Car reviews - Renault - Koleos - Zen 4x2
Value for money, interior space, eye-catching looks, long warranty, cheap servicing, European badge kudos
Room for improvement
Thirsty, slow, dismal dynamics, buttock-barbecuing fake leather seats, irritating infotainment, lo-fi sound system, troublesome Isofix child seat anchorages
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15 Mar 2017
Price and equipment
THE strongest suit of the Renault Koleos is value for money, if measured purely by the level of standard equipment. The five-year warranty helps here too.
Of the two tested back-to-back, we will concentrate on the 4x2 Zen variant here as Renault predicts this to be the best-selling version of what it expects to eventually overtake the Clio light hatch as most popular car in the showroom.
Priced at $33,990 plus on-road costs, the front-drive Koleos Zen 4x2 includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen providing access to the audio system, satellite navigation, reversing camera and voice control, dual-zone climate control, faux leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, electric driver’s seat adjustment, heated front seats, keyless entry and start, rear privacy glass, automatic headlights and wipers, foglights with cornering light function, LED daytime running lights, rear parking sensors, an electric parking brake and 18-inch alloy wheels with 17-inch steel spare.
No two ways about it, this is a long list for the price. Compare, for example the $33,650 Hyundai Tucson ActiveX that gets real leather upholstery but is otherwise lacking a fair amount of standard gear compared with the similarly priced Renault.
Those wanting more from their Koleos can option a panoramic sunroof and auto-dimming rearview mirror bundle for $1990, while autonomous emergency braking with blind-spot warning and forward collision warning is packaged up for $1490. Adding all-wheel-drive is another $2500.
All these options are standard on the $43,490 4x4-only Koleos Intens also tested, which has further upgrades comprising a bigger 8.7-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen, 12-speaker Bose premium audio system, real leather upholstery (in platinum or chestnut hues) with heating, cooling and electric adjustment for both front seats, automated parking, a pair of USB charging points for rear passengers, LED headlights with auto high-beam and a powered tailgate.
Going for an Intens works out just $3000 more expensive than a fully-optioned Zen. Renault charges $600 extra for premium paint, with the only non-premium option among the seven offered being solid white.
We drove the Koleos Zen during a summer, which exposed the unsuitability of its fake leather seats for Australian conditions. Entering the car after it had been parked outside during the day – not even in direct sunlight – ensured seared buttocks and thighs.
Even after it had been parked inside all night, a journey in warm, sunny weather with the air-conditioning cranking still resulted in an embarrassingly sweaty back.
And those insisting on a Koleos cannot have cooled seats unless paying substantially more for the top-spec Intens that otherwise has numerous downsides of its own.
It is a shame, because the seats look the part with their contrast stitching, consistent with an overall upmarket feel to what is a plain but tastefully designed and practical cabin. Combined with the stylish exterior, we can understand how the Koleos would have substantial showroom wow-factor.
Dig deeper and the switchgear is pleasant to touch, rotary controllers have a quality feel, the digital dashboard is effective and the piano black touchscreen surround, along with chrome borders for various button panels and vents are convincingly classy.
Renault has followed a number of other brands in reserving soft-touch door trims for front occupants only, but apart from that and a few flimsy lower dashboard plastics, the Koleos interior feels well put together and of decent quality. How un-French.
With the exception of some frankly bizarre cupholders, interior storage is a Koleos strong point, with four generous door bins capable of holding drinks bottles upright, a big glovebox, large space beneath the central armrest and a substantial space in front of the gear selector perfect for stowing smartphones. It is just a shame the USB cable has to stretch to here messily from beneath the central armrest that slides fore and aft but never feels ideally positioned.
The boot is large, too, its official 458-litre capacity seeming somewhat pessimistic. With the rear seats folded – easily done via conveniently located releases in the boot walls – load capacity expands to 1690L, even bigger than the capacious VW Tiguan. The floor is flush with the load lip, making sliding bulky items in and out a cinch, while a pair of deep plastic-lined recesses at each side provide useful space for shoes and other wet or dirty items.
Unlike several competitors, the Koleos rear bench does not slide or recline, but it offers heaps of legroom and headroom in the outboard positions, while the uncomfortable central seat is temporary use only, particularly if the panoramic sunroof is fitted. Apart from the poor upholstery choice, seat comfort is pretty good.
The Koleos cabin is generally fairly quiet, with minimal wind and road noise.
Even traditionally noisy coarse-chip roads are well-suppressed. However, an unpleasant groaning note emanates from the engine bay when accelerating under load. All-round visibility is also good, the big, deep windows providing a pleasantly airy feel only bettered by the VW Tiguan and Subaru Forester.
One thing we appreciated about the Koleos was the ability to customise its various beeps and chimes, right down to the volume of the indicator ticker.
Even when set to their loudest setting, none of the electronic sounds this car makes are shrill, something parents will appreciate when their offspring are asleep in the back.
At the other end of the appreciation spectrum is the infotainment system. In this profession we experience a different automotive multimedia interface every week, but the Renault system is a real struggle in both 7.0-inch landscape and 8.3-inch portrait formats fitted to the Zen and Intens respectively. If anything the larger one is worse as more functions are moved into the screen, the split layout results in too small an image and the number of rotary or button controls is reduced.
Rather than large, easy-to-understand icons, Renault’s latest iteration of the R-Link system is full of confusing text-based menus and requires too many repeated presses to access each basic function.
For example, after a sat-nav address is entered the screen requires three further stabs to confirm the location and initiate navigation. It is a similar story when switching between playlists or audio sources.
It is too distractingly cumbersome for safe use while driving, there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone connectivity and the standard Zen audio system is one of the worst we have encountered for sound quality.
Evidently Samsung had nothing to do with the electronics.
While the digital instrument panel works well in ‘neutral’ mode, all the alternative settings are plain weird and pretty much unusable in speed camera infested Australia.
The counter-intuitive cruise control layout also irritates and only Renault knows why it locates the cruise control’s on/off switch by the park brake in the centre console. Also, its paddle-style audio control panel behind the steering wheel was great in 1997, but not in 2017. Likewise the key card that is too thick for wallets or pockets and lacks keyring compatibility. Worse, there is nowhere to stow it inside the car. Pointless.
Finally and most worryingly, we experienced serious difficulty of attaching a child seat to the Isofix anchorages. We occasionally find resistance from brand-new fabrics and seat padding, or even seemingly misaligned seams through which the metal hoops protrude.
But we have never been unable to overcome these problems before. In both Koleos variants we tested, it was so difficult to use the Isofix points on the passenger side that we gave up, with one variant being difficult on the driver’s side as well.
We contacted Renault Australia to report this, which they took seriously and conducted a thorough investigation on both the models we tested as well as others at their Melbourne headquarters.
Renault told GoAuto they also experienced a similar phenomenon and concluded it was the stiff fabric, but said they managed to successfully attach and detach Isofix compatible child restraints in all the vehicles they tested.
The local Renault branch also provided feedback to the factory, which advised that the Koleos Isofix points are mounted differently on the passenger and driver sides due to the 60/40 split-fold seats, but do meet ADR regulations.
A statement provided to GoAuto read: “Isofix seats may also be secured using the traditional Australian method of threading the seatbelt through and attaching the top tether, in the case that a customer cannot manipulate the Isofix connector due to the stiffness of the upholstery.”
On a more positive note, the spacious Koleos cabin meant bulky rear-facing infant seats could be installed without compromising front-seat space. But liberating all that space means the rear seat backrest is positioned rear of the C-pillar, necessitating children to peer forwards out of the window and making it more difficult to put a baby into their rear-facing capsule.
Engine and transmission
All Koleos variants share a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing 136kW of peak power at 6000rpm and 226Nm of torque at 4400rpm. Drive is distributed though a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). This is essentially the same drivetrain as a Nissan X-Trail, but with 10kW more power.
While respectably assertive and responsive from rest, this engine is only just enough to satisfactorily propel the 1.6-tonne Koleos with just the driver and a full tank of fuel on board. For comparison, the similarly spacious VW Tiguan is around 150kg lighter – equivalent to two mid-sized adults.
It groans like a heifer in the throes of calving with the effort of accelerating under load and the transmission caused revs to flare wildly when brisk acceleration is requested or hills are encountered. Painful to behold and profoundly inefficient, the 4x2 Intens returned fuel use of almost 10 litres per 100 kilometres during our test and the 4x4 Intens closer to 11L/100km.
Going back to the Tiguan comparison, the German car’s lower weight and downsized turbo-petrol engine yielded an on-test average of 6.9L/100km albeit using pricier Premium Unleaded.
To be fair to the Koleos, a Hyundai Tucson ActiveX is even more gutless and also revs wildly on hills. Like the Tucson, the Renault is acceptable if all you do is potter around town and the suburbs are not too hilly. The CVT mostly resists rev-flare in these scenarios too. Even so, we prefer the Hyundai’s six-speed auto and it was a lot more efficient on test at 8.4L/100km.
We found the Koleos drivetrain struggles on higher speed roads, particularly if they are hilly and twisty, but it settles down to a reasonably relaxed motorway cruise provided the terrain is flat.
Ride and handling
Whereas key Koleos competitors including the Tiguan, Tucson and Mazda CX-5 all provide a rewarding experience for keen drivers, the Renault almost has an aversion to fast, twisty roads.
This is not offset by a particularly cosseting ride, either, not that the rather firmly sprung Koleos is ever uncomfortable or regularly crashes clumsily over potholes. It does, however, emit a worrying whack-clang from the rear suspension on particularly nasty surfaces and speed bumps.
For most driving the steering weight is spot on, though, and for urban and suburban driving the directness and accuracy are more than adequate.
But head to your favourite stretch of bendy back-road bitumen for a blast and the Koleos feels incredibly uncomfortable with the situation. It has less enthusiasm for the task than an ambitious graduate recruit who has been asked to do the filing.
Bodyroll is pronounced and the seats do nothing to help, while front-end grip and traction on the 4x2 is woeful. The Nexen N’Priz tyres howl in disapproval and quickly give in to understeer, with the application of more steering input simply resulting in a heavy-handed slap from the stability control.
Considering the underpowered engine, we were amazed to experience occasional torque-steer as well. The roads were hot and bone dry, so we dread to think how bad it could be in the cold and wet.
Thankfully the brakes haul the Koleos up nicely but the pedal feel is more wooden than a souvenir from the southwest of Tasmania. This exacerbates the quickly eroded confidence we felt when trying to drive the Koleos fast.
Also, to prevent the Koleos from losing momentum through corners, the accelerator pedal must be pinned more than two-thirds through its travel, which is off-putting and takes some getting used to. It gets little better in the transmission’s manual mode, which simulates seven stepped ratios.
Repeating the same dynamic test in the top-spec Intens 4x4, the addition of all-wheel-drive eliminates torque steer as expected and irons out the traction issue as well. As a result, less interference from the electronics.
But the extra weight and drag of the additional drivetrain components noticeably blunts performance while exacerbating the drone from under the bonnet and bodyroll is just as bad.
Something we noticed on both Koleos variants was how nauseous we felt after the dynamic drive test. First time around we put it down to something we had eaten, second time around we realised it was motion sickness. The last time we experienced motion sickness from behind the wheel of a car it was the Nissan Tiida.
If it is that bad for the driver, imagine what it must be like for passengers.
Keen on holding onto our breakfast, we were not game to find out.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP is yet to rate the new Koleos, but the previous generation was a five-star car, as is the related Nissan X-Trail so the current model is expected to fare well if and when it is put through the crash-test process.
Dual frontal, side chest and side curtain airbags are standard, along with anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, electronic stability control, tyre pressure monitoring and seat belt pre-tensioners with load-limiters at the front.
Renault Australia’s comprehensive aftercare package is one of the best in the business and provides a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assistance for the duration and a three-year capped-price servicing plan.
Maintenance intervals are 12 months or a massive 30,000km, with pit-stops priced at just $299.
We can only recommend the Koleos to people who have very basic requirements, such as interior space, lots of standard equipment and a long warranty with cheap servicing. The fact it looks pretty good inside and out helps, too.
It does very little brilliantly and has a lot of irritating flaws. Then there is the sluggish performance, heavy fuel consumption and woeful handling.
Contesting in a hard-fought segment, style, badge kudos and on-paper value for money only goes so far. Beyond that the Koleos is deeply disappointing.
Volkswagen Tiguan 110 TSI Trendline automatic from $34,490 plus on-road costs
Not as well equipped and more expensive than the Renault but the extra spend for this plus a few options or the excellent Comfortline spec is well worth it because the slick and satisfying Tiguan is a real benchmark-setter.
Hyundai Tucson ActiveX 2.0 GDi automatic from $33,650 plus on-road costs
Apart from its frustratingly gutless engine, the super-smooth Tucson is great to drive, easy to use and comes with enough standard equipment. To overcome the engine objection, pay slightly more for sparser equipment but a better engine with the diesel all-wheel-drive Active.
Kia Sportage SLi 2WD from $33,990 plus on-road costs
Same crap petrol engine as the related Hyundai but the Sportage is a well-equipped and stylish alternative with class-leading seven-year warranty.
Again, less kit and a diesel engine with all-wheel-drive is also available – for the same money as this SLi petrol.
Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2.0 from $33,490 plus on-road costs
An upmarket interior, excellent drivetrains and fun handling mean the thousands of CX-5 buyers are not wrong. But its uncomfortable seats and road noise count against it, as does the fact it is about to be replaced. Still tempted? We recommend you spend the extra on Mazda’s punchier 2.5-litre petrol engine.
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