Renault’s Kadjar 1.6dci is an exciting soft roader
When I was young, cell phones had been out only a few short years. We followed the influx of new models with intense focus. First it was MMS capability – sending images and videos, before the days when you could even record them with the same phone. Then it was the newest version of ‘Snake’, and colour screens. Later, phones had cameras, and pretty soon we were asking questions like ‘how many pixels’ and ‘can it survive a fall in the shower?’
Today, I look at the proliferation of cell phones on the market and barely blink. Our electronic leashes have become so similar that there are only a handful of things to differentiate them, mostly do with cost.
In a country with over 2,000 different car models, you’d be excused for feeling the same way when trying to pick a new wheeled companion. Even more so if you’re looking for an SUV.
You’re going to buy a soft-roader? A crossover, compact SUV – you know, one of the more-or-less capable ones that doesn’t require you to have a double volume garage and a personal oil field to own?
Welcome to one of the busiest segments of the market.
This means that two things are vital for manufacturers in this segment: cost, and attention to the package put together for buyers.
Recently, I drove a new addition to this segment on a long road trip to the Drakensberg – the Renault Kadjar. The 4×4 version tested comes at a price tag of R454 900 – the most expensive in a range of six choices.
The new Renault Kadjar is another addition to the family of vehicles produced on the shared Nissan-Renault modular platform, on which the Qashqai and X-Trail are also built.
It’s an exciting little soft-roader. We tested a bright red 1.6 litre DCI model. It goes up against the likes of the Toyota RAV4, which has done very well in sales since its reincarnation, as well as the Ford Kuga, Mazda CX5 and its Nissan cousin. Even when sitting in a parking lot during a pre-adventure breakfast, the Renault Kadjar was begging to be taken out and covered in a good layer of mountain dirt. That the Kadjar is attractive, inside and out, isn’t up for debate.
The specs we’ve come to expect in a modern day, half a million Rand car are all there:
The leather seats are comfortable, with heating on the front and plenty of space in the rear. Safety features include airbags, ABS, electronic stability control, emergency braking assistance and electronic brake distribution.
Now fairly standard for this price bracket, the Renault Kadjar has a touchscreen multimedia player with Bluetooth, USB, Aux, hands-free dialing and steering controls. The smart-SUV has rain and light sensors, hill start assist, park distance control, an eco-mode, cruise control and an electronic park brake.
The Renault Kadjar also has an intelligent all-wheel drive system, hence the somewhat incorrect 4×4 moniker. While off-road enthusiasts will point out that there’s no low-range gearbox, lockable differentials or stepped first gear, the system they’ve fitted to the newcomer is very similar in capability to that found in the trusted Nissan X-Trail. Drivers are given the option of sending power to the front two wheels only, or to all four wheels on an automatic torque distribution setting, or to additionally electronically lock the split of power evenly between the two axles. In the latter mode, you can drive up to about 40km/h until it disengages, and they’ve set it so that that the wheel spin regulation deactivates when the axles are locked.
As with most SUVs that have good ground clearance, and especially with diesel-powered soft-roaders, you can drive the Kadjar in front-wheel drive most of the time. On rocky and irregular gravel roads where grip in corners were a challenge, we set the Kadjar to ‘Auto’ to let the systems regulate torque distribution to all wheels, keeping a tight hold on the road. The ‘Lock’ function will only be needed when the road requires extra control – we used it for a descent on a rocky path that needed a slow pace and a good eye for off-roading. As with its X-Trail cousin, the Kadjar takes these more or less in its stride. While I wouldn’t take the Kadjar rock climbing, I’d have no qualms driving it through Namibia’s sandy rivers and long stretches of gravel roads for a holiday.
A welcome addition for buyers who want to use the all-wheel drive function is a tyre pressure monitoring system that alerts drivers to pressure loss immediately, allowing you to keep a close eye on levels when driving through tricky terrain. The 12V sockets both front and rear is also a welcome feature for adventurers, or even just families with a proliferation of gadgets that need charging.
The Renault Kadjar comes with a five-year or 150 000 kilometre mechanical warranty and a six-year anti-corrosion warranty, and carries up to 75 kg on the roof.
We took the Kadjar on exactly the kind of roads it was built for. Filled to the brim with five adventurers ready for a weekend of zip-lining, quad biking and hiking in the ‘berg, every corner of the Kadjar’s luggage hold was tightly packed with bags, braai wood, a sturdy potjie, Gluhwein ingredients and lots of winter adventure gear. We drove hours of wide open tar road, a few more of narrow Natal roads which only strictly qualify as ‘tarred’, some welcome well-graded dirt roads, and then a few fun sections of typical Drakensberg basalt rock.
Aimed largely at families, the Kadjar is a great long-haul holiday vehicle. The ride quality is comparable to other SUVs in its price range, with a lot of attention to reducing noise levels and increasing comfort inside the cabin. The Bluetooth multimedia system gives everyone in the car the ability to control the road trip tunes in turn, freeing the driver up to, well, drive. Cruise control is a standard we’ve come to expect, but one that would be sorely missed.
The push-to-start function (now also becoming common place across price ranges) makes for easy access regardless of how many things you’re juggling – be it last minute items before the trip or the whole crew’s ice creams at stops along the way.
The Kadjar carries five people, and that’s how we drove it for the entire adventure. Surprisingly, there was no jostling for the front seat, and passengers at the back were comfortable and suitably impressed with the legroom. Pockets of space behind the seats and in the doors meant nothing needed to be passed to the front passenger for safekeeping, and at stops, there was plenty of stowaway space for valuables to be kept out of sight. The seats are comfortable and deep, making a mid-trip nap an easy task for passengers.
The 2016 Renault Kadjar produces only 96kW of power, with torque figures looking more impressive on paper at a peak of 320 Nm. That said, the 1.6 DCI engine delivers all of its power without a struggle. The return trip, despite the elevation gain and full car, wasn’t laboured and used nearly same fuel as the trip down.
And, in general, fuel consumption on the Kadjar was impressive. The quoted consumption for a combined cycle – urban and open road – is 5.4 litres per 100 km.
Paired with a six-speed manual gearbox, the diesel engine is quiet in overdrive and punchy in lower gears. There’s little for the driver to do on the shifter during short trips in urban areas once the Kadjar is in third gear, making life easy on the left leg.
It’s easy on the eye, too, with a Renault family face and a slick design that’s somehow both fun and sophisticated. In Renault’s continued effort to overcome stereotypes about quality, the interior is soft-touch, seemingly durable and definitely fit for the price bracket it’s in.
If an equilibrium were to be reached in the South African car market where vehicles, much like the competitive phone market, are generally all a solid purchase with value for money specifications, then the Renault Kadjar would be a worthy addition to the mix. There are certainly more expensive badges to buy in the compact SUV segment, which will offer little (or indeed, nothing at all) more than what the baby-Renault gives, and will certainly not be nearly as exciting.