The Renault Kadjar is the latest hopeful to join the local compact crossover segment. Ryan Bubear reports back from the national launch in the Western Cape...
When the original Nissan Qashqai first came to market in 2006, it left many a tongue in many a twist. Indeed, you may well remember a local radio advert fashioned to turn the sometimes-problematic pronunciation on its head.
But this soft-roader helped kick off a veritable crossover craze, and — now in its second-generation — is still selling up a storm for Nissan SA. Yes, it's one of the segment's most popular buys, both here in South Africa and abroad.
And now Renault has taken a likewise lexically tangled approach with its new Kadjar (first revealed to the world at Geneva in 2015), which has officially touched down in SA. Thing is, the similarities run far deeper than a mere penchant for eccentric nomenclature.
Indeed, the two are closely related beneath their respective SUV-like skins, with the French C-segment crossover pilfering its Japanese cousin's modular platform. The sharing of oily bits — facilitated, of course, by the strategic partnership between the two brands — goes further still, and includes powertrains.
A clever exercise in badge-engineering it may well be, but Renault at least had the chance to further develop and improve upon the already established Qashqai. And that, naturally, is a distinct advantage in a segment as crowded and competitive as this one.
Interestingly, though, Renault SA seemed to make a point of not mentioning the Qashqai during its launch presentation, instead suggesting that the Kadjar would compete more directly against the larger (and pricier) Nissan X-Trail. This despite the fact that the Qashqai and Kadjar share a 2646mm wheelbase.
So, where does the new Kadjar fit into Renault's local line-up? Well, it slots in above the rough-and-ready Duster and city-slicking Captur, and effectively replaces the seldom-spotted Koleos, which is currently on run-out stock, and thus quietly being put out to pasture.
The Kadjar range isn't the widest, and for now features just three derivatives (two engines, two trim levels, and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive). Each of the two mills is linked to a fairly long-throw but suitably smooth six-speed manual gearbox (so, no automatic at the moment), and we sampled both on the local launch.
First up is a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine — which can be paired with either the base Expression specification or the posher Dynamique trim — worth 96kW at 5500rpm and 205Nm at 2000rpm. The 1197cc four-pot is closely related to the lump used at the bottom of the Qashqai range, but churns out a good 11kW and 15Nm more in the Renault.
The result is more-than-adequate pep for day-to-day driving (once you learn to mitigate the effects of a smidgen of turbo-lag), with the dash to 100km/h taking 10.4 seconds. Renault claims a combined fuel economy of just 5.8 litres per 100km for this impressively refined engine, but we returned mid-sevens during a relaxed launch drive.
The flagship Kadjar, meanwhile, employs a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel credited with 96kW at 4000rpm and 320Nm from as low as 1750rpm. Again, we've seen this gutsy powerplant before, both in the Qashqai and the X-Trail, and although slightly tardier to three figures than its petrol counterpart, it sips at an even more wallet-friendly (claimed) 5.4 litres per 100km.
This four-cylinder oil-burner serves up strong pulling power from low down in the rev-range, lending it an energetic feel through the gears on tarmac. But, seemingly determined to prove that the Kadjar has more off-roading substance than the average soft-roader, Renault bravely let us loose on the dunes of Atlantis in the Western Cape.
Although the Kadjar coped somewhat better than expected — thanks in part to its three-mode "intelligent" all-wheel drive system and 200mm ground clearance — a few vehicles still required digging out of the soft sand on the day. But, to be fair, the typical Kadjar buyer would be highly unlikely to take the vehicle into the dunes anyway, what with some less-than-ideal off-roading angles (such as the 18-degree approach figure) and the lack of low-range.
No, the Renault Kadjar is far more suited to city driving, thanks to its feather-light steering, decent ride quality (even on optional 19-inch alloys with low-profile rubber), and elevated driving position. It boasts enough interior room to comfortably carry four adults (or five, at a squeeze), while the luggage compartment can swallow a useful 370 litres, or up to 1478 litres with the rear seats folded flat. Thankfully, Renault SA has included a full-size spare wheel, too.
The cabin is rather well laid out, with soft-touch materials in all the right places (and the nastier plastics well hidden). The seven-inch TFT digital instrument cluster is a particular highlight, and is accompanied by smart LED gauges indicating the fuel level and engine temperature. The infotainment system on top-spec models, meanwhile, is manipulated via a relatively intuitive touchscreen sited in the centre of the dash.
The entry-level Expression variant is exceptionally well equipped, and comes with cruise control, manual air-conditioning, electrically adjustable side-mirrors, electric windows, a height-adjustable driver's seat, tyre-pressure sensors, rear parking sensors, an audio system (with USB), and Bluetooth. It must, however, make do with 16-inch steel wheels (although 17-inch alloys are available for the added cost of R6000).
Dynamique models, meanwhile, add roof-rails, 17-inch alloys, automatic LED headlights, chrome-effect strips along the doors, fog-lights (with a cornering functionality), darker rear windows, the touchscreen system mentioned above, TomTom navigation, leather treatment for the steering wheel and gear-lever, automatic dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, a smart "hands-free" key-card, parking sensors front and rear, and a second USB port.
Safety features across the range include six airbags, traction control, hill-start assist, IsoFix child-seat anchors, and the usual slew of three-letter initialisms. Dynamique models can furthermore be optionally fitted with a self-park package for R10 000, which also features a reversing camera, blind-spot warning, and side parking sensors.
This impressive standard specification, naturally, comes at a price. The base petrol model comes in at R359 900, its better-specced petrol sibling at R384 900, and the diesel all-wheel drive model at R449 900. That means the Kadjar can't quite undercut the Qashqai line-up (which admittedly doesn't feature quite as much standard kit), which kicks off at an attractive R299 900.
That said, when pitted against the likes of the new Hyundai Tucson, the popular Ford Kuga, the recently refreshed Toyota RAV4, and the vastly underrated Mazda CX-5, the Spanish-built Renault Kadjar appears to be fairly competitively priced.
On first impressions, the Kadjar is at least as polished a product as its Qashqai cousin (and arguably better looking, too), and appears to stand up well against the other rivals mentioned above. Will it help Renault SA grab a hefty slice of the lucrative compact crossover pie?
Well, South Africans have finally accepted the Renault brand back into their lives, with the French automaker selling a whopping 20 022 vehicles on our shores in 2015, marking its best year ever (after a strong 2014, too). Indeed, the Clio, Sandero, Duster, and Captur are all gamely contributing to this remarkable growth in what has become a tough market.
And, although the Kadjar isn't quite as simple a name to pronounce as the monikers of its stablemates, this curvy newcomer looks certain to help expand Renault's growing local market share even further. No matter how you say it.
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See page two for specs and pricing.