- Interior a big step forward from the Kadjar
- Hybrid beats key rivals for efficiency
- Optional four-wheel steering is a real USP
- Alpine branding doesn't make it sporty...
- Complex hybrid gearbox doesn't like to be rushed
- Question marks over the ride remain
Wondering what on earth a Renault Austral is? No, it isn't Renault's vague attempt to win hearts and minds Down Under. It's actually the French maker undergoing another rebranding of one of its core models.
You see, the Austral is the direct replacement for the Renault Kadjar; a family SUV that enjoyed some success but never had the same impact as the platform-sharing Nissan Qashqai. Renault must've also decided the Kadjar name didn't cut the mustard either (we'd agree) as it lasted less than seven years. 'Austral' means 'from the south' in French, with the car being built in Spain, if you were wondering.
So Renault Austral is another name we need to get used to, alongside the now vast array of SUVs at this size and price point that serve as key rivals. Everything from the Ford Kuga to the Volkswagen Tiguan, the Kia Sportage to the Peugeot 3008 - every mainstream brand worth its salt is competing in this sector.
To look at the Renault Austral isn't as big a leap away from its predecessor as the name suggests. It's smart and elegant rather than bold and daring, but there is some natty new light designs, a less bulbous shape and more on-trend colour combinations including satin grey. Like the latest Renault Clio, the Austral's exterior is evolution over revolution - although there are fancy new Alpine-inspired trims.
The interior is a bigger step forward. It's inspired by the new Megane E-Tech electric car, which is a good thing given that has Renault's best interior in a long time. You get a large and responsive portrait-angled infotainment touchscreen using Android software (meaning it works better than most in-house systems), an upmarket look and feel and plenty of standard kit.
You also get a good level of space and practicality from the Austral. It has a good amount of rear seat space which can be juggled with boot space in some versions as those seats slide forwards and backwards, with an otherwise fairly large and generous boot.
In terms of engines you won't find diesel any more, as is the case with any Renault beyond commercial vehicles. There's a couple of turbocharged petrols, but the big story is the new full (self-charging) hybrid system. Branded E-Tech Hybrid (as opposite to E-Tech Electric for the EVs), Renault calls it "the world's most efficient hybrid powertrain" - a big statement indeed, as is making it the only engine option for UK buyers.
The stats stack up: with up to 200PS the Renault Austral hybrid offers up decent performance, but efficiency is the priority here, with just under 63mpg officially quoted and CO2 emissions that'll embarrass a number of small cars. It also wins the sibling rivalry, with better efficiency on paper than the Nissan Qashqai e-Power.
Driven gently it's pretty smooth and quiet (a darn sight more so than the disappointing Arkana Hybrid), while adjustable regenerative braking via steering wheel paddles is always a nice touch. It doesn't like to be hurried, though, and we can blame Renault's oddly complicated gearbox solution for that - more on that in a bit. Sporty it is not, despite those Alpine badges.
And that's a bit of a shame, because there's some really good bits about the way the Renault Austral drives. The steering is nicely weighted and more accurate than most family SUVs, the handling isn't too roly-poly and Renault offers a '4Control' four-wheel steering system as an option. This makes it more stable at high speeds but increases agility and reduces the turning circle at low speeds, and works well.
We need to try other versions of the Austral on less smooth roads to make a better judgement on the ride, however, because four-wheel steering also brings a different suspension set-up. There's also question marks on the price, and with only the hybrid model coming to the UK it won't be as attainable as a number of rivals that come with cheaper petrol power.
If you're looking for the older version, you need our Renault Kadjar (2015-2022) review.
Is the Renault Austral right for you?
If you want a family-friendly SUV that doesn't break the bank, but also doesn't look or feel dull or downmarket, then the Renault Austral is a solid buy. The smart design and interior ambience mean it's not far off premium brands in terms of kerb appeal, yet it's practical and should be more affordable.
What’s the best Renault Austral model/engine to choose?
We've only driven one so far, and it's the bells-and-whistles E-Tech Hybrid Esprit Alpine with the 4Control system. That's shown it off in a pretty good light, but it's undoubtedly not going to be the cheapest offering in the class when prices are confirmed...
Those on a budget may find that one of the two petrol models (which aren't offered in the UK) make more sense, negating the increase in fuel costs with a much lower price or monthly payment cost.
What other cars are similar to the Renault Austral?
There is no shortage of SUV-shaped competitors to the Renault Austral. Key rivals with similar self-charging hybrid power include the Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Kuga and Nissan Qashqai, the latter of which is offered with a new 'e-Power' hybrid system from 2022. We'd also include the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V in that list.
Formidable petrol or plug-in hybrid competitors include the Volkswagen Tiguan, Mazda CX-5, Peugeot 3008 and Citroen C5 Aircross. You could also throw in premium brand alternatives such as the BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 if you don't mind splashing a bit more cash, however.
The old Renault Kadjar certainly felt its age inside, with a sea of hard black plastics and a small, laggy touchscreen. My how things have changed in the Renault Austral.
For starters, the design is much more modern and fresh, with cool ambient lighting, a tempered glass single panel linking the new infotainment system and digital instruments, and a mix of more upmarket materials. We should caveat that by saying we've only driven high-end Esprit Alpine models so far.
Comfort is good, with plenty of adjustment in the seats and steering wheel, although the rather bulky centre console may impede broader drivers and the strange, almost square-shaped steering wheel will be an acquired taste.
Another thing that not everyone will like is that the gearshift is mounted on a stalk coming out of the steering column. There's nothing wrong with that in essence (you can't manually change gears anyway) but Renault has also put the wiper stalk AND the multimedia control stalk in close proximity. Trust us, it'll take some getting used to not to turn the wipers on instead of engaging reverse, or vice versa.
Taking the gearshift off the centre console frees up a novel touch, though; a sliding piece of trim - the 'handrest' - which contains on it a wireless phone charging pad. Moving it forwards or backwards reveals a small stowage space or a pair of cupholders, but the thick handle also doubles as a place to rest your wrist when prodding the touchscreen. We're not convinced it's essential but it is a neat touch.
Storage elsewhere is pretty good too, with an armrest that splits and flips up to reveal a chunky area for chucking sweets or other travel items, and some decent-sized door bins front and rear. There's also a sunglasses compartment above your head, deep pockets in the back of the front seats and a good-sized glovebox.
Quality and finish
Initial impressions of the Renault Austral's fit-and-finish seem good, and far exceed the old Kadjar. Everything feels solid to the touch and built to last, bar the odd cheaper bit that reminds you it's not a premium SUV.
The material quality is impressive given what Renault was turning out a few years ago - at least on our high-spec test models. There's soft touch trim in all the places that need it, and overall finish is on a par with what Hyundai and Volkswagen are turning out these days. Open-pore wood veneer and Nappa leather is also available.
Another nice touch is that the LED ambient lighting can automatically change colour every 30 minutes, apparently based on the human body's circadian rhythms. Of course you can change them yourself through 48 different colours, while the display colours change depending on your chosen drive mode.
Infotainment: Touchscreen, USB, nav and stereo in the Renault Austral
This is another real area of improvement for the brand. You only have to look at the rubbish infotainment system in the Alpine A110 for an idea of where Renault sat in the hierarchy of touchscreens only a few years ago. But things have been getting better in new models, culminating in this impressive new system.
Equipment levels are yet to be confirmed but it appears that all Austral variants come with a pair of screens: a 12-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen in the centre of the dash for infotainment, and a 12.3-inch landscape-oriented digital instrument cluster.
The new system uses Google-designed software, which is a real boon. We wish more manufacturers would give up trying to design their own systems and just buy in better software from tech companies. The graphics are bright and smart, the screen response is fairly quick and consistent and there's a host of features including 35 apps. While Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are of course included you might not need them, as the built-in navigation is taken care of by Google Maps. Nobody does it better, so why not?
There's also a Google-based voice control system, which means it actually works. And while some of the touchscreen elements are more fiddly than physical switchgear you do get both virtual and physical shortcut buttons along the bottom of the screen.
The digital dials are pretty smart with a variety of displays, including a smart Google Maps screen, various dial and info combinations and a Tesla-style option which shows the car driving within its lane. In traffic this will faithfully recreate the different types of vehicle that surround you, and show how the active assist systems are working.
Further to that is a large 9.3-inch head-up display which is pretty clear and info-packed. All-in-all it's said the Austral has the largest display area in total in the SUV market, and we can believe that.
There's four USB-C charging points - two in the front, two in the rear - while high-end versions come with a 410W, 14-speaker sound system upgrade.
Space and practicality: Renault Austral boot space
In terms of exterior dimensions the Renault Austral is 4510mm long, 1843mm wide (with mirrors folded) and 1644mm tall with roof bars. That makes it a good chunk longer, slightly wider and slightly taller than the Nissan Qashqai.
Up front there's no issues with headroom even with the panoramic glass roof fitted to our test car. Legroom was fine for this 6ft 3 tester, although some taller or wider occupants might find the broad centre console impedes on leg space. The seats themselves offer good overall comfort.
In the rear legroom seems more generous than the class average, helped by the sliding rear seat bench (optional on some trims) which allows you to juggle legroom and boot space. With the bench pushed all the way back the Austral has more generous legroom than many key rivals, although headroom isn't the best - particularly with the panoramic sunroof fitted.
The Renault Austral's boot space is 500 litres with a fixed rear bench, which reduces to 430 litres with the hybrid model. If you opt for the sliding rear bench you get up to 575 litres of boot space, reducing to 555 litres in the hybrid. That's one of the biggest boots in the class.
With the caveat that our initial impressions were on smooth, undemanding Spanish tarmac, the Renault Austral seems to offer a pretty composed driving experience. It sits in the middle of the family SUV class, rolling around less than a Citroen C5 Aircross but offering less of a sporty, engaging feel than a Cupra Formentor.
The model we drove was fitted with Renault's ace up its sleeve; the 4Control system. No, it's not four-wheel drive, it's actually four-wheel steering. That's something you'll find fitted to cars like the new Range Rover or Mercedes S-Class, but no other SUV at this price point. It means the rear wheels turn in the opposite way to the fronts at lower speeds and then in the same direction as the fronts at higher speeds.
In the real-world this means the Austral is a doddle to drive around town. This new generation (dubbed 4Control Advanced) turns the rear wheels up to five degrees, reducing the turning circle from 11.2m on the standard car to just 10.1m. That's actually less than the Renault Clio, making U-turns a breeze. Visibility is pretty good, too, thanks to the raised driving position.
The 4Control system also helps it feel more agile and keen when you turn into a bend. Sometimes these systems can feel a bit weird at speed, but Renault has made it feel more natural, so you have confidence that when you chuck the Austral into a bend it'll change direction swiftly and hold its line. Grip seems decent enough, too, and the body doesn't wallow about or feel unsettled. We also like the direct, well-weighted steering.
We can't give you a full picture on the ride yet, but from the few bumpy roads we could find on our test route it seems to isolate the worst thumps and jolts from the cabin pretty well. Our car was riding on 20-inch wheels, yet it didn't feel too jittery or harsh. On motorways it feels nicely controlled, too.
We also need to try versions without the 4Control system fitted. Opting for this also adds fancier multi-link rear suspension, whereas without you make do with a simpler torsion beam setup. This could have a noticeable effect on ride and handling.
With no adaptive dampers the multiple drive modes mainly change the weight of the steering and the throttle response. There's also an electric drive mode where the car will try to keep itself in EV mode as long as possible.
What engines and gearboxes are available in the Renault Austral?
There are five engine options in the Renault Austral for European customers, but only the two hybrid versions are offered in the UK.
Buyers in Europe can choose from a 1.3-litre four cylinder turbo petrol engine with a 12-volt mild hybrid system, which puts out either 140PS or 158PS. The 140PS version is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, whereas the 160PS version is automatic-only.
Also available is a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine mated to a more advanced 48V mild hybrid system (called, catchily, Mild Hybrid Advanced). It's exclusively available with a six-speed manual gearbox and puts out 130PS.
The only version we've driven so far is the Renault Austral E-Tech hybrid. This uses that same 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo engine but also mates it to a 68PS electric motor and 25PS high voltage starter-generator. There's also a 2kWh battery pack in the mix - bigger than most self-charging hybrids. The only difference between the 160PS and 200PS version seems to be software as the individual outputs are the same.
The E-Tech hybrid is front-wheel drive and power goes through a 'multi-mode' clutchless gearbox. Explaining how this works is fiendishly complicated, but basically there's a four-speed gearbox combined with two gears in the electric motor which allows 15 different driving modes/gear speeds in total. There's no clutch, because it's a 'dog' 'box, instead there's a series of electric actuators.
Sounds complicated? It feels it, too. Around town it's fine, pulling away in electric mode with uncanny smoothness and a lack of noise. Gentle cruising at higher speeds also keeps you in electric mode - officially it'll do this up to 62mph, but unofficially it's possible to run even higher speeds with the engine off.
When the engine kicks in it's not too intrusive despite being a thrummy three-cylinder - the noise and vibration is less present than in the Arkana, for example - but you do notice it. The main issue is when you're accelerating more than gently because the gearbox seems incredibly sluggish to react and choose the correct gear. It'll either hold onto revs for too long or not kick down when you expect it. It all feels rather gloopy and unsatisfying, and that's in the more powerful 200ps model - we've yet to try the 160PS version.
Basically, the faster you go in the Austral Hybrid, the worse it gets. And that doesn't really play into the whole sporty Alpine trim branding, does it? Still, most family-focused SUV owners aren't going to be pinning the throttle on a regular basis, so it's mostly fit-for-purpose.
Refinement and noise levels
The Renault Austral is pretty quiet and smooth when you're pottering about or maintaining a cruise - at least the hybrid version is. The engine doesn't drone in the background or intrude, but the faster you go the more you notice some intrusive wind noise from around the door mirrors. The car we drove was pre-production, so this may be ironed out in customer cars.
Road and tyre noise seem pretty well isolated - even on the 20-inch wheels - although the silky smooth Spanish roads we drove on aren't going to test that much.
Rev the engine out and its three-cylinder tone is noticeable, but it's not annoying like the engine in the Arkana hybrid. We still think hybrids such as the Nissan Qashqai e-Power are a bit smoother, however - Renault engineers admit they traded smoothness for efficiency in the Austral hybrid.
Safety equipment: How safe is the Renault Austral?
The Renault Austral is yet to be tested by safety body Euro NCAP, so we can't say for sure how it'll perform. All we know is that the Nissan Qashqai - which shares the same platform and some of the mechanical bits - was awarded the maximum five-star rating.
Renault has a reputation to uphold for safety, and claims the Austral has a better protected passenger compartment than any of its other models thanks high-strength materials and seven airbags, including one between the front passenger seats. Of course you get an emergency 'e-call' system that'll notify the emergency services in the event of a crash, along with three Isofix mounts for child seats (two in the rear, one in the front passenger seat).
Active safety includes lane keeping assistance, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring, while there's front and rear autonomous emergency braking. The Austral can guide itself back into its lane via cameras if you're trying to overtake and it thinks you will crash, too - which might be controversial.
Further kit includes rear cross-traffic alert and an Occupant Safe Exit system, which will warn the driver if they've opened the door in the path of another vehicle, motorbike or cyclist.
Renault's claim that the Austral E-Tech has "the world's most efficient hybrid powertrain" is a punchy one. It really depends how you use it, as a plug-in hybrid will use a lot less fuel if you plug it in regularly and keep your journeys short.
However, a plug-in hybrid will be quite a lot thirstier once the battery is out of juice on a longer journey. This is where self-charging hybrids like the Austral come in, as they'll get a more consistent real-world figure in every situation. And as self-charging hybrids go, the Austral beats all of its key rivals on paper.
Officially the 160PS hybrid will do up to 62.7mpg on the combined WLTP cycle, whereas the 200PS model brings that down slightly to 61.4mpg. CO2 emissions are just 102g/km and 104g/km respectively. That's a whole heap better than the Kia Sportage hybrid (49.6mpg) and also smashes the related Nissan Qashqai e-Power (53.3mpg). Those CO2 emissions mean the Austral E-Tech will be a very appealing company car.
If your a private buyer doing low-ish mileage and outright cost matters more than fuel economy, the petrols are still a good bet. the 130PS 1.3-litre unit manages 46.3mpg combined, with the 158PS version managing 45.5mpg. The 130PS 1.2-litre 'Mild Hybrid Advanced' manages an impressive 54.3mpg combined, too.
How reliable is the Renault Austral?
The Renault Austral is a brand new model, using technology and mechanicals not found on other Renaults or even other Nissans. That multi-mode hybrid gearbox sounds like it has more potential to go wrong than a simpler, well-proven CVT gearbox, too, but we can't make any clear judgement at this stage.
Renault as a brand didn't do that well in the latest HonestJohn.co.uk Satisfaction Index, managing 27th out of 30 brands. However no Renaults feature in the bottom 20 cars list, while anecdotally we're hearing reliability has improved in recent years with newer cars. What's more, Renault does a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty as standard, bettering many rivals, for added peace of mind.
Insurance groups and costs
Insurance groups for the Renault Austral have yet to be confirmed, but for the hybrid model expect it to sit in similar groups to the Nissan Qashqai e-Power at group 24 to 26.
VED car tax: What is the annual road tax on a Renault Austral?
Thanks to the super-low emissions the Renault Austral hybrids (the only versions coming to the UK) will cost just £170 a year in the first-year VED tax rate. Only plug-in hybrid SUVs can beat that, and they cost more to buy in the first place.
We don't yet have full pricing, but we do expect high-end versions of the Austral might creep over the £40,000 'premium' car tax point. This adds another £355 per year for five years, so you'd be wise to avoid the range-topping trims if that's the case. As a hybrid the standard tax rate after year one is £155 annually.
The Renault Austral will not be going on sale in the UK until a couple of months into 2023. We don't yet have full pricing details, but with the hybrid models the only ones available in the UK expect a starting price of around £35,000, rising to over £40,000 for the top trims.
That'll put it squarely against the Nissan Qashqai e-Power and Kia Sportage/Hyundai Tucson hybrids.
Trim levels and standard equipment
We also don't have full trim specification details on the Renault Austral, but will update this as soon as we do.
We're told that in the UK Techno trim will be the base point, with high-end Renault Austral Esprit Alpine and Renault Austral Esprit Alpine+ models bringing kit such as 20-inch alloy wheels, fancier trim and upholstery and an electric tailgate, among many other features.
Standard kit will include a host of active driver assist functions and an adaptive cruise control system.
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