Renault – New lease of life

The Kadjar was getting a bit overlooked with so much competition from all fronts. Nothing a great new engine could not fix.

I had booked the new Dacia Duster with Renault’s press department and was looking forward to driving it and see if it was a legitimate heir to the original, a resounding success on European shores since its launch a decade ago.

I was very upset, then, when the call came saying a colleague had mixed the return date of ‘my’ Duster and we had to postpone the test. “Would you like a new Kadjar instead?” – they offered. “Not really” – I said – “what’s so new about it?”

Turns out not much, but a fresh TCe engine with 140 horse power. Well okay, it seemed reason enough, so I took it. And man did I like this engine. Punchy, gutsy and a lot more exciting than I could possibly have expected.

However, first things first: what’s new besides that new engine? Well, like I said, not that much, especially on the outside. Some styling tweaks have made the Kadjar a bit more aesthetically appealing, but mainly it now seems a more premium product.

It’s actually quite curious, because at first you barely notice something has changed, but put the new car next to the old one and the changes start to appear very clearly, and they make a lot of sense. The lower sections of the car – both front and rear – have been redesigned, there’s a new grille and a lot more chrome.

However, the real changes, the ones that elevate this Renault, are not on the outside. If the body now looks a bit more premium, the cabin is a massive step forward. New rotary controls for the climate system exude quality, whereas the new touchscreen houses Renault’s latest development of its R-Link 2 infotainment, now even more intuitive and with more functions than you will ever realistically use.

Materials have also been massively improved, as well as fit and finish. The seats are miles better than before. Overall, the interior of the Kadjar now looks and feels from a segment above. Owners will be proud ones.

So, what about that engine? Well, it’s really, I mean really, good. And even better with the manual gearbox ‘my’ press car came with – the six speeder was slick and precise, making the best out of the torque band of the small 1.332cc turbocharged unit (nerd fact: you can also get this engine in the new Mercedes A-Class, although it feels faster in the Renault. Mind you, I don’t know why).

In its 140 horse power state of tune, this downsized, Renault-built powerplant is fantastic. Revvy, punchy, gutsy, always willing to go for it and in perfect tandem with the manual transmission, I loved every second behind the wheel. After a couple of hours of having fun in a front-wheel drive SUV, I also realised something else: the rest of the car was not letting the engine down.

The Kadjar corners with confidence, understeer is only a problem if you push it beyond what it was built to do and the chassis copes nicely with all kinds of roads, sudden direction changes and even hard braking. Of course, the high centre of gravity means there is a little bit of roll, but hey, I don’t see SUV lovers complaining.

Not being one of those, I was truly surprised by how good this particular Kadjar was and cannot stress enough how this is absolutely the engine to go for if you are on the market for one. Add the manual ‘box and you are in for a treat.

The Kadjar was first launched in 2015 but only arrived in Portugal in 2017, due to our stupid toll system that made it Class 2. To overcome that, Renault had to develop a specific car for our market and it came with only one engine, gearbox and FWD option.

Now though, the Kadjar is available with two choices of the TCe petrol engine I drove, one with 140 hp, the other with 160 hp and tow diesels, a smaller 1.5 producing 115 hp and the top of the line 1.7 making 150 hp. The EDC seven-speed double-clutch gearbox is optional on all engines.

The good news is the best engine for the Kadjar, the 1.3 TCe 140 FAP I drove, is also the cheapest, beginning at just under €28,000. Now that is a fair price for a car that has come of age and is now a serious competitor to that evil twin called the Nissan Cashcow – pardon me, the Qashqai. I know which one I would prefer.

Vive la France.

By Guilherme Marques