We drive Renault's facelifted family SUV in the UK to see if it's still competitive in a hotly contested sector

What is it?

A measure of how fiercely fought the C-segment SUV sector is now. Looking back barely four years ago to Renault launching the Renault Kadjar, it arrived on the scene with a small handful of true rivals.

Fast forward to 2019 and there are fresher-faced challengers on sale from Citroën, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Peugeot, Seat, Skoda, Toyota, Vauxhall and Volkswagen, to name just a few. This class is now where the family hatchback class was a decade ago: if you aren't selling one, you can't be considered a competitive mainstream brand. 

Given how much has changed since 2015, the facelifted Kadjar’s exterior look is so subtly tweaked, you’d have to be a serious Renault enthusiast to spot it. But then it’s still among the more elegant shapes in a sector hardly chock-full of design classics.

More important changes are found inside and, in particular, under the bonnet. The dash fascia gets new smart-looking and surprisingly premium-feeling rotary controls for the climate system, alongside a new touchscreen and some fresh materials. The car’s trim hierarchy has also been revised to make more sense to buyers. 

Beating the new Clio to market, the Kadjar is also the first Renault on sale sporting the new, Mercedes-shared 1.3-litre petrol engine in two states of tune. There’s a revised 1.5-litre diesel too, but it’s the former Renault has put forward for us to test here.

What's it like?

We’ll start with that new motor. And, unsurprisingly, our conclusion made last year on the international launch carries over onto British Tarmac. This is one of the better downsized turbo petrols around, and it’s the main dynamic highlight for the Kadjar.

While this unit finds a home in the Mercedes A-Class and the even lighter new Clio, it’s natural to take one glance at the Kadjar and conclude that 1.3 litres is not enough for it to perform with any kind of verve.  Yet it’s surprisingly punchy, even in entry-level 138bhp form.

Peak twist arrives from just 1600rpm, giving it a decently muscular feel from the off, and that urgency continues into the mid-range. When the mood takes you and you attempt to locate the rev limiter, it’ll zip towards it with a zest that is lacking in a number of similar powertrains. It’s no naturally aspirated screamer by any stretch, but it’s easily as good as it needs to be.

Like the VW Group’s now-ubiquitous 1.5-litre TSI unit, the 1.3 TCe combines peppy performance with strong refinement - certainly better than that offered with some of the three-cylinder turbo petrols in some rivals. MPG in the low 40s seems achievable without much effort, too. It’s just a shame that the Kadjar’s notchy, less-than-engaging manual shift erodes some of the enjoyment.

Enjoyment may be a bit strong; let’s not be under any illusion that a) any crossover or SUV is more dynamically capable than the hatchback on which it’s usually based, and b) most people buying these things care or notice about how it rides and handles. Nevertheless, there are good-to-drive SUVs, and there are those that are found wanting. The Kadjar falls in the middle of this pack.

There’s a clear comfort bias to the Renault’s set-up from the off - from the steering that lacks much sense of directness or connection to the front wheels, to the rather lax body control as you push its outer limits. That’s fine, even laudable, if the trade-off is a ride that cushions occupants from the worst our Tarmac has to offer.

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That’s certainly true once up to speed, where the Kadjar is smooth, settled and relatively quiet. But there’s more fidgeting and disturbance around town or on slower, tighter country lanes (which our car’s 19in wheels probably exacerbate) than the handling trade-off justifies; certainly more so than the Mégane on which it’s based. In this respect, SUVs such as the Mazda CX-5 and Skoda Karoq better blend the two dynamic qualities.

Elsewhere, the Kadjar is still competitive enough. The minor revisions to the interior have upped perceived quality, though not to a degree that we can call it a class-leading cabin. Those new rotary climate dials successfully mimic those of the Jaguar I-Pace and are pretty slick, but the touchscreen still isn’t all that responsive, is fiddly to operate on the move and is just a touch too small. 

We’ve got few complaints when it comes to passenger space and overall practicality, however. Two tall adults or three children will have no complaints about rear seat room, while the 527-litre boot is about where the class average is. 

Should I buy one?

The Kadjar’s ace card is its value for money in higher specs. Our S-Edition car gets a generous plethora of kit: LED headlights, sat-nav, panoramic roof, heated (faux) leather, a 360deg camera – the list goes on. Even base Play models are reasonably well-equipped, however.

All in, it makes the £30k-plus VW wants for a decently specced Volkswagen Tiguan look a bit rich. Admittedly, the Kadjar lacks that car’s more complete driving experience and air of class but, as an SUV to ferry the family about, you can do a lot worse.

You can still do better, however. The Tiguan’s cheaper siblings - the Skoda Karoq and Seat Ateca - are, simply put, more accomplished in most areas. Newer SUVs, such as the slightly pricier Peugeot 3008, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, also deserve a look in, particularly with a number of tempting private hire deals knocking about to make the list price hike redundant. 

Renault Kadjar S Edition TCe 140

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Where Berkshire, UK Price £23,595 On sale Now Engine 4 cyls, 1332cc, turbocharged, petrol Power 138bhp at 5000rpm Torque 177lb ft at 1600rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 1442kg Top speed 126mph 0-62mph 10.4sec Fuel economy 42.1-44.1mpg (WLTP) CO2tax band 136g/km, 27% Rivals Peugeot 3008Seat AtecaVolkswagen Tiguan

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Chapman23 12 August 2019

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Einarbb 22 February 2019

If it truly cost nearly 10K less

then that's clearly excellent reason to pick it ahead of a Volkswagen. 

catnip 22 February 2019

Rotary climate controls? What

Rotary climate controls? What a good idea!

Its nice to see some manufacturers actually thinking about basic driver safety, rather than appearances and following fashion.