First Drive: 2015 Renault Kadjar [Review]

The Kadjar benefits from Nissan\'s expertise in building off-roaders and Renault\'s time-honed ability to design a great family car.

Europe, the last bastion of the station wagon, is slowly getting invaded by crossovers. Even companies that have never dabbled in off-roaders are scrambling to put a car platform on silts and drop a rugged-looking body on it in a bid to lure buyers into showrooms. The crossover market on the other side of the pond has grown by a tenfold over the past few years.

Introduced at the Geneva Motor Show last March, the Kadjar is the second part of Renault's three-pronged crossover offensive. The attack began in 2013 with the launch of the popular Captur, which is aimed at the Nissan Juke, and it will end next year when the slow-selling Koleos - which currently straddles two segments - is replaced by a true full-size crossover capable of seating seven passengers.

As expected, the Kadjar features a familiar look that perfectly falls in line with the design language that has characterized all new Renaults over the past few years. It looks like a smaller version of the Captur, and the two soft-roaders share a number of styling cues including an upright Renault emblem underlined by a thin U-shaped piece of chrome trim, sharp swept-back headlights, C-shaped LED daytime running lights, horizontal tail lamps and a discreet trunk-mounted spoiler. Black plastic trim on the rocker panels, the wheel arches and the lower bumpers hint at the Kadjar's off-roader aspirations. Generally speaking crossover buyers will likely never go off the beaten path, but they unanimously want something that looks like it can climb a mountain.

Specifications sheetThe Kadjar rides on the same Common Module Family (CMF) platform as the new fifth-gen Renault Espace, the Nissan Qashqai and the Nissan Rogue, which is sold as the X-Trail on the Old Continent. It stretches 175 inches long, 72 inches wide and 63 inches tall, dimensions that make it roughly the same size as the Honda CR-V.

Buyers can pick from one of three engines. The entry-level unit is a gasoline-burning 1.2-liter TCe four-cylinder that makes 130 horsepower 5,500 rpm and 151 lb-ft. of torque at 2,000 rpm. Next up is Renault's ubiquitous 1.5-liter dCi turbodiesel four-banger that generates 110 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and 191 lb-ft. of torque at 1,750 rpm. Finally, the range-topping mill is an evolution of the dCi tuned to deliver 130 horsepower at 4,000 rpm and a generous 236 lb-ft. of twist at 1,750 rpm.

The gasoline-burning engine is exclusively available with front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission. The 110-horsepower dCi is front-wheel drive only and it can be linked to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch, and the 130-horsepower dCi is manual-only but buyers can choose either front- or four-wheel drive. Still with us?

The Kadjar borrows roughly 60 percent of its mechanical components with the aforementioned Qashqai, but Renault is quick to point out that over 95 percent of the parts that buyers see and touch (so body panels, stalks, switches, seats and so forth) are brand-specific.

Life AboardHorizontal lines on the dashboard emphasize the crossover's width and create a welcomed sense of space. It's not just an impression, either, the Kadjar is surprisingly roomy both up front and out back, we could drive across Europe in it and not feel bad for the rear passengers. For the most part the materials are top-notch and the interior feels like it's pretty well screwed together, the effort that Renault put into building a premium crossover has paid off. In that regard Renault hit the nail right on the head: Crossover shoppers expect to find certain niceties in the cabin, if they didn't they'd buy a Lada Niva and call it a day.

All models regardless of trim level come standard with a seven-inch digital instrument cluster that can be configured to provide a long list of details about the car and its surroundings. On 4x4 models, the instrument cluster even tells you how much of the engine's grunt is being sent to each axle and it features a power meter with gauges for both horsepower and torque.

That's the tip of the iceberg, too. Renault has loaded the Kadjar with electronic driving aids such as parking sensors on both ends, a rear-view camera, a blind spot monitoring system and traffic sign recognition technology, just to name a few, making it one of the most tech-savvy models in its segment. The crossover can theoretically park itself, too, thanks to Renault's Easy Park Assist system but we don't recommend using the feature unless you have a few minutes to spare. It takes less time to learn how to parallel park like a pro than to wait for the Kadjar to figure it out, and once it has finally maneuvered into the spot there's no guarantee it'll actually drive out.

Renault's new touch screen-based R-Link 2 infotainment system is available on nearly every trim level. It's noticeably faster and more intuitive than the last-gen software but there's still a little bit of a learning curve involved. It's a lot more user-friendly than Opel's infotainment system but it's not as straight-forward as, say, Volkswagen's software.

On the roadSimply put, the 1.2-liter gasoline-burning engine is too small for a vehicle that weighs nearly 3,000 pounds, it just doesn't generate enough torque. Renault claims it can reach 62 mph from a stop in 10.1 seconds but the best we managed to pull off was about 14.5 seconds. Luckily, the automaker tells us a 160-horsepower engine coming in the near future.

On the other hand, the 130-horsepower oil-burner is a marvel of an engine, a time-tested unit that has powered literally millions of Renault, Dacia, Nissan and even Mercedes-Benz models. The generous amount of low-end torque makes the Kadjar feel downright peppy in spite of its rather large dimensions - by European standards, at least - and the six-speed manual is well adapted to its torque band.

The steering is responsive and less assisted than you'd expect, and the suspension does a good job of keeping both body roll and road imperfections in check. Engineers weren't gunning for the X1, but they wanted to avoid creating a numb, artificial driving experience and they've pulled it off.

The Nissan-sourced 4x4 system can automatically send up to 50 percent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels if it detects the front wheels lose grip. It's not a permanent system - the Kadjar is two-wheel drive only in normal driving conditions, and four-wheel drive is only available at speeds of up to about 25 mph - but it helps the crossover go further off the beaten path than your average station wagon. We took it through the sand dunes on the shores of the Mediterranean with no issues whatsoever.

Leftlane's bottom lineThe Kadjar benefits from both Nissan's expertise in building off-roaders and Renault's time-honed ability to design a great station wagon. It ticks many of the right boxes: it's spacious, it's well built and even base models are generously equipped. Just avoid the gas engine, and don't wait for it to park itself.

Photos by Ronan Glon.

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