simple and tidy. The centre console is neatly arranged and control functions intuitive to operate, though some of the buttons are a mite small.

As befits the perceived multifunction nature of an SUV, Koleos features a plethora of additional stowage spaces for GPS devices, digital cameras, and the like, in binnacles, underseat drawers, underfoot compartments and door panel binnacles. The load bin between the front seats is generously capacious and for those testing, Karoo or Mozambique road trips, there is a refrigerated glove box to keep drinks cool.

Design is clean and perceived interior quality high.

Not only does the interior design impress with its uncluttered design, perceived build quality is notable too. This is unsurprising perhaps, considering this car is build by studious South Koreans in a Samsung production facility.

On the Dynamic Premium spec cars we tested, equipment levels were keen, front/side/curtain airbags, Xenon headlights and automatic wipers ensuring a clear view of road at all times and fore and aft parking sensors ensuring ding-free parking lot manoeuvring. An acoustically outstanding 6CD/MP3 enabled Bose sound system was fitted as an optional extra.

Clever stowage solutions abound, like these underfoot compartments.

Loadability is effortless thanks to the horizontally split tailgate, which sports a class leading aperture when opened. The loadbay floor is easily extended by tugging on dual levers behind the tailgate (called Easy Estate in Renault parlance) that collapse the second row seats to render a seamlessly flush, extended load bay.

In pure dimensions the Koleos load bay tallies up to 450l of loadspace with the second-row seating in place and 1 380l folded away – good, yet not as capacious as the X-Trail with it 603l and 1 773l.

If one factors in the Koleos' sloping roofline in contrast with the X-Trail’s chunky, squared rear, it becomes apparent why there is a difference in load bay capacity.

Split tailgate renders a nice viewing bench and easy loadability, though floor trim should perhaps have been of the more durable, less aesthetically appealing plastic variety.

Koleos is also appreciably less suited to accommodating rugged outdoor hobbyists toys, especially mountain bikes with sharp edges pedals that would easily scuff the load bay trim to ruins.

Nissan does it much better with a hardwearing (though aesthetically unappealing) plastic sliding tray load bay floor.

French dynamics?

The Koleos experience, as an object in motion, is underpinned by two key design characteristics of French cars – superbly resolved ride characteristics and immaculately conceived turbodiesel power.

Koleos is suspended independently at all four wheel corners, with McPherson struts in operation on the front axle whilst a multilink set-up trails at the rear.

Our Dynamic Premium test cars rolled on 225/60 profile tyres wrapped around 17-inch alloys wheels and the ride quality is very good.

I have a particular aversion to most contemporary French electric power steering systems due to their anaesthetised, almost alien, nature. On the Koleos, perhaps due to the higher centre of gravity or larger, SUV-spec tyres, the steering was quick-witted (especially at low speeds) and direct, though still lacking in tactile feedback.

Between the petrol and diesel test cars, as much as I admire the efficiency principle behind the 2.5l petrol’s CVT gearbox, it does display the drone characteristic to these transmissions.

The 2.0 dCi engine, producing 127kW and 360Nm of peak rotational force, by contrast provides a superb partnership with the six-speed manual transmission.

Featuring high-pressure piezo injectors and a water-cooled variable-geometry turbocharger, it’s quiet, powerful and revs with alacrity despite its compression-ignition roots – especially considering it features an undersquare, long-stroke internal architecture.

On-road the Renault aerodynamicists and insulation design team deserve high praise for engineering a package that exhibits remarkably low levels of noise, vibration and harshness.

On a brisk run from Cape Town to Oudtshoorn along Route 62, the Koleos proved a very relaxing high-speed cruiser. I loved the driving position (benefiting from height and rake adjustable steering and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat) and lack of mechanical and wind noise. With 360Nm of torque peaking at 2 000r/min, downshifting equates to seamless 16-wheeler overtaking progress.

The 2.0 dCi’s economy (low 7l/100km figures) was a boon too, whilst the chassis is set-up to warn against exuberance with progressive levels of body roll, which can admittedly be disconcerting to inexperienced drivers. Grip remains very true though.

As capable as it needs to be considering the competitors. Smart exhaust end could easily become a victim in rocky terrain though. Manual transmission was generally happier than CVT box off-road.

Off-road the Nissan-sourced all-wheel drive system is good, yet without low-range you should not expect to go Land Cruiser chasing.

Like most 4X4 systems devoid of a dual-range transfer case, Koleos employs a clever electrically-controlled centre clutch coupling to apportion torque distribution to all four wheels.

On testing dirt – or wet – roads, "auto" mode operates the system like a standard all-wheel drive car with an open-centre differential, whilst "lock" mode does what it says to the centre clutch, and feeds torque in an equal split between the axles.

Koleos features 207mm of ground clearance, and if your select off-road lines of attack smartly you’ll master most median sand and rutted track obstacles. If you do get stuck, extricating yourself without low-range could be a clutch-cooking affair though.

For novice off-roaders the hill-descent control system is a boon, actuating the ABS system to ensure skid-free and secure downhill progress.


Soft styling is inoffensive yet perhaps too anonymous. Its looks are too inconspicuous, though coupe-like, sloping roofline renders an attractive side-profile. (However, other members of the Wheels24 team strongly disagreed, finding the design daring and hardly anonymous.)

The practical, horizontally split tailgate great for loading, whilst providing a neat viewing bench with shade too. The huge glass sunroof (an option on our test cars) will take some punishment from neighbourhood kids with a penchant for street cricket and when tying down roofrack goodies like surfboards and mountain bikes.


Minimalist, flowing design is well executed. The driving position and visibility is general ace, though it would be nice if the driver’s seat could adjust lower for drivers 1.8m and taller. Load bay is very user-friendly but not particularly rugged.


Refinement is hugely impressive, especially in turbodiesel form, making the Koleos 2.0 dCi a very companionable urban commuter. Off-road ability is as good as anything in its class bar the Land Rover Freelander and Subaru Forester, whilst 8l/100km average consumption and strong throttle response provide a rewarding combination of driveability and economy. The petrol engine and CVT combination is an acquired taste and a bit of an oddity at rarefied Gauteng altitude.


With Gallic style and Japanese soft-road technology, built to a perceivably high standard by South Koreans, the Koleos is a very refined, cleverly designed soft-roader.

In turbodiesel trim, it’s a rewarding drive and though the styling will not appeal to all, the cabin design provides an effortless environment in which to transport your family.

Considering my original question then, will the styling find traction in the local market? Perhaps. How capable was it in local conditions? Well it took me to the Karoo and back effortlessly, and how much harder are most soft SUV owners going to tax their vehicles?

With the 2.0 dCi undoubtedly the pick of the Koleos range, factoring in competitors brings Land-Rover's lowest spec Freelander 2 (which is more capable off-road) into the equation at R377 500. Honda's CR-V CTDi (with less off-road ability) retails for R396 600 and VW's stylish Tiguan 2.0 TDi in Track & Field guise (specced with 17-inc wheels, parking sensors and a multi-function steering wheel) is R381 810.

In Koleos, for a debut SUV, Renault has done disconcertingly well. Whether it's good enough to woo brand loyal local buyers into the fold remains to be seen.


Very refined
Nissan sourced 4x4 electronic hardware
Turbodiesel engine is a peach
Well built


Styling won't appeal to all
Neither will the CVT box models
Renault's lingering service perception

Koleos 2.5 4x4 CVT Dynamique Premium    R362 000
Koleos 2.0dCi 4x4 Dynamique Premium      R378 000


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