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.
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.