It looks a bit clumsy from some angles when parked on tarmac – I will concede that from the off. But let’s not judge the handbook by the cover. Is this, as Renault claim, a good combination of practical MPV and 4x4?
More often than not, the compromise of trying to do two things at once results in a car that does nothing well. They also tend to end up being ugly. If you have time, look up the Pontiac Aztek as a cracking example of really hideous design-by-committee compromises.
Fortunately Renault have just about avoided this mistake; most of the time the design works to portray itself as a friendly, young and flexible utility vehicle. Walking up to it, I noticed that it looks a lot more like a 4x4 than some of the press pictures suggest. You don’t sit as high as you do in a Range Rover or Land Rover, or even a Volvo XC90. But you are high enough. You can see over the estate cars and a long way down the road, which is one of the key things Mum’s on the school run like.
In heavy snow, I flicked on the 4x4 switch to give me peace of mind as much as anything. But every time I put the handbrake on it turned it off. Which is really annoying. If I wanted it turned off, I would have turned it off.
Looking at the MPV side of things, there are lots of nice touches and storage bins for every kind of comestible, including a chilled glove box and 500 ml bottle holder.
Half way through the week’s test, whilst the Koleos had done nothing particularly wrong, it hadn’t won me over either. True, there are high levels of equipment, including leather, electric windows and mirrors, heated seats, Sat Nav, CD player, air conditioning and parking sensors. But then, in this trim, it is over £20,000 when new.
I was in suburban Bracknell when the snow melted away, on exactly the kind of arterial road that makes up so much of the average school run, or work commute and that was when this car sold itself to me.
Taking a right hand fork at about 30 mph, I suddenly realised this is the first 4x4 I have driven that doesn’t roll in the corners. It turns in easily (unlike the heavy XC90) and maintains a steady poise (unlike my beloved Land Rovers). It is no mean feat to build a car that doesn’t roll when the centre of gravity is so high.
Unfortunately this egged me on to see how car like it really is. What I found is that the steering doesn’t really give much feel when going through quite fast, but tight corners. Essentially, that lovely light feel that makes parking and town driving so easy doesn’t gear up at speed, to give you the feedback you need to feel safe and in control. So it’s not, after all, a sports car.
But it didn’t matter, I had been convinced that this is the right family car for a huge chunk of young families: On the used market there are a healthy number of nearly new cars with less than 8,000 miles starting at £13,000. It is much better value than the premium 4x4s and lighter, easy to live with, in every way. It has a jovial spirit too – perhaps brought on by the glass roof on the test car.
I would confidently recommend it to friends with little ones, but for one thing.
I wasn’t going to mention the very high-biting clutch. But after a little hiccup I had, I wonder if the combination of light clutch (good thing) and electric handbrake (bad thing) has lead to it wearing very fast, which is why it is biting so high.
The hiccup was a hill start on the Pentonville road, which is a very steep hill. I went to pull away and didn’t quite have enough revs, so the car shuddered and in another car I would have still had hold of the handbrake. I would have pulled it up just long enough to hold the car while I adjusted the revs and pulled calmly away.
In the Renault, I had to find and jab the handbrake button, wait for it to fire the pump and put the brake on. In that time the car started to roll so I had to use the foot brake. Then, feeling pressure from traffic, leap back onto the accelerator and try again. I can’t quite articulate what an unnecessarily stressful flap this was. There is, on the top specs, an automatic uphill start assist function, but it didn’t come on for me. If only this car hand a handbrake it would be a really desirable family car.
As an alternative to small MPVs, it is a capable family car with lots of practicality and equipment built in. Plus it has car-like dynamics and 4x4 looks. If you are still not convinced, take a look at the terrific prices on the nearly new market.
Road test car details:
Renault Koleos Privilege dCi 175 4x4
Co2 g/km: 197
0-62: 9.9 secs
By: Matthew Tumbridge