French-Japanese translation machine

Will Renaultís Nissan-based SUV be a case of oui, oui, oui, all the way home?

ASH WESTERMAN

JUST when I thought Iíd identified all the danger signs of advancing age Ė less hair on top, more out the ears, a default cynicism setting Ė I learn thereís a new concern to navigate: inveterate SUV ownership.

Okay, I use the term Ďownershipí lightly, but the fact remains: for someone not fundamentally a devotee of SUVs, I seem to be incapable of escaping them. For me it started in 2014 with Holdenís unlovable Trax; progressed through two variations of quite agreeable Nissan Qashqais, and paused recently after an eight-month stint in Hyundaiís top-spec diesel Tucson.

Now, for this closet rear-drive-wagon lover, itís back to SUV business as usual. In comes Renaultís top-spec Koleos, called Intens, featuring an atmo 2.5-litre petrol four hooked to a CVT transmission and switchable allwheel drive. Itís priced at $43,490, with our Meissen Blue paint ($600) the only option fitted. (Solid white is the only colour that doesnít attract an extra charge.)

So the total of $44,090 (or $48,590 driveaway in NSW) makes it a few grand cheaper than my previous Tucson Highlander diesel, but about line-ball with a turbo-petrol Highlander, which is a closer mechanical match. So youíd presume some buyers would cross-shop the two, given the similarity in price, size, and general application.

The next few months will be instructive, then, in terms of evaluating how well Renault has nailed the medium-SUV brief by using the current Nissan X-Trail as platform and powertrain donor.

My first impressions are that the exterior design by Anthony Low (overseen by Laurens van den Acker) has plenty of nice touches, but isnít quite as chiselled and masculine as the Tucson. I like the semi-clamshell bonnet design, and the lighting treatment, both front and rear, is properly distinctive at night. No visible tailpipe is a curious touch, but the non-functional side vents on the front doors seem a bit of an indulgent affectation. On a more practical level, the rear doors open nice and wide to present a generous aperture to passengers climbing in there, and the black cladding around the exterior edges offers a bit of protection from lifeís scrapes.

Ah, but the interior... Sliding inside the Koleosís cabin is like entering a rich world of luxury compared to the Tucson. My Hyundai may have been the top-spec Highlander, and a mostly admirable SUV, but Iím sure there are cells in Guantanamo Bay with a less austere ambience.

Not so the Koleos, which immediately seduces with proper leather seats (heated and ventilated, but no memory position) an iPad-sized multimedia touch screen (the functionality of which Iíll get to later) and a central TFT instrument display that can be configured into a choice of four displays.

The wheel is attractive and nicely tactile, even if the left-side buttons do present an initial challenge in terms of functionality and logic.

A big plus for me (especially compared to the Tucson) is the solid-sounding Bose audio system, (see sidebar above) and DAB tuner. Iím also appreciating the glass roof on overcast days, the powered tailgate, and the provision of remote releases for the rear backrests in the cargo compartment (another annoying oversight in the Tucson).

The only ergonomic gripe I can manage at this point is the driverís seat doesnít go sufficiently low, and its base is not long enough to provide full under-thigh support.

So, at this point you may be thinking, ďHmm, this bloke is less of a first-world whinger than I recall...Ē But ... not so fast. Did you read about Koleosís struggles at Car of the Year last month? If so, no spoiler alert is needed: the moment the driving moves from undemanding urban trundling, the Renaultís challenges begin.

Letís talk next month.

Key, but no party

Iím all for ditching conventional design if it brings a tangible net benefit, but Iím unconvinced the Koleosís key hits that mark. The thing is the size of a credit card, yet the buttons are tiny, and the four symbols virtually illegible imprints. But the main problem is that itís not designed to join your main key collection, due to the lack of a hanger tab. So the internal mantra each time I leave the house is, ďWallet, phone, keys ... er, car key.Ē At least it can remain in a pocket or bag for both unlocking and auto-locking.

When thereís bass to spare

Youíre no doubt aware of the move by many to banish the spare wheel. Iím pleased Renault hasnít succumbed to this irksome penny pinching; not because IĎve needed the spare yet, but because it would leave a bass-shaped hole in my motoring life. Yes, Boseís clever packaging solution as to where to locate the bulky subwoofer is found nestled within the spare. It may not provide the last word in tight, tuneful bass, but the bottom-end is meaty and solid, and considering the space it saves, a pretty handy sub-solution.

RENAULT KOLEOS INTENS

Date acquired: December 2016 Price as tested: $44,090 This month: 707km @ 13.6L/100km Overall: 707km @ 13.6L/100km 0km 34 WEEK 4 0 0 2 4 5 1 3 44 3 34 44 URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY