Despite similar dimensions, Kadjar looks nothing like Qashqai

Despite similar dimensions, Kadjar looks nothing like Qashqai

View 2 related images

Having seen the enormous and ongoing success of the Qashqai in European markets, Renault has at last entered the segment which was more or less invented by its Alliance partner. 

The Kadjar could turn out to be a very big deal for Renault. The company is ramping up production of this new crossover at its Vallamuriel de Cerratos plant (also known as Palencia) towards an annual capacity of 100,000 units a year. This is obviously a lot less than what Sunderland has for Qashqai production. Remember though, this is Renault effectively entering the segment afresh, with the Koleos having been imported from Korea in only small numbers. 

Palencia, which also builds the Megane 4 as well as the three-door and estate versions of the Megane 3, saw new investment ahead of Kadjar production. This included spending on 70 new stamping tools for body parts, 250 robots for chassis manufacture, a new light booth in the paint shop for improved colour matching of metal body parts and plastic bumpers, and modifications to the assembly line for the Kadjar's larger dimensions compared to the Meganes. A third shift at Palencia is being added this month as Koleos production ramps up and Megane 4 build is added. 

This model won't only be built in Spain, though. DRAC, the Dongfeng Renault joint venture, will also build the Kadjar at the greenfield plant that's currently being erected in the city of Hubei. It will be the first product for Renault's big push into China, to be followed by a second generation of the Koleos crossover in late 2016. There will be one major difference between Koleos 1 and Koleos 2: size. This time it will be bigger and therefore closer to the Ford Edge rather than Kuga/Kadjar/Qashqai sized.

DRAC has an initial capacity of 150,000 vehicles per annum, which includes both Kadjar and Koleos 2 - it remains to be seen what the mix will eventually be. While these numbers don't seem too adventurous, bear in mind that Renault has much work to do just to get its brand recognised in China. So 2016 should be a year of building for the future, following the tiny number of registrations in 2015 from imported models such as the Captur. This small crossover, a big seller in Europe, is the main reason why Renault is investing so heavily in these sorts of vehicles. The company's range of SUVs and crossovers is one of the youngest and broadest of any European brand, consisting of the following, in size order:

  • Kwid (India-only for the moment)
  • Captur
  • Duster (a Dacia in Europe)
  • Scénic XMOD
  • Koleos
  • Kadjar
  • Koleos 2 (2016)
  • Espace

Give it a few years, and Renault's gradual shift away from traditional hatchbacks should have gained a fair bit of momentum. We've already seen this in the UK, where the Captur is a strong seller and is most of the reason why the brand's sales are up by 17% for the year to the end of September, in a market up by 7%. The Koleos was dropped a few years ago after it failed to live up to expectations, as was the Laguna. There won't be any right-hand drive production of the Talisman, the Laguna's replacement, but that suits Renault UK just fine.

The Kadjar is 4,449mm long so just the right size for a lot of private and fleet buyers, whereas the Laguna-replacing Talisman sedan and estate measure 4,850mm. That means it would have to compete in a segment where even the Passat, Insignia and Mondeo now struggle to make a strong impression against the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series. So, ever more crossovers and SUVs seems to be the thinking for Renault, which the British importer will be very happy about.

Being so closely based on the Qashqai, the Kadjar uses the Alliance's CMF C/D architecture. It comes to the British market unusually late with RHD build getting underway in August, and the ad campaign only now commencing. Cars for LHD European countries entered production in April, a few weeks after the model's public debut at the Geneva motor show.

About that name. Renault says the Kad part should be thought of as linking to 'quad'. This is supposed to represent a go-anywhere four wheel vehicle. As for the Jar, that's a reference to the French words 'agile' and 'jaillir'. OK, but what does that mean? Renault's marketing wizards say we should be thinking about agility and suddenly emerging from somewhere. There's more: "The sound and spelling of the name have an exotic feel which suggests adventure and discovering new horizons". We can mock, but probably best not to, especially as some of us wondered back in 2006 whether the seemingly unpronounceable name of Qashqai might condemn to failure what looked like a potential segment breaker.

In Britain, the new SUV is being launched with the choice of 18 variants. There is one petrol engine, the Energy TCe 130, which is a 1,197cc four-cylinder unit which produces 96kW/130hp and 205Nm of torque. Diesel choice includes an 81kW (110hp) 1,461cc engine, which comes in manual (Energy dCi 110) and dual clutch (Energy dCi EDC) forms. Its torque output is 260Nm. Like the petrol unit, these cars are front-wheel drive and all transmissions have six speeds. An EDC automatic option for the 1.2 petrol will be added in April next year.

There is one other diesel option, and this is the 1,598cc Energy dCi 130. Renault says its torque output of 320Nm makes it "unsuitable" for the EDC transmission so if you want the 96kW/130hp 1.6-litre diesel, it's six-speed manual or nothing. Incidentally, the only engine which can be ordered in combination with all-wheel drive is this one. 

Of the Kadjar's engine line-up, two units are manufactured at Valladolid, which is 50 km from Palencia. Two of the transmission options are also produced in Spain. These come from a plant in Seville.

The car has 190mm of ground clearance and approach/departure angles of 18/25 degrees. If you want the off-roading look, go for the Signature Nav model grade, as this brings with it painted front and rear skid plates and a stainless steel boot sill guard. 

Something else you have to pay for is one-touch folding rear seating. This is only standard on Dynamique S and above variants (base trim is called Expression+, then it's Dynamique Nav, Dynamique S Nav and Signature Nav). It releases and folds the 60/40 split back seats in one action. Behind them is a 478 cubic litres boot which can be expanded to as much as 1,478 litres depending on seating arrangements. 

These things do of course differ from person to person yet for my money, the Kadjar looks better than the Qashqai and most other rivals. The interior is also quite an improvement over smaller Renaults and the latest R-Link 2 navigation and infotainment systems works more intuitively than had been my experience in some versions of the outgoing Megane. 

Having been able to try several versions of the new model, I would recommend those powered by the dCi 130 1.6-litre engine. The lack of an automatic option and the additional roughly GBP2,000 notwithstanding, the extra 20hp power and additional 60Nm over the dCi 110 made this my favourite Kadjar. 

The CO2 averages might prevent some from paying up for the 130hp engine, but they're still competitive, at 117g/km (FWD) and 129 (AWD), even when compared to the 103g/km for the 110 engine. Interestingly enough, it's the same CO2 number whether you choose manual or EDC transmission with the 110hp unit. The best number of the whole range is 99g/km and that's for the 110hp diesel in Expression+ or Dynamique Nav model grades. 

If you look to what's been happening in France, Renault clearly has a hit on its hands with the Kadjar. This was the best selling SUV in September, notching up 2,766 registrations and overtaking the Dacia Duster. Year-to-date sales now total 10,698, placing it ahead of the Kangoo (8,427), Zoe (6,952 - yes, really, the car is a success in France), Espace (6,692), Laguna (4,181), Trafic (3,758), Koleos (3,043) and Latitude (58) but obviously behind the Clio (81,099), Captur (53,840), Scénic (35,624), Twingo (34,291) and Mégane (31,185).

Given the success the model is having elsewhere, plus its good looks, competitive pricing, strong CO2 and average consumption numbers, Renault UK's dealers must be understandably excited about having this new product. The Kadjar is unlikely to get anywhere near the Nissan Qashqai's sales in Britain but it certainly has the potential to outsell quite a few other, older crossovers in the segment. The first Kadjar deliveries are now taking place, and prices range from GBP17,995 to GBP26,295.