From £26,4957

It may look like a replacement for the ageing Kadjar, but all is not what it seems

The one sure-fire way to create a best-in-class car is to invent a whole new class of car altogether.

The original Mercedes CLS did it as a four-door coupé; the Nissan Juke did it as a B-segment SUV; and those are just two obvious examples. Now, if you’re looking for a crossover-coupé with a slice of added desirability that’s bigger than the B-segment but not quite big enough for the C-segment, along comes the Renault Arkana.

Arkana rides on the platform of the smaller Captur and has the Renault family face but is much longer and gets a sloping coupé-like roofline

Few people will define their next smaller family car in quite such specific terms, of course, and if you’re not that fussed about the Arkana’s sloping-roof SUV styling, you have many alternatives to choose from. Cars like the aforementioned Nissan Juke and Renault’s own Renault Captur will be cheaper, but they give up some interior room. Up the budget by a few thousand pounds and you can get into a more upmarket SUV like a Hyundai Tucson or Nissan Qashqai.

To find out whether it represents a new ideal compromise of outright size and interior space for the crossover breed, or is just a muddle of disparate cues and inf luences, the Arkana now undergoes our full road test. At the same time, we find out whether the E-Tech hybrid powertrain works as well as a full hybrid as it did in plug-in hybrid form in the Mégane we tested last month.

The Arkana line-up at a glance

Renault says the Arkana is its first car with an all-hybrid line-up. While the E-Tech reviewed here is very much a hybrid, the 1.3 TCe has been a staple of Renault’s engine line-ups for years. In the Arkana, it benefits from some mild-hybrid assistance and is exclusively available with an EDC dual-clutch automatic. Both versions can be had in one of three trims: Iconic, S-Edition and RS Line.

Advertisement
Back to top

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Renault Arkana

DESIGN & STYLING

2 Renault Arkana 2021 road test review hero side

The Arkana may have a familiar Renault family face but its side profile is less recognisable and distinctive. As more than one tester observed, there are clear hints of BMW X4 to its looks from certain angles.

Its origin story only adds to the confusion. Renault has sold an Arkana model in Russia since 2019, and while that car looks very similar on the outside to the one we get, its more Dacia-grade interior betrays the fact that it was based on the older Dacia Duster platform.

Black roof is a £300 option, but the C-pillar is always body coloured, so the effect is much less dramatic than some of the two-tone paint options on other cars that create a ‘floating’ roof look.

‘Our’ Arkana is in fact a stretched Renault Captur underneath. And as a result of its more modern platform and fresher component set, the European Arkana should ride and handle with reasonable sophistication. It uses a torsion beam rear axle just as the current Captur and Renault Clio do, which might discourage some, but that fact doesn’t prevent those sibling cars from competing dynamically at the top of their respective classes.

Given the Arkana’s relationship with the smaller Captur, you might expect it to be built alongside its sibling model in Valladolid, Spain. However, it is instead manufactured by Renault-Samsung in Busan, South Korea, where it has been marketed as the Samsung XM3 since last year. In case you’re wondering, Samsung Motors did indeed start out as the automotive division of the electronics giant, which still holds shares in the motor company, but most of the firm was acquired by Renault only a few years after being created.

The engine line-up also deviates from that of its platform relation, with just two powertrains on offer. The 138bhp 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine is a familiar unit from other Renault and Mercedes models, but it has mild- hybrid assistance in the Arkana. The emphasis here is on mild, though, as it is only a 12V system that powers the ancillaries when the engine is off.

Our road test car is the E-Tech Hybrid 145, which uses a full-hybrid version of Renault’s latest electrified powertrain. A naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine is paired with one big electric motor, one smaller unit acting as a starter-generator and a four-speed unsynchronised gearbox without a conventional clutch.

The engine is put into neutral in order to be decoupled from the rest of drivetrain, so the car always sets off on electric power. To ensure there is enough battery to do so, the engine can run the generator while in neutral. Meanwhile, to make gearchanges possible, the gearbox has dog clutches instead of synchromesh, while the electric starter-generator can speed up, slow down and otherwise align the crankshaft in order to match revs and allow the gears to engage smoothly.

Renault’s full-hybrid E-Tech has a less powerful main electric drive motor than its plug-in hybrid version (48bhp versus 64bhp) and a 1.2kWh drive battery instead of 9.8kWh.

INTERIOR

9 Renault Arkana 2021 road test review cabin

The Arkana’s association with the Renault Captur is most apparent inside, where the dashboard looks very similar. However, even in the mid-spec S-Edition of our test car, the Arkana loses some of the quirky features that make the Captur stand out. Instead of the soft-touch inserts in the dashboard, it gets a taller trim panel that looks like engine-turned aluminium at a glance but is just glossy plastic. The Arkana doesn’t have the Captur’s floating centre console, either, even though its auto-only gearbox layout doesn’t need the space underneath for a gear linkage.

There’s some evidence of cost-cutting around the interior, too. For example, the gear selector’s ‘PRNDB’ icons aren’t backlit, which means you occasionally find yourself in the wrong gear when driving after dark. Some areas, such as the centre armrest cubby, feel particularly cheap. Most of the touchpoints are covered in leather, though, and the design is contemporary, making the Arkana’s perceived quality at least respectable by crossover standards. Even so, you don’t expect a car that’s bigger and more expensive than the Captur to feel like a step down in quality, however slight.

Physical heating and ventilation controls work great, but blank switches are a missed opportunity for some infotainment shortcuts

At least it is a good deal more spacious. The cabin doesn’t feel much wider than a Captur’s, but rear leg room is generous even by the standards of bigger crossover SUVs, with the Arkana offering more than both the Nissan Qashqai and the Hyundai Tucson.

The abundance of space continues in the boot, which not only has a square shape and a flat floor with a low loading lip, but is also very roomy, easily beating some mid-sized SUVs for length and width. Outright boot volume is about the same as that of a Qashqai, and although the load space isn’t as high as in other SUVs, forgoing the optional spacesaver spare wheel that our test car had will liberate extra storage under the floor.

The sloping tailgate eats into rear head room a bit, but its steepest drop starts just behind the rear headrests, so head room is not a big issue. That roofline does make rear visibility quite poor, though: the rear headrests easily block most of your view through the rear-view mirror when they’re up. To make matters worse, Renault has also decided not to give the Arkana a rear wiper, so rainwater can just sit on the rear screen.

Infotainment and sat-nav

The cheapest Arkana, in Iconic trim, comes with a 7.0in touchscreen and Renault’s latest Easy Link system, as well as wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. RS Line and S-Edition trims, like our test car, get a 9.3in display. Renault has never been a leader in in-car digital tech, but once you get used to some of the latest system’s quirks, it works quite well.

The volume is adjusted by touchscreen buttons so, as a driver, you default to the media stalk behind the steering wheel that has been common on Renaults since the 1990s. Some more physical shortcut buttons would have been welcome, but you can switch between smartphone mirroring and the native interface on the fly by using a button that pops up on top of the main screen.

There are plenty of device charging ports, with a 12V socket and two USB-A ports in front, and two more in the back. There is no option for wireless charging, though.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

21 Renault Arkana 2021 road test review engine

We found plenty to like about Renault’s E-Tech system as a plug-in hybrid in the Mégane, but even though it’s largely the same system in the full-hybrid Arkana, it doesn’t work quite as well. The engine is the same 93bhp 1.6-litre atmospheric unit, but the electric motor has 18bhp less. You might imagine that 150kg of less mass than the Mégane PHEV would more than make up for that shortfall in the Arkana’s case, but in practice the crossover is considerably slower.

On a damp track, it managed a 0-62mph time of 11.6sec, which is 0.8sec off the quoted figure. That’s not desperately slow, but nevertheless disappointing given the power-to-weight ratio. It’s a good second off the Mégane’s time, too, and you can feel the compromise on performance in day-to-day usage.

Renault says that one of the benefits of the E-Tech hybrid system is its compactness, but the Arkana’s engine bay looks quite tightly packaged, with the 1.6-litre petrol and the hybrid electronics squeezed in there.

When merging onto a motorway or exiting a busy junction, the Arkana’s petrol engine is quite likely to pipe up. The car also tends to hold onto lower gear ratios for longer when accelerating, which doesn’t do much for the car’s refinement.

During more gentle motoring, though, you appreciate how smoothly the powertrain switches between electric power, petrol power and using the engine as a generator – to the point that you generally don’t know what’s going on under the bonnet. Indeed, it has no rev counter or any way to control the gearsmanually. Particularly in town, there is plenty of electrically assisted punch available, while on the open road power usually feels at least sufficient in normal everyday driving.

As with many full hybrids, there is an EV driving mode button, but with a 1.2kWh battery it doesn’t get you very far. Nor is the Arkana remotely quick or even easily drivable with just 48bhp in zero-emissions mode. It’s much better to leave the systems to work out where and when to shut off the engine. There’s also a ‘B’ mode on the gear selector, which ups the regenerative braking, but it stops short of enabling one-pedal driving.

RIDE & HANDLING

22 Renault Arkana 2021 road test review on road front

No one expects a crossover hatch to be an engaging driver’s car, but Renault has imbued the Arkana with a certain handling precision and balance, and a general sense of responsiveness. The steering is appropriately geared, at 2.6 turns lock to lock, has a natural if relatively light weight and responds in a linear fashion. The 215-section Kumho tyres provide decent grip and the car is agile enough for you to navigate through town or steer down a twisty B-road with confidence.

When pushed on the Millbrook Hill Route, the Arkana displayed livelier handling than many of its peers, arcing occasionally into the beginnings of lift-off oversteer in slippery test conditions. The car’s attitude is safely but somewhat clumsily reined in by the stability control system, of course, and most drivers will never notice the tendency in any case. However, much as it might give an unwary driver a scare if they misjudge a motorway off-ramp, the car’s apparent sense of chassis balance and its preference for understated poise over benign numbness is pleasing to find. P

Arkana offers a keener driver more dynamic appeal on a sinuous B-road than many of its rivals can muster but its cruising comfort and urban agility will be greater draws.

ulling to a stop on a damp surface, the Arkana performed better than the Kia Niro Hybrid and Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, taking just 56.7m to come to a halt from 70mph, and 3.07sec to stop from 60mph. It did so perfectly undramatically, too.

Moreover, the unnervingly soft and long-travel, drive-by-wire brake pedal we found in the Mégane E-Tech is not an issue on the Arkana. Instead, it feels firm and reassuring enough and it’s easier to modulate, allowing you to come to a stop smoothly.

Ride comfort and isolation

Any car with a high centre of gravity and a modicum of driver appeal needs fairly stiffly tuned suspension and the Arkana is no exception. It doesn’t ride bumps with the same serenity as more typical crossover SUVs. Again, it finds itself caught somewhat between two classes: compared with some smaller crossovers, its comfort levels seem absolutely fine; but compared with more polished, rounded and grown-up cars like the Nissan Qashqai and Toyota C-HR, its ride seems a little animated and, at times, a bit noisy and crashy.

The Arkana won’t remind you of the days of so many smooth-riding mainstream French cars, then, but at least Renault still does an admirable job with its noise insulation. As you might expect, the car is particularly quiet at town speeds since it can switch to EV mode and cut out engine noise. But at higher cruising speeds, when the engine has to help out, it remains a fairly hushed car to drive. Even at maximum acceleration at 90mph, cabin noise is a few decibels below that of rivals. That said, when it’s working at high revs for anything above moderate acceleration, the engine noise does put a dent in the car’s overall subjective refinement, even if the impact doesn’t show up too much in our objective cabin noise measurements.

The seats also help to make the Arkana a pleasant long-distance cruiser. Although they are upholstered in a fairly ordinary black cloth, and they lack adjustable lumbar support, cushion angle or cushion length, they prove quite comfortable thanks to soft padding. The driving position and range of adjustment for the steering column are fine, but the car doesn’t go the extra mile and offer the wide range of configurability that some Volkswagen Group rivals do.

One slightly unusual design decision is that even in its lowest position, the driver’s seat is set fairly high; but the roof is relatively low. Unless you’re 6ft 7in, it’s unlikely to be a problem, but it does give the Arkana a less spacious feel than you might expect from a relatively tall car.

Assisted driving notes

Most of the active safety features that we’re starting to expect, even on cheaper cars, are available on the Arkana, although some are optional extras. All models get autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning with lane keeping assistance, but adaptive cruise control is standard on only S-Edition and RS Line and it lacks stop and go functionality and lane centring unless you cough up an extra £350.

Our car only had adaptive cruise control, which governed the speed predictably and smoothly, and didn’t get caught out by vehicles in adjacent lanes. Traffic sign recognition, which clocks prevailing posted speed limits, is included, but it doesn’t interact with the cruise control.

The lane departure warning can be set to one of three sensitivities and activates only above 44mph, which makes it unobtrusive in daily use. If that is still too much, there is a physical button to turn it off. Blindspot warning is also included on S-Edition and worked well.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Renault Arkana 2021 road test review hero front

During its time with us, the Arkana returned 50.8mpg in mixed use. That’s 10mpg better than a Renault Captur with the 1.3 TCe – an engine that’s also available in the Arkana – but only marginally better than we got from the cheaper and faster but smaller Kia Niro Hybrid. The Arkana has its drive battery under the boot floor, so it retains a 50-litre tank, which gives it a healthy range of 550 miles.

Consistent with its design make-up, the Arkana finds itself between two segments on price, too. In mid-spec S-Edition trim, like our test car, it starts at £28,600. That’s about £3000 more than hybrid versions of B-segment crossovers like the Toyota Yaris Cross and Captur E-Tech, and about £3000 less than C-segment hybrid SUVs such as the Hyundai Tucson.

Arkana E-Tech should hold its value relatively well. It’s tipped to be better than the Kia Niro and similar to the Hyundai Tucson.

If you can compromise on fuel economy, similar money to the Arkana will buy a well-equipped conventional petrol version of those larger SUVs, which should also deliver a more authoritative driving experience. These price differences are ref lected in relative personal finance rates as well.

There is a lot of indirect competition for the Arkana, then, but few rivals offer quite the same blend of space, value and fuel efficiency – except for a diesel-powered alternative, that is. Although 50mpg is impressive, the shrinking number of diesel alternatives will also achieve it for similar money, and with less mechanical complexity.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Renault Arkana

VERDICT

24 Renault Arkana 2021 road test review static

At first glance, the Arkana seems like an only partially successful attempt at making a trendy crossover-coupé – because, in its design, interior quality levels and performance, the car fails to particularly stand out.

It possesses reasonably pointy handling for a high-riding, versatility-minded car, but it sacrifices some ride comfort in the process. Its infotainment is decent yet nothing more, and its equipment specification reserves some useful safety features for pricier trims only.

The Arkana tries so hard to stand out with its pseudo-BMW X4 styling but ends up looking quite ordinary to my eyes. It isn’t as practical, but for looks alone I’ll take a Toyota C-HR, please.

But with the Arkana, Renault is doing something that Skoda has been specialising in for years: taking a platform from one class and building a car around it that offers usable space that’s competitive for the one above, as well as a fairly attractive price.

Judged in that light, the Arkana looks a little more attractive, with generous luggage space and rear seat room, good long-distance comfort and impressive economy achieved using an innovative and fairly slick hybrid system. Ironically, considering its design positioning, the Arkana makes better sense as a rational purchase than an emotional one, but it’s much more of a muddle than a landmark moment.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Renault Arkana

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Renault Arkana First drives