The renaulution of the French group, announced by CEO Luca di Meo, starts with small steps. One is the Kadjar successor named Austral. It comes with four hybrid drive variants, a comfortable chassis and optional four-wheel steering.
Revolutions are often accompanied by name changes, as in this case: Kadjar becomes Austral, the two-syllable artificial word becomes the Latin word for “southern”. It should sound more emotional and authentic, and the name is internationally understandable and easy to pronounce. Lovers of neat alliteration should also be happy that the Kadjar successor can share the first letter with sister model Arkana. Despite very similar proportions, the Austral is based on the larger CMD-CD platform it shares with the Nissan Qashqai.
Enough of the preamble, get in the car. The top version E-Tech Full Hybrid 200 (from 40,400 euros) is available for a first pinch, the other engine variants with mild hybrid will be handed in later, they say. The top version alone is interesting enough. A 1.2-litre three-cylinder 131 hp engine works together with two electric motors, which together generate 50 kW (68 hp). In this way, 147 kW or 200 hp of system power come together. Where Renault goes its own way when it comes to power transmission: the so-called multimode transmission is also used here. Entire bachelor’s theses in mechanical engineering could probably be written about its function and its subtleties, so just this here: it offers a total of 15 gear ratios, resulting from two gears for the electric drives and four gears for the internal combustion engine. The transmission does not require a clutch because the vehicle is always driven off electrically. And it doesn’t need synchronization for shifting, because the starter generator (the smaller of the two electric motors) uses 400-volt technology to make the flywheel and gears at the right speeds at lightning speed. The whole is compactly packed like a gear with the drive e-machine and the starter generator. The electrical energy is stored in a 1.7 kWh lithium-ion battery.
Three-cylinder holds back acoustically
But how does the new drive drive? Largely inconspicuous, so the impression on the first kilometers. The three-cylinder is acoustically restrained, switching the combustion engine on and off is very smooth, as is changing the gear ratios – similar to the other Renault drives with multi-mode transmission. In addition, the drive is well on the gas, it becomes more emphatic and louder when switching to sport mode, but exaggerated sportiness is not his thing. The driving process cannot be influenced manually, the selector lever offers the familiar driving positions D and B (automatic maximum recovery), and the recovery can also be fine-tuned in four stages using the two paddles behind the steering wheel.
One of the peculiarities of the Renault powertrain is that it allows for both serial and parallel hybrid operation. Five driving modes are available, from pure electric driving through the various combinations of electric and combustion engine to pure recuperation mode. The best part is that the occupants hardly notice it. The howling of the petrol engine at high load, which is so noticeable in some other hybrid systems, is also captured here in a very faint form. Only when things get hectic and the accelerator pedal is pressed very hard does the drive get a little tangled before it has properly sorted its straight gear ratios including the three engines and continues seamlessly. So it fits. Although the promised 200 hp are not exactly of the exuberant breed.
All wheel controls on board
Also new in the Austral is the further developed four-wheel steering. The rear wheels can now steer up to five degrees in opposite directions, giving the Austral an almost unrivaled tight turning circle of 10.1 metres. With a car just 4.5 meters long, that may not be the top priority, but the 4Control Advanced (1,500 euros extra, only for the more advanced equipment) can do more: from 50 km/h the rear wheels can, depending on steer the driving conditions and mode up to one degree with the front wheels, which is beneficial for maneuverability and driving stability. The Austral seems willing to corner even when driving fast, steers neatly, barely understeers and remains very stable. The safe handling was not bought by too tight tuning of the suspension elements – on the contrary. The Austral springs up smoothly, handles even coarser suggestions skillfully and doesn’t even give rise to the desire for adaptive chassis elements.
Well-being is also the order of the day in the extremely high-quality interior. The pursuit of high processing and material quality is recognizable everywhere, so that the Austral makes a very well-kept impression at first glance. The space looks opulent, the rear seats can be folded in two parts and moved 16 centimeters, making the new Renault also suitable as a family SUV. The operation is essentially the same as with the Elektro-Mégane. For the front occupants, 0.07 square meters of screen stretches out, but there are also some shortcuts that can quickly access frequently used functions.
The massive handle on the center console, modeled after airplane thrust levers, causes some irritation. It is in no way used to activate acceleration functions, but only to slide the storage compartment open and closed and as a wrist rest when touching the large screen. The gear lever is hidden on the steering column between the wiper lever and the volume control.
What else is there to say about the Austral? It comes with 32 different driver assistance systems, quite a few of which are standard on board, LED units light up front and back and the price list starts at 29,900 euros (Mild Hybrid 140). So it can certainly become something with the revolution at Renault.
Very well done. Embodies wanderlust and is therefore a good match for an SUV.
failed. How do you pronounce it – with or without the “s”?
With a smooth handling, a comfortable and agile chassis, a reserved pricing and plenty of space, the new Renault pleases during the first test drive. We are already looking forward to the first comparative tests with the compact SUV competition.