Renault Austral 2022 review

Top-spec Renault Austral is a pleasant and well-judged drive while also being spacious and having brilliant, Google-based infotainment

Manage your expectations. This is not an Alpine SUV. The Renault Austral is definitely a Renault SUV with some Alpine dressing, but it has still moved things on drastically from the more humble Renault Kadjar that it replaces.The Austral is the first model to be based on the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s new CMF-CD platform, which allows for any mix of electrification and/or combustion propulsion. As such, when the Austral arrives in the UK in 2023, it’ll be offered with a 1.2-litre three-pot full-hybrid (HEV) powertrain in a couple of power outputs and with a 1.7kWh battery, or there’ll be a 1.3-litre four-cylinder mild hybrid – also in two different outputs – to start the range off.We’re starting right at the very top of the Austral range with the 196bhp HEV, complete with optional 4Control Advanced. This four-wheel steering set-up brings with it multi-link rear suspension over the standard torsion beam and a quicker steering rack, which all result in the Austral’s turning circle dropping to a supermini-beating 10.1m.So can the Austral possibly live up to the Alpine branding of this variant? Well, yes and no.In the scheme of mid-sized family SUVs, the Austral is one of the more engaging. The steering is nicely weighted and tips the big Renault into corners with a bit of vigour while staying neatly in line. Accelerate hard on the way out and it’ll inevitably produce some reassuringly manageable understeer.More importantly, the four-wheel steer feels natural and predictable in its responses. There’s a touch of over-eagerness in response to small steering inputs at higher speeds, but the system still makes the Renault feel confident and wieldy whether you’re enjoying a good road or just navigating town traffic.There’s definitely some vim to the Austral, yet it’s also comfortable and – most of the time – refined. The full-hybrid powertrain has you pulling away from a standstill in super-serene pure electric mode, and it’s also very happy to flick into battery power at higher speeds as well as around town. Even if your routine pottering takes you onto faster stretches, you’ll spend a lot of time on battery power in the Austral hybrid.Which is a good thing, because it’s a thrummy and sometimes intrusive engine. Particularly at low speeds, the sudden hum and vibration when the petrol engine kicks in are very noticeable. It’s like there’s a tiny, propeller-driven plane stalking you in the distance.Worse than that, the clutchless dog ‘box lets the 1.2-litre turbo unit over-rev noisily during remotely spirited acceleration and then the engine is slow to release those revs as you lift off. It leaves you with a mooing powertrain that feels peculiarly gloopy at precisely the moment when you expect it to feel anything but. The rest of the time it’s perfectly nice and the gearbox, motor and engine gel well. Ride comfort is good, too, despite the 20in wheels of the Alpine version. Adaptive dampers don’t feature on the Austral, but the passive set-up keeps uncouth wheel bounce to a minimum while softening all but bigger intrusions. There’s some patter over really patched-up town roads but everything settles quickly and the vast majority of the time you enjoy a neat and tidy demeanour that’s a bit less wobbly and more encouraging than plenty of rivals.So maybe there is a touch of the Alpine magic in there after all, despite the Austral being demonstrably not a handling legend – more a fine choice in a class of fairly ordinary-handling cars.Mind you, we haven’t driven any other Austral variant yet and it’s worth emphasising that a base model may well be a different beast from the car we’ve driven here. It will, after all, have different suspension, steering, powertrain and interior finish.Speaking of the interior, the Austral’s Tesla-style touchscreen with in-built Google software is a real gem. The graphics are sharp, the menu layout is logical, and it has all the features you want, including Google maps, on a vast screen, not to mention Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The cabin temperature controls are simple, physical toggle switches beneath the screen and the perceived material finish is good enough to trouble the likes of Volkswagen and Kia.In the back, there’s ample room for two tall adults to sit comfortably, although the full-hybrid model misses out on the sliding rear seats that the mild-hybrid Australs get. The spring-loaded 60/40-split rear seats leave a small step up in the extended load bay when toppled forward, too, and there’s little to no usable underfloor storage, meaning that the Austral HEV manages a middling 430 litres of boot space.With UK specific equipment and pricing yet to be confirmed, it’s tricky to gauge how the Austral will stack up among the kaleidoscope of rivals. However, official figures suggest that the full -ybrid tech has paid off in terms of efficiency: WLTP CO2 figures from 105g/km and economy of over 60mpg are usefully better than you’ll see even in full-hybrid rivals like the Nissan Qashqai e-Power, Toyota RAV4 and Kia Sportage, so this could well be a winner with retail buyers and business users alike.Overall, then, if you go in realising that the Austral is not an Alpine, you’re likely to be impressed. This is a very tidy Renault SUV that has some Alpine feel courtesy of a liberal sprinkling of style extras and a well-judged chassis set-up. Thankfully for Renault, that’s still more than enough to make this one of the more recommendable options despite the brutally competitive hordes of mid-sized SUVs that it rubs shoulders with.
Source: Autocar

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