The Renault Austral is a compelling candidate in the SUV market, scoring high in technology and practicality
4.0 out of 5
The Austral doesn’t move the game on for family SUVs, despite a brand-new powertrain and impressive levels of technology. It’s competent enough from behind the wheel, but never exciting. Where Renault has clearly worked hard is with perceived cabin quality and the practicality on offer. But with so many rivals to choose from, pricing will be key for Renault’s new car.
Renault says it wants to take back the family SUV after it quietly stopped production of its Kadjar earlier this year. The French firm is hoping the car to achieve this mission is the new Austral – or the “Australe” if the boot badge is anything to go by.
The blue ‘e’ on the end acts as a nod towards the electrification of the Austral’s powertrain. It’s not a fully electric car though, as Renault’s new SUV will only be sold here in the UK as a full-hybrid model. Other markets will receive mild-hybrid versions and a lower-powered full-hybrid, but our choice is limited to the top of the range E-TECH Full Hybrid 200 auto.
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As well as its renewed attack on the mid-size SUV segment, Renault has been talking up its “Renaulution” plan. A significant part of this is to draw “on the Alliance’s technological expertise to boost efficiency” – the Alliance in question is the one with Nissan.
Underpinning the new Austral is the same third-generation CMF-C platform used by the latest Nissan Qashqai. The architecture has been designed with electrictrified power in mind from the start, so the impact on practicality as a result of adding a battery is minimal.
With the Austral, Renault has somewhat gone against its principle of looking to the Alliance for technological expertise. Rather than using the e-Power powertrain from the Qashqai, which uses a 1.5-litre turbocharged three-cylinder unit to charge a battery that then feeds an electric motor, under the Austral’s bonnet there’s a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine mated to a 68bhp electric motor – powered by a 2kWh battery.
Renault has taken an individual stance on developing its own powertrain, saying it wants to maintain its own DNA. Representatives from the brand also told us the unit is more focused on efficiency than performance, which is backed up on paper.
Renault’s full-hybrid system actually produces more power than Nissan’s e-Power set-up, at 196bhp compared with 187bhp, but torque is down to 255Nm compared with the Qashqai e-Power’s 330Nm. As a result, the Austral is slightly slower from 0-62mph, taking half a second longer than the Nissan, at 8.4 seconds.
Efficiency is stronger though. Renault claims a 61.1mpg for the full-hybrid Austral. We struggled to match that, although our route involved plenty of motorway driving, which is not ideally suited to maximise the powertrain’s efficiency.
At speeds of up to 62mph the Austral will run purely on electric power. If you’re a little keen with the throttle the petrol unit will make itself known with a faint drone, but most of the time the engine is barely audible. Tyre roar is also well suppressed, with the most noticeable wind noise coming from the pair of large wing mirrors.
There are four driving modes to pick from, adjusting the steering weight, engine responsiveness and powertrain noise piped into the cabin. Eco places more emphasis on the battery and electric motor, Comfort focuses on giving the smoothest powertrain response, in Sport the Austral is keener to offer both the petrol engine and electric motor’s power and Perso allows you to tweak these features individually. The Austral doesn’t come with adaptive suspension, but the passive set-up is comfortable enough.
The modes don’t seem hugely distinguishable while driving, although the new automatic clutchless multi-modal transmission (which can offer 15 separated gear ratio combinations) is best suited to relaxed, smooth driving. In Sport mode in particular, there’s a pause before a surge in revs and a hit of power, giving the tech an almost CVT-like feel.
Brake regeneration features on the Austral, with four different settings which can be adjusted with paddles being the wheel. It’s one of the best systems we’ve come across. The highest mode is quite a lot more aggressive than the others, but it’s nice to have the choices available easily.
Our car featured optional four-wheel steering in the form of Renault’s ‘4CONTROL’. It helps to give the Austral a 10.1-metre turning circle (it’s 11.2 metres without the system), which is handy for manoeuvring in tight spots. In its most aggressive setting you can definitely feel the 4Control system working the rear axle and working to give you a tighter turning radius.
The four-wheel steering system will point the rear wheels in the same direction as the fronts in higher speed corners for stability, and this is matched by relatively well restrained body roll.
The Esprit Alpine trim level we tried features Alcantara seats and suede door trims, 20-inch wheels, blacked-out badging and plenty of Alpine logos inside and out. There was also a full-length optional panoramic roof, which added a decent amount of light into what could have potentially been quite a dark interior.
Inside, the Austral’s cabin is several steps on from the Kadjar. Up front there’s Renault’s new OpenR infotainment system comprising a 12-inch driver’s display and a 12.3-inch central screen. The system is intuitive and the main display is clear and responsive, while the optional head-up display is informative but not intrusive; the driver display can also be configured to place more emphasis on the 3D car surrounds, powertrain readout or sat-nav map.
The centre console looks like it features a huge gear lever, but it’s actually a moveable pad to rest your wrist on. Because the screen is portrait in orientation you do still have to raise your arm to use it, but the physical switches at its base for the climate control are a nice touch.
You’d do well to fill up all the storage bins in the Austral, in fact there’s plenty of room all around. Even the tallest passengers won’t be complaining for space in the rear and the sliding rear bench seat means boot space can be expanded to an impressive 555 litres. The boot itself has a lip which unfortunately can’t be avoided because the boot floor can’t be raised.
Renault hasn’t said how much the Austral will cost when it comes to the UK, or indeed when it’ll come. It has hinted sales will commence in spring 2023 and with the Nissan Qashqai e-Power acting as the obvious target rival, we’d expect a similar £38,000 price tag for the Austral.
Renault Austral E-Tech 200
1.2-litre 3cyl turbo petrol + 1x e-motor
Clutchless multi-modal automatic, front-wheel drive
Now read our list of the best mid-size SUVs…
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