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First drive: 2023 Renault Austral. Image by Renault.

First drive: 2023 Renault Austral
The long-awaited Kadjar replacement brings extra tech and a new hybrid system, but can it match the class leaders?

   



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2023 Renault Austral

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After the Kadjar failed to win hearts and minds, Renault has been a little slow to get back into the family SUV market. But now it's back with the new Austral, a hybrid SUV that aims to right all that was wrong with the Kadjar. But the market is moving fast, so will the new Renault have what it takes to challenge established and competent rivals?

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2022 E-Tech Full Hybrid 200 Esprit Alpine
Price: TBC
Engine: 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and two-motor hybrid system
Transmission: 15-combination multi-mode automatic, front-wheel drive
Battery: 2kWh
Power: 199hp
Torque: 205Nm (petrol engine alone)
Emissions: 109g/km
Economy: 56.5-61.4mpg
0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
Top speed: 109mph
Boot space: 430 litres

Styling

The Austral's exterior styling isn't especially inspiring, but then nor is it especially ugly. Renault has given it a slightly less rounded look than the Kadjar, making it look more modern, but it still appears a touch generic. Only the C-shaped lights and the massive Renault grille really set it apart. Unless, of course, you choose an Esprit Alpine version such as this, which comes with Alpine badging and bigger alloy wheels for that slightly sportier look. The difference isn't night and day, but it does look a bit more imposing.

Interior

Where the Austral arguably excels is in the cabin, where you'll find a massive toucshcreen infotainment system and a digital instrument cluster, as well as a column-mounted gear selector. That has freed up space for a sliding centre console lid with an arm rest on top, giving us decidedly 747 thrust lever-esque vibes. It's a shame the gear lever isn't integrated into that, but there you have it. That's really our only complaint, because the rest of it is all pretty good. Quality is decent, and more than a match for the Nissan Qashqai, while the touchscreen is brilliant. Using Google technology, rather than a Renault operating system, it's intuitive and slick. And despite its capabilities, Renault has refused to integrate the climate control system altogether, leaving physical buttons with which to change the temperature. Hurrah!

Practicality

The other big advantage of the Austral is its practicality. The luggage bay might look a tad small on paper, but that's because of the rear seats that slide fore and aft, allowing you to trade rear legroom for boot space. That might sound like a troublesome balancing act, but don't fret, because the Austral's rear legroom is never less than sufficient, but it can be very generous. And having that flexibility will doubtless appeal to some customers.

Performance

Although European customers get a choice of engines, UK drivers can only choose one powertrain for the Austral. That's the 1.2-litre hybrid system, which teams a three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with two electric motors to drive the front wheels alone. The combination provides 199hp and uses a complicated 15-configuration multi-mode transmission that, as far as the driver is concerned, works like any other automatic. Officially, 0-62mph takes around 8.5 seconds and it'll cover about 60 miles on a gallon of petrol, giving the Austral ample performance and economy. But the most impressive thing is the refinement, which is so strong it's often hard to tell whether the engine is running or not. And even when the engine clearly is running, the three-cylinder motor produces a more pleasant sound than most four-cylinder equivalents.

Ride & Handling

Although all-wheel-drive is not an option on the Austral at present, our test car came with something called 4Control. That's a four-wheel steering system that can turn the back wheels up to five degrees in either direction, allowing more manoeuvrability or improved stability, depending on the car's speed. The result is incredibly sharp steering that will take some getting used to, but it makes the car feel nimble and agile. The steering feel is lacking, and that prevents the Austral from being one of the best driver's SUVs around, but it's more enjoyable than most.

Sadly, the car is less comfortable on the road as a result, with the suspension picking out bumps even in relatively smooth European roads. Admittedly, our test car's 20-inch wheels may not have helped, but cars equipped with 4Control get more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension that should make the Austral more comfortable than its siblings that are fitted with a more conventional torsion beam set-up.

Value

Renault is yet to confirm prices for the new Austral, but we expect it to cost roughly the same as the hybrid Kia Sportage, which comes in at around 35,000. Confirmation is expected any day now. What we do know, however, is that the Austral will be offered with a choice of three trim levels, including the new Esprit Alpine and Esprit Alpine Plus options, which promote Renault's tie-up with the Alpine F1 team. Both new trim levels benefit from sporty styling and will replace the R.S. Line models in the Renault stable.

Verdict

The Austral is definitely an improvement on the old Kadjar, with better tech and a better cabin, as well as a more distinctive design, but then that isn't saying very much. The long and short of it is the Austral still can't beat some of the class leaders, but it is at least at home among the chasing pack.



James Fossdyke - 19 Jan 2023



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2022 Renault Austral. Image by Renault.2022 Renault Austral. Image by Renault.2022 Renault Austral. Image by Renault.2022 Renault Austral. Image by Renault.2022 Renault Austral. Image by Renault.

2022 Renault Austral. Image by Renault.2022 Renault Austral. Image by Renault.2022 Renault Austral. Image by Renault.2022 Renault Austral. Image by Renault.







 

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