The ‘new’ Renault Koleos receives a face-lift, two new powertrain options, and a reduced price. Does this make it a compelling proposition? We test drove the new Koleos for a day to bring you this SUV review.
Renault India is emotional about the Koleos. It’s a product that the company believes has the potential to sell in decent numbers, and the premium SUV segment is one which the company feels has yet to achieve the kind of significance it deserves, but that it has potential. So, Renault India has persevered with the Koleos.
Design & Engineering
The design changes to car are largely to do with the front grille and the Renault logo. A common joke in advertising agencies is about clients demanding to ‘make the logo larger’. In the case of the Koleos, this approach actually works.
The grille receives extensions on either side, with eyelets that meet the headlamps, and the three horizontal chrome bars in the grille are slightly longer as well.
There are no other design changes to the car otherwise. The Koleos’ styling does not excite, and it does not have the panache of the new Honda CR-V or the Santa Fe for example, and neither can it carry off the butch look of the Toyota Fortuner or the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport. The rounded corners give it a slightly frumpy image. Maybe we’re getting used to more angular, aggressive designs, which the Koleos is not. In Renault’s own words, this is an ‘elegant SUV’. Which, to be honest, sounds oxymoronic, no?
One big change is the addition of two new variants; a 4x2 manual and 4x4 automatic join the range, which previously consisted of only the 4x4 automatic. The 2.0 dCi diesel engine has been tweaked to make more power and torque as well. However, the 4x2 MT variant still has 150 PS and 320 Nm, the same as previously, while the two new 4x4 versions get the more powerful 173 PS and 360 Nm version.
The 4x4 variants come with additional equipment like hill start assist as well. Hill descent control is also available on both the manual and automatic 4x4 variants.
Interiors & Comfort
If the outsides of the Koleos felt a little dated, the interiors convince you that the design thought of this car is about a generation old. The dashboard appears plain jane, and the dot matrix display atop the dashboard does appear old school to the retina display smartphone generation. The round vents with their silver accents and teardrop extensions to the edges of the dashboard do not look nice to me. Of course, design is always subjective, and so one person’s taste needn’t be a make or break deal for a potential customer.
Rear seat splits and folds flat too, providing great versatility; rear AC vents are on the B-pillar; 'secret' stowage area in the rear footwell on either side; placement of switches is a little awkward
The control panels for the climate control and stereo are on the centre console, as you would expect t find them, with the buttons for the hill descent control and 4-wheel drive selector below. The start/stop button is tucked away on the bottom of the centre console as well. Ergonomically, this is not the ideal solution.
The 4x4 Koleos gets a Bose stereo, which has 4 speakers, 2 tweeters and something called a ‘twiddler’, matched to a subwoofer in the boot and a dedicated amplifier. The system supports most musical formats and has connection ports for USB and iPod as well. The 4x2 Koleos has a simpler Arkamys stereo with 4 speakers and 2 tweeters, but no subwoofer or amplifier.
What Koleos customers will appreciate is the cooled glovebox, a very useful feature in India, particularly in the summer months for obvious reasons.
Rear seat in Renault Koleos has good space and comfortable seating for three adults.
The Koleos has 5 seats, and provides comfortable seating for all five passengers. Even the middle passenger in the rear seat can be comfortably accommodated, and this gives the Koleos a slight edge over other vehicles in this segment. The front seats are almost like arm chairs, providing great comfort. Now, even the front passenger seat is power-adjustable.
Performance & Handling
Koleos has three driving modes - 4x4 Auto, which automatically sends the requisite torque to each wheel, 4x4 lock, which continuously engages all-wheel drive, and 2WD, which disengages the rear axle, driving the Koleos through the front wheels only.
Like we mentioned earlier, the Koleos’ 2.0-litre Renault dCi engine has received a few tweaks. Power has jumped from 150 to 173 PS, while torque has increased from 320 to 360 Nm. We drove the Koleos 4x4 AT version, which has a six-speed automatic gearbox. The somnambulant gearbox is what makes the Koleos feel slow, which it isn’t. Shifts, either up or down, are done in a leisurely fashion. In order to ensure good fuel efficiency, the software has been tuned such that the Koleos resists kicking-down urgently, even when you bury your right foot. It’s best to use the manual over-ride, and shift the gears manually, a bit like a clutch-less manual. The engine itself is a gem – smooth and refined with good punch and linear power delivery. I’d love to get behind the wheel of a manual Koleos 4x4, but until then I’ll have to whet my appetite with the automatic.
The Koleos has good throttle response, but is limited by a lazy gearbox.
The Koleos steers surprisingly well, and although it has some body roll, it never feels like a handful. Renault’s engineers have given the Koleos well-judged responses, and while it doesn’t excite, it doesn’t disappoint. The steering weighs up logically as speed increases, and it changes direction from side to side well. We took it off the beaten path, so to speak, and helped churn up the grass in a fallow field, and the Koleos proved game for this exercise.
Don’t forget its car-like underpinnings though, and even with four-wheel drive, do not try any arduous off-roading in it.
What is to Renault’s advantage is the easy-to-use nature and light controls of the Koleos, which will appeal to urbane customers who want the image of an SUV, but are deterred by their reputation of being heavy and cumbersome to drive.
Refined, powerful and frugal too, the Renault 2.0 dCi is a great engine.
Where the Koleos makes a strong case for itself, in this segment particularly, is that it is diesel-powered. The Honda CR-V, which is another 5-seat soft-roader, is petrol powered, although it is similarly-priced. For the three versions of the new Renault Koleos, these are the ARAI-certified figures:
Koleos 4x2 MT – 17.15
Koleos 4x4 MT – 16.26
Koleos 4x4 AT – 14.56
These are figures which will appeal to customers, and the running costs of the Koleos will give it an edge over the competition. Traditionally, we’ve found Renault’s dCi range to be exceedingly fuel efficient.
Split tailgate aids both utility and versatility, and is a segment-first.
All variants of the Koleos are available with ABS and EBD, along with two airbags as standard equipment. The 4x4 versions however, add side and curtain airbags and ESP too, along with hill-start assist and hill descent control. In fact, thus equipped, the Renault Koleos has received a maximum 5-star safety rating from Euro NCAP.
So, where do we go from here? Renault India is certain it can make the Koleos a success, and on the face of it, there’s no reason why it can’t. This car, or SUV if you like, is comfortable to sit in, easy to drive, has a great stereo and has a top safety rating too. Let’s not forget the good fuel efficiency will make it economical to run as well.
But the challenge for Renault now is to market it well. There’s no single USP for the Koleos, unlike its stable-mate Duster, which answered a pressing need of the market when it launched.
The Koleos is not a me-too product; if you had to compare it to diesel SUVs, then you would need to look at the Chevrolet Captiva or the Hyundai Santa Fe, both of which are bigger, with 5+2 seats. They’re more expensive as well. One can’t really compare the Koleos to old-school SUVs such as the Toyota Fortuner, Ford Endeavour and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport either, which are more rugged and quite a bit heavier. In that sense, the Renault Koleos is in a class of one, as a monocoque diesel soft-roader in the Indian market.
But is that of relevance to the Indian consumer? Now that is the challenge for Renault India’s marketing team. The Koleos has its strengths, but then we stumble once again at the ‘elegant SUV’ bit. Is this what the Indian SUV buyer wants?
Hyundai Santa Fe, Chevrolet Captiva, Toyota Fortuner, Honda CR-V