From £26,395
Renault has set out to democratise the coupé-SUV. Is this endeavour a worthy one?

Why we ran it: To discover whether this chic new coupé-SUV has the substance to back up its obvious style

Month 3Month 2 Month 1 - Prices and specs

Life with a Renault Arkana: Month 3

New French crossover is lovely to look at, but what was it like to live with? We reveal all - 23 March 2022

As a footnote to the Arkana brochure, Renault likens the car to its R16 of the 1960s. Styled by Philippe Charbonneaux, this groundbreaking family car mated the practicality of a hatchback (a pioneering concept then) with an upmarket look and feel that wasn’t something buyers had come to expect from the brand.

Though the Arkana is similar to its distant relative in being a ‘crossover’ – this time between coupé and SUV rather than saloon and estate car – even the most partisan Renault enthusiast would struggle to argue that it is breaking any new ground. And in stark contrast to the flexible and capacious R16, it gives you the odd sense of a large car that seems to shrink as you climb aboard. That’s a legacy of the Arkana being in essence a stretched Captur, rather than based on the larger Kadjar SUV. It is particularly obvious up front, where the narrow cabin has you rubbing shoulders with your passengers.

Not that the rear seats are that generous, either. I act regularly as a school-run taxi and, although they are happy enough with the leg room, the kids complain about the Renault’s ‘bumpy’ ride and recessed seatbelt buckles that make them a pain to clunk-click. And 12-year-old Anna – who is admittedly tall for her age – finds herself grazing her head on the sharply tapering roofline when she is lumbered with the middle seat.

That jarring ride only really settles once you’re up to speed: around town it’s restless at best, downright uncomfortable at worst over speed humps and larger potholes, but on the motorway it feels more settled and composed. You might reasonably expect the pay-off to come when the going gets twisty, and the Arkana is undoubtedly competent on a country lane for what is a relatively tall car. It’s grippy and confident, with little body roll living up to the ‘sporty SUV’ sales patter, but the seats lack lateral support and, due to the inert steering, it’s hardly dripping with driver appeal.

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The real let-down, however, is the drivetrain. Sensibly enough, the hybrid set-up tends to favour the 48bhp electric motor, and when fully charged it feels alert off the line, smooth and refined. But its 1.2kWh battery is rapidly exhausted in EV mode, at which point the 93bhp 1.6-litre normally aspirated petrol engine kicks in, often with a scream, regardless of what speed you are doing. As a result, you can find yourself tickling along at 15-20mph around town with the engine revving its heart out as if you’ve forgotten to change out of first. And with no manual operation for the six-speed automatic transmission, you simply have to wait until it has done its work and disengages with a gentle clunk.

On the motorway, it’s a similar story: with just 109lb ft of torque, the petrol engine struggles at speed (the 107mph maximum is 20mph below that of the TCe 140 mild hybrid), so you find yourself settling for 65mph in an effort to boost refinement. In fact, this is a car that encourages you to adjust your driving style, always doing your best to maximise battery use by dropping to ‘B’ mode on the transmission down hills for extra regenerative braking and using feather-light throttle inputs to avoid engaging the engine. Here, the stylish instrument binnacle is great, with clear messaging to help you know where the power is coming from and going to. In spite of my efforts, however, fuel consumption wasn’t exactly startling – and our testing revealed the on-board computer was over-reading by around 2-4mpg.

Many of the Renault’s flaws are easy to forgive when you get out and take a look at it. Although clearly Captur-based – the front end in particular is very similar – it has a chic character all of its own, and must rank among the most stylish attempts yet at the slightly incongruous combination of coupé and SUV.

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It’s also stylish on the inside and remarkably generously equipped. There’s an excellent 9.3in central touchscreen and ambient lighting that can be personalised (although the kids were irked that it doesn’t extend to the back), plus the automated systems are both extensive and effective. There are automatic lights, wipers, blindspot warnings, climate and cruise control, traffic sign recognition, lane keeping and a rear cross-traffic alert – which, like the front collision sensor, is slightly oversensitive. In fact, it’s so well equipped that the options list consists of only nine items, and the only one I found myself wishing I’d ticked was the £250 Winter Pack that adds heated seats and steering wheel.

I did choose the £250 spacesaver spare and this along with the hybrid battery gubbins combined to rob my car of the TCe 140’s additional 28 litres of underf loor boot storage: boot space might prove a problem if you’re a family that struggles to pack light. The high load lip and raked roofline mean it feels smaller than its advertised 480 litres, and even with the seats folded (giving a 1263-litre maximum), I was frustrated by the lack of capacity for weekly runs to restock the local food bank.

The R16 would be spinning in its scrapyard at such a lack of practicality, but the Arkana does at least follow its ancestor in pushing Renault into a premium sector that gives the brand a new desirability: it’s a car that turns heads and generates admiring glances in a way few from the marque have done in recent years. Its job is to get you through the doors of the dealership, and in that respect it is well and truly fit for purpose.

Second Opinion

The Arkana is stunning on the outside and the interior looks decent, too, but the economy is disappointing, especially around town, and the engine feels pretty inadequate on all routes, with not much go. I was quite shocked by the lack of refinement and the ride is no better than okay, plus rearward vision is a disaster.

Jim Holder

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Love it:

Clever cruising The automated systems impress, in particular the responsive and accurate adaptive cruise control.

I can see clearly now The Google-supported nav is intuitive and iPad-style central screen clear and well positioned.

Loathe it:

Inexplicable omission Not fitting a rear wiper was a bizarre decision, making already poor rear visibility even worse.

Reverse Tardis It’s big on the outside, but the Arkana feels narrow and compact from within, particularly up front.

Noisy progress The way the powertrain switches between electric and petrol power is intrusive.

Final mileage: 4533

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Cold in all the wrong places - 23 February 2022

The spec of my Arkana’s S-Edition trim is confusing. On one hand, you get impressive features such as the effective adaptive cruise control, but on the other, there are some glaring omissions. The recent cold snap highlighted the lack of heating for the seats, wheel or windscreen – all things you’d expect on a Korean rival at this price – but at least the heater is quick to warm up, if very noisy.

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Mileage: 3535

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Festive run to Wales gives our fashionable Renault a leg stretch - 9 February 2022

Having spent most of its time in recent months on commuting duties or tackling local runs under semi-lockdown conditions, the Arkana relished the chance to stretch its legs as a holiday shuttle with a lengthy cross-country trip to Wales over Christmas.

Beginning with an escape from London’s Christmas Eve Eve traffic and a rush up the A1 in time for a dinner date with friends, the plan was then to continue across to the West Midlands to pick up grandparents and their luggage ahead of a chauffeur’s challenge to drive as smoothly as possible to the middle of Wales – and finally the homeward journey on the M40.

The Renault’s E-Tech petrol- electric drivetrain promised to soak up the miles efficiently and the cabin had just the right amount of space for the family and their Christmas luggage, but unfortunately the planned serene and quiet progress proved difficult to deliver in full. The supportive seats are great for the driver but, with their broader life experience, my passengers complained that they had apparently enjoyed softer chairs in the past – an impression not aided by the stiff springs keeping the Arkana’s body in a constant state of fidget.

But most frustrating was the way the quiet electric motor was regularly interrupted by an exaggerated howl from its 1.6-litre petrol partner on uphill sections. In fact, the engine felt pretty inadequate on most routes: it doesn’t have a huge amount of go, with 142bhp and 148lb ft, but nor is it terribly smooth... or even particularly economical. With a feather-light right foot, you can just about slink it along in all-electric mode for a limited period, but you do really have to try.

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The windscreen wipers, too, while impressively quiet, were slightly erratic in their intermittent setting and proved unprepared for the changeable rains in Wales. And while we’re on the subject of wipers, the omission of a rear wiper on a hatchback-style body such as this just seems a bizarre decision. Rearward visibility isn’t great anyway, and in the wet the rear screen quickly covers with grime, so you have to rely almost completely on the door mirrors (or the rear camera when reversing).

That said, it always felt safe and secure on damp Tarmac, which is crucial whenever combining the words ‘grandmother’ and ‘mountain roads’.

And on arrival, family members young and old agreed the Arkana looks stunning. Even the hard- to-please kids adored it, although they were disappointed to be told that it was a Renault, which at least shows that it’s punching above its weight in terms of badge kudos.

The interior, too, gets plenty of admiration with its cheerful colours (although they don’t extend to the back) and that great-looking large portrait-style touchscreen, which gives it a real flash of modernity.

In the dark, the headlights are powerful and the automatic main/ dipped beam switching works well, while the night mode for the infotainment system reduces interior glare effectively. And, those earlier gripes aside, it’s a remarkably easy car to live with, from the simple and logical climate control to that excellent rear camera and intuitive parking sensors front and rear.

For a holiday that’s always more stressful than I expect, the Renault proved a relaxing companion.

Love it:

Infotainment screen That it’s able to group the map, media and phone together clearly and also turn to black for night driving is neat and considered.

Loathe it:

Drivetrain Over-sharp brake pedal, long- winded gearchange and frenetic petrol-engine behaviour upset what could be a composed car.

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Mileage: 3294

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Life with a Renault Arkana: Month 2

Keep your head down, boys - 26 January 2022

With a car as overtly ‘styled’ as the Arkana, you have to accept a few sacrifices in terms of practicality. On paper, its 480-litre boot sounds decent, but with an optional spacesaver spare wheel, the floor can’t be dropped, and the rakish roofline minimises height. Even my fairly small dogs have to duck when I shut the lid, and the bulky solid cover is a pain to stow.

Mileage: 2948

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Life with a Renault Arkana: Month 1

Wheely good homage - 19 January 2022

The Arkana’s ‘Pasadena’ alloys, standard fit on the S-Edition, look great and I thought they felt familiar. Then I realised why: they are nearly identical to the aftermarket Momo Vega rims favoured by Alfa Romeo Spider owners in the 1970s. Even more surprising than that Italian influence is that they are wrapped not in the expected Michelin tyres but a set of 215/55 R18 Kumhos.

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Mileage: 1408

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Welcoming the Arkana to the fleet - 22 December 2021

When a new niche forms in the car market, it doesn’t always turn into a firm foothold. Remember the Suzuki X-90 of the mid-1990s? It’s the perfect example: who would have thought that the world was crying out for a two-seat, targa-topped 4x4? It wasn’t, of course, and thankfully that particular new avenue for the automotive industry turned out to be a cul-de-sac. Yet the idea of a sportier body shape combined with the raised underpinnings of an off-road vehicle has refused to go away.

The BMW X6 of 2007 was the first to truly make a success of the coupé-SUV concept, despite many at the time (me included) expressing bewilderment at the idea of buying a practical car with much of its practicality taken away. But of course there’s a lot more to choosing a new car than how much junk you can fit in the trunk, and coupé-SUVs quickly became a serious statement of style – and wealth, often sitting at or near the top of their makers’ price lists.

The new Renault Arkana, however, does things a bit differently. For a start, it looks fantastic, easily being the prettiest coupé-SUV yet (to my eyes, at least). Then there’s the price: with the range starting from £25,300 (or £1000 more for the more powerful E-Tech 145), it’s hardly a budget buy, but nor is it in the premium (for which read pricey) bracket that most of this genre occupy. And finally, as Renault proudly trumpets, it avoids being tarred with the profligate gas-guzzler brush by being the brand’s first all-hybrid range – even if that positive message should be tempered slightly by pointing out that the entry-level TCe 140 is only a 48V mild hybrid that can’t run on electric power alone.

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Our range-topping E-Tech 145 musters only 3bhp more than that model but can boast a proper hybrid drivetrain, with its 48bhp electric motor (plus a second, smaller one for starting and regeneration) and a 1.2kWh drive battery. That means a certain quantity of EV driving around town, when this powertrain is at its refined best – so much so that you find yourself wishing it were a plug-in hybrid to give it a bit more potential electric-only range. (The amount of spare space under the boot floor suggests that Renault might just have a similar idea, so we will be watching that space with interest.)

Running in tandem with the electric motor is Renault’s 93bhp naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, and these two drive units are hooked up to a clever four-speed transmission that’s able to isolate the engine from the driven (front) wheels, allowing it to charge the battery via internal combustion even when you’re trickling along.

This is great in theory but does result in a few odd looks when you’re trundling down the high street on battery power and the engine suddenly fires up and starts thrashing away at high revs, giving the impression that you’re either stuck in first or suffering from some almighty clutch slip.

Drive around this quirk, though, and the system performs pretty seamlessly most of the time. Clear messaging on the dashboard helps you monitor the battery charge level and give it a boost when necessary by dropping the gear selector into regenerative ‘B’ mode on hills to aid your subsequent progress on the flat.

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This isn’t immediately obvious to the untrained eye, but the Arkana is based on not the mid-sized Renault Kadjar SUV but the compact Renault Captur. (Once you know, though, there’s no missing the clear similarity in the front-end styling.) And that does result in a big car with a curiously small-car feel, with its narrow dimensions and slightly perched driving position.

However, the much-stretched wheelbase makes a huge difference to cabin space, with bags of leg room in the rear and decent head room, thanks to the diving rear roofline only really dropping steeply aft of the rear seats.

As well as the space, the kids are kept pretty happy by the number of powerpoints and the separate air- con controls back there – although it feels a bit cheap that the funky interior lighting, whose colour can be changed at the touch of a button, doesn’t stretch to the rear doors. 

At a glance, the boot looks to be a sensible shape and a decent size, although not exactly overgenerous. The combination of the (optional) spare wheel raising the floor and that sloping rear roof line means that the usable space is a long way off a conventional estate car – or indeed a conventional SUV.

Considering how often I need to carry a bootful, be it of dogs or family detritus, it remains to be seen whether I will be seduced by the Arkana’s style or be yearning to swap a bit of chic for boring practicality in the months ahead.

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Second Opinion

I like the looks of the Arkana but came away a bit underwhelmed. There are some nice trim touches, such as the panels on the dashboard and doors, but there are hard plastics lower down where you rest your knee and the space is badly packaged, so the boot is really disappointing.

Will Williams

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Renault Arkana E-Tech Hybrid 145 S Edition prices and specification

Prices: List price new £28,600 List price now £29,890 Price as tested £29,800

Options:Zanzibar Blue metallic paint £650, black roof £300, spacesaver spare wheel £250

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 58.9mpg Fuel tank 50 litres Test average 42.7mpg Test best 46.5mpg Test worst 38.1mpg Real-world range 470 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 10.8sec Top speed 107mph Engine 4 cyls in line, 1598cc, petrol, plus ISG and electric motor Max power 141bhp Max torque 109lb ft Transmission 6-speed automatic Boot capacity 480 litres Wheels 18in, alloy Tyres 215/55 R18 Kerb weight 1435kg

Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £328 CO2 109g/km Service costs none Other costs none Fuel costs £479.44 Running costs inc fuel £479.44 Cost per mile 13.8 pence Faults none

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Join the debate

Comments
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Add a comment…
catnip 30 March 2022

" ...the narrow cabin has you rubbing shoulders with your passengers."

Just how narrow is the interior of this thing? Or how wide are the people?

albert fig 27 March 2022

Built by Renault at its Russian factory near Moscow mainly for the Russian market, the suspension and handling would need to be improved for western markets.

Deliveries will probably be affected by the temporary closure of the factory.

 

streaky 26 March 2022

From the above it would appear that this car has not been properly developed; a poor ride and the strange behaviour of the engine cutting in and revving its big ends off would ensure that I would never begin to consider it.  Although not as soft as those of the 16 and 5, Renault was one of the last to persevere with nice supple rides, flying in the face of the fatuous fixation of "sportiness" exhibited by most other makes, and I have always liked most of its cars for that reason.  I hope this one is just a momentary aberation and better Renaults are to come.