What is it?
The mid-size crossover segment is now one of the most fiercely contested around, with half of the UK’s most popular cars now sitting in this market. Key names include the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, and there’s now a new kid on the block – the Renault Austral.
It replaces the quite-forgettable Kadjar, but with a bold design, the latest technology and a new hybrid powertrain, does it have what it takes?
Design is everything at Renault, and the Austral certainly stands out with its patterned grille, big alloy wheels and wraparound C-shaped lighting – a staple of this Renault firm.
Inside, the Austral is certainly one of the most high-tech models in this class. Following the lead of the new Megane E-Tech, its touchscreen, dials and head-up display are all powered by Google, with in-built features including Google Maps and Assistant voice recognition.
Almost every car in Renault’s UK line-up is now electrified, and the Austral follows this path by only being sold as a hybrid, which we’ll come to shortly.
What’s under the bonnet?
Though Renault could have taken its existing hybrid powertrain, used in cars like the Clio and Arkana, it’s started from scratch with the setup in the Austral.
Using a turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine and electric motor, the combined output is 197bhp and 205Nm of torque. That allows the Austral to accelerate from 0-60mph in 8.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 108mph. Drive is delivered exclusively to the front wheels, which might seem a touch confusing when you notice the ‘4Control’ badges. But the Austral isn’t four-wheel-drive, but instead features a clever four-wheel-steering system on top-spec models.
But the real advantage of this hybrid setup is its fuel efficiency. Renault claims 57.7mpg and 110g/km CO2 emissions – very impressive figures for a non-plug-in vehicle of this type.
What’s it like to drive?
While buyers might choose SUVs for their ‘rugged’ looks, many of these vehicles spend their time around towns and cities. It’s here where the Austral comes into its element. The four-wheel-steering means this Renault has a significantly shorter turning circle than its rivals, and makes it very easy to manoeuvre – three-point turns could be a thing of the past. Around town, the hybrid system is able to run for the majority of the time as an ‘EV’, with the engine quickly able to recharge the battery when it does start up.
The ride on the top-spec Esprit Alpine test car is disappointing, however, with the huge 20-inch alloy wheels not helping. We’d hope things would improve if you opt for the standard car that uses 19-inch alloy wheels. The hybrid system isn’t the most resolved, either, occasionally being unpleasantly noisy as the car works out which ratio is best. The brakes on our test car also felt vague, though the regenerative braking (controlled by paddles on the steering wheel) is well executed.
How does it look?
This mid-size SUV class is so brimmed with options that standing out is quite difficult. But we reckon the Renault Austral manages it. Of course, a car’s styling will always be subjective, but we believe this French firm has nailed the design.
Renault’s trademark C-shaped LED lights give it plenty of presence, while the intricately patterned grille and new Renault logo are both welcome touches. The contrasting red metallic paint and black roof on our test car looked great as well. One thing we’re not so keen on is the use of Alpine’s branding to be used so liberally. This firm, an offshoot of Renault, is known for its lightweight sports cars, and it doesn’t quite sit right seeing Alpine badges on a not-particularly-sporty hybrid crossover like this.
What’s it like inside?
One area where it’s hard to complain about the Austral is its interior. The huge Google-powered 12-inch touchscreen is, without doubt, one of the best fitted to any car. It’s slick, brimmed with features yet still easy to use. Physical climate buttons are also welcome, as Renault could have easily just integrated them into the system, and to its detriment.
The material quality is generally excellent as well, with this top-spec Esprit Alpine version getting various Alcantara elements, including on the door cards, steering wheel and seats. The huge glass roof also helps to flood the cabin with light, and it all helps to give the Austral a particularly premium feel. It certainly has a better interior than a Nissan Qashqai.
In terms of practicality, the Austral has enough rear seat space for adults, with the glass roof not compromising headroom. The boot measures a useful 555 litres, though the upgraded sound system does dig into the underfloor area.
What’s the spec like?
Regardless of which Austral you go for, it comes with a long list of equipment. Highlights include all-around parking sensors, Matrix LED headlights, a head-up display and the impressive 12-inch touchscreen. The mid-range Techno Esprit Alpine gets an electric boot, heated front seats and big 20-inch alloy wheels. Right at the top of the range, the Iconic Esprit Alpine model brings four-wheel steering, a 360-degree camera system, a glass roof and a Harman Kardon sound system.
Renault certainly has a competitive offering on its hands with the Austral. Its design and impressive interior are good enough reasons on their own to make you consider it, but when you consider the generous equipment levels and impressive fuel economy, it adds to the appeal.
Though the noisy hybrid setup and brittle ride prevent this from taking class honours, if you can live with these negatives, the Austral is worth a look.
Facts at a glance:
Model: Renault Austral
Model as tested: Renault Austral Esprit Alpine E-Tech
Powertrain: 1.2-litre petrol-electric hybrid
0-60mph: 8.2 seconds
Max speed: 108mph
CO2 emissions: 110g/km