Say hello to…
…Renault’s replacement for the Kadjar and sister car to the Nissan Qashqai. While many of the SUV’s underpinnings are shared with the Qashqai the Austral is far more than just a rebadged Nissan with significant powertrain and suspension changes as well as completely different styling and new interior systems.
Read FleetandLeasing.com’s review of the latest Qashqai in full hybrid form here, but the Renault Austral uses a 1.2-litre petrol engine plus electric motor set-up, but it’s been tuned for more power and greater efficiency.
Power is up 10hp to 200hp for the Austral and CO2 is down from 119g/km to 110g/km, although in some trim levels this can be as low as 105g/km. Fuel consumption is also improved with the Renault recording an official figure of 57.7mpg. However, despite the additional power, that efficiency has come at the expense of acceleration which is fractionally slower than the Qashqai at 8.4 seconds for the 0-62mph run.
Renault is keeping things simple with the Austral in terms of trim levels and engine choices. There’s only one engine option and three trim levels:
- Techno Espirit Alpine
- Iconic Espirit Alpine
Standard equipment on the Techno includes a 12.3-inch driver information display, lane keeping assist, LED headlights, drive modes, all-round parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking, dual-zone climate control, rear view camera, traffic sign recognition, auto wipers and lights, power-fold door mirrors, keyless entry, 12-inch infotainment screen, head-up display, cruise control with speed limiter, auto high beam, two USB sockets and 19-inch alloys.
Techno Espirit Alpine adds 20-inch alloy wheels, powered boot lid, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, child mirror, autonomous driving prep and a Espirit Alpine bodykit.
Iconic Espirit Alpine adds an uprated stereo, 360 degree surround camera, panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charger, six-way powered driver’s seat with memory, anti-dazzle automatic rear view mirror and uprated rear suspension with rear-wheel steering.
Is the Renault Austral suitable for my fleet?
Plug-in cars aren’t for everyone and the next best option for lower mileage drivers is a full hybrid such as the Renault Austral. The manufacturer claims that if you pick a version with the 105g/km CO2 figure, you’ll have the lowest BIK SUV without a plug; at 26%. However, the top specification Iconic Espirit Alpine version we drove sits in the 27% band.
Leasing a Renault Austral hybrid
Gensen Reports predicts a monthly rental of £638 on a 3+33 contract with 10,000 miles a year. That’s quite a bit more than the equivalent top specification Qahsqai at £552. The French company also expects a maintenance rate of £69 a month which is fractionally higher than the Nissan Qashqai hybrid.
Driving a Renault Austral
It’s rare for a car maker to offer two quite different suspension set-ups for the same model of car. However, that’s exactly what Renault has done with the Austral. While there’s only one engine and three trim levels for simplicity, get to the top spec Iconic Espirit Alpine version and you gain a rear suspension that includes a significant amount of rear-wheel steering.
Renault isn’t first with the technology that helps manoeuverability both at low speeds and high, but the way it has been set up and employed makes the car instantly feel different from any other mid-size SUV.
At low speeds the system (which can be ‘turned up or down’ by the driver in the settings menu) allows the car to have a far tighter turning circle than a car of this size would typically have; great for parking. And at motorway speeds the system has the effect of improving stability when overtaking and the car does feel very settled at speed.
However, in between these two points – in everyday driving – the Austral feels overly agile. Almost like the car’s about to skid or slide on every corner when it isn’t.
Couple this to a lack of feel and feedback from the steering and the top spec Austral takes a lot of getting used to before you can feel comfortable with how it’s going to behave on the road.
Unfortunately we only drove the version with the rear-wheel steering. It would be interesting to compare it to a lower specification car without the clever system.
The unease from the rear suspension isn’t helped by the way power is delivered by the hybrid system. In all drive modes the way the power is delivered as you press the accelerator feels like there’s a lot of turbo lag – with minimal power and then a surge of power – when in fact it’s just the way the hybrid system reacts to the driver’s foot. It makes the Austral difficult to drive smoothly. There is also below average refinement when the car switches from fully electric mode to the petrol engine. This is includes when the car decides it needs to activate the engine while the car is stationary.
However, there are many upsides to the way the Austral drives and is operated. Firstly, in our test car was more efficient than the equivalent Nissan Qashqai with a fuel economy more than 10% better at 46.5mpg.
The Austral’s cabin is also has a more premium feel to it than many rivals interiors. The large central portrait orientation infotainment screen helps this impression and is both easy to use and clear. Renault’s use of Google Assistant for voice commands (which can be hooked up to your home hub if you have one) is also one of the better systems we’ve tested.
It’s perhaps this high level of technology (including the cleaver rear suspension) that will attract drivers over the multitude of other mid-size SUVs on the market.
Verdict on the Renault Austral
Amazing suspension technology sets the Austral apart from SUV rivals, but it may take drivers some time to get used to how it feels.
- Model: Austral E-tech Iconic Espirit Alpine
- Power: 200hp
- Torque: 410Nm
- Max speed: 108mph
- 0-62mph: 8.4s
- Official fuel: 57.7mpg
- Test fuel: 46.5mpg
- CO2 emissions: 110g/km
- BIK tax band 2022/23: 28%