Does Renault’s compact-SUV make a case to dislodge the establishment? We test it to find out
What do we have here?
After the success of the Renault Captur, the French firm struck whilst the iron was hot and gave it a big brother, the Kadjar, a compact-SUV/crossover.
Part of its name (‘JAR’) meaning emerging from nowhere, which it certainly did, while the KAD stands for quad, as in four-wheel or a go anywhere vehicle. We’ll come on to that part.
It might be built on the same platform as the Nissan Qashqai, a good grounding granted but the resemblance stops there as the Kadjar really does get some striking fresh looks.
The headlights and grille could easily be a character from the film Avatar, with large and swept back headlights, a huge grille with a Renault diamond on the nose, plus LED daytime running lights. Lower body trim is finished in grey plastic cladding, while chrome and gloss treatment finishes off the front end.
Along the flanks, the low-level cladding continues but is offset with chrome highlights, there’s chrome window surrounds and anodised aluminium roof rails, all completed by the muscular reach wheel haunches.
At the rear, the plastic finish dominates the bumper, while a rear roof spoiler, attractive lights and large badge finish off the look.
It measures in at 4.45m long and 1.84 meters wide which is around 8cm longer and a bit wider than a Qashqai and has 190mm of ground clearance.
Available with a choice of two petrol and two diesel engines, you can pick between a 1.2-litre called TCe130 and a 1.6-litre called TCe165 under the petrol heading or a 1.5-litre called dCi110 and a 1.6-litre called dCi130 on the diesel front.
All engines come with a six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive, while all but the more powerful petrol gets the option of an auto. The petrol optional auto is a seven-speed dual-clutch while the entry-level diesel gets an optional six-speed dual-clutch and the top diesel version a CVT auto.
Only the most powerful diesel is offered with all-wheel drive which gets auto, lock and 2WD modes. So less of an SUV go anywhere offering than its name suggests for the majority of the range.
Pick from five trim levels, starting with Expression+, Dynamique Nav, Dynamique S Nav, Signature Nav and range topping Signature S Nav.
All models get a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system, air conditioning, Bluetooth and DAB radio.
Dynamique Nav adds 17in alloys, hands-free keycard, dual-zone climate, auto lights and wipers, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, automatic headlight beam adjustment, and R-Link 2 multimedia system including navigation and European mapping.
Dynamique S Nav further adds 19in diamond-cut alloys, front and rear parking sensors, part-leather upholstery, one-touch easy-folding rear bench and the multi-position boot floor.
Signature Nav brings full LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, painted front and rear skid plates, side and boot kick plates, and a BOSE eight-speaker sound system including a sub-woofer.
Signature Nav S finishes the range off with full black leather upholstery, electrically-adjustable driver’s seat height, heated front seats, hands-free parking, blind spot warning, rear parking camera and front and rear parking sensors.
Prices for the Kadjar start at £19,485 and rise to £29,365.
We’re testing the entry level 1.5-litre dCi 110 diesel engine with a six-speed manual gearbox in mid-range Dynamic S Nav trim, which costs £24,145. It’s called Dynamique S Nav dCi 110.
Our model has the optional Flame Red metallic paint and an emergency spare wheel, which adds £745 to the price.
How does it drive?
Performance in the entry-level diesel is hardly generous. A 0-62mph time of 11.9 seconds is rather stately and it never really feels quick off the line.
Get it up to speed and things are a little better although you’ll find yourself regularly swapping gears when wanting to speed up or when meeting steeper inclines.
The six-speed gearbox is pretty lazy by character. It has a long throw with a slow and sloppy action. It doesn’t want to be rushed.
Which tells the tale of how to best treat the Kadjar. It’s a cruiser. The ride is soft and comfortable, soaking up the worst the roads have to offer. Any slight bump that does come through is more likely to be down to the larger alloys on this model.
It makes for the Kadjar to be a brilliant long distance cruiser and well suited to motorway journeys.
That, however, doesn’t mean that it falls over through the bends. If not exactly entertaining to drive, it does hold the road well and contains most body lean through the twister stuff.
The steering lacks feel and is rather numb, again leaving you with little doubt that this isn’t there to battle the likes of the Ford Kuga or SEAT Ateca for SUV handling honours.
Overall visibility is decent. The front pillars are slightly larger particularly when looking to the passenger side, while the central pillars are quite petite. Over the shoulder is helped by the rear three-quarter window that reduces the impact of the thicker rear pillar.
What's it like inside?
What strikes you in the inside is the dominance of dark plastics. A few attempts have been made to help lift the cabin ambience with piano black trim down the centre, some satin chrome trim and leather wrapped door pulls and passenger grab handle.
The 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system is buried in a further sea of grey plastic with one home shortcut button and a power and volume dial. The screen is offset with the rest of the features and controls on the dash which looks awkward.
It also houses the button, rather randomly, for the lane departure warning. Furthermore, the on and off switch for the cruise control is between the seats with the electronic handbrake while the rest of the cruise control settings are on the steering wheel.
The instrument cluster is digital and neatly designed with one large central dial with speed, revs and a trip computer, while two subsidiary dials hug it from either side displaying engine temperature and fuel levels.
Cheap window controls which are already showing signs of scratching after just the 3500 miles that our test car had covered.
The seats are soft and spongy and a pump lever adjusts height while a second lever adjusts the backrest angle. On the inner side of the chair a third lever controls the lumbar support.
In the lowest setting, head room is very good while the steering wheel offers no more than decent reach and tilt adjustment.
The door features a well-sized door bin. There’s a large anti-slip tray ahead of the gear lever with two USB ports. Between the seats is an odd round hole (space for the all-wheel drive controller on other models) and two cupholders. While the central armrest opens to reveal a shallow tray, which lifts to expose a deep and cavernous storage bin underneath. The glovebox is a pretty decently sized.
In the rear, the seats are spongy and comfortable but rather upright, there’s good leg and knee room while the front chair fixings limit foot room.
There is a small transmission tunnel and plenty of leg and knee room along with ample head room for a middle seat passenger, however, those front chair fixings are where you want your feet to be.
It all feels a little dark and dominated by plastics while smaller children will struggle to see out of the high and rising window line.
The doors get a medium sized storage bin, there’s a small tray between the front seats and a fold down armrest with two cupholders.
The tailgate lip is quite high but has a flat loading threshold. It offers 472-litres of capacity which is more than a Qashqai (430-litres) but less than an Ateca (510-litres).
A retractable load cover keeps your belongings out of view, there are two side compartments and bag hooks.
The boot floor is split into three. The two largest sections at the front of the boot are adjustable panels, which aren’t fixed in place and can be individually lowered to deepen the boot. Wherever they are positioned they do restrict the lower boot floor from raising to unveil the spare wheel.
A lever either side releases the back rests 60/40 which leaves a level threshold to the boot floor but they don’t then lie flat.
On an official combined cycle the dCi 100 returns an impressive 72.4 mpg. However, over our circa 500 miles of testing, we achieved 57mpg, which is very respectable.
This model emits 103g/km of CO2 which means it falls in the 22% company car tax band.
The Kadjar range falls between insurance groups 14E to 18E depending on which specification you go for.
Every Kadjar comes with a four-year/100,000-mile warranty (unlimited in the first two years) and four years’ roadside rescue cover, which includes three years of Europe-wide assistance.
The Kadjar is one of the best riding, most comfortable SUVs on sale. It is refined and economical in this guise and it looks the part.
Saying that, it’s gearbox lets it down as does the plain design of the interior and excessive use of grey plastics.
A Ford Kuga and SEAT Ateca have it licked for driver involvement while a Peugeot 3008 runs it close for comfort but crushes it for interior design.