Renault is targeting the posher end of the compact SUV segment with its brand new Austral E-Tech hybrid as part of its ongoing ‘Renaulution’ strategy. Austral is built on the Renault Nissan alliance CMF-CD platform and has a similar footprint to the Renault Kadjar (Nissan Qashqai). Austral will fit well into a segment that accounts for half of all new car sales in Ireland.
Its exterior silhouette is handsome but nothing remarkable conforming with countless rivals – until you take a closer look. It is in the detail where Austral’s designers have really earned their pay. Riding on up to 20 inch alloys the Austral can park up next to the best premium offerings. Our test car looks great and so it should being the range topping Iconic Esprit Alpine grade (€52,295). Three grades are on offer starting with Techno, with Techno Esprit Alpine the mid grade. Pricing starts from €45,295.
The interior seats five adults who can enjoy good connectivity and some high quality materials. Large digital displays feature (12-inch OpenR multimedia screen and 12.3-inch driver’s display) as does voice control. Renault’s partnership with Google sees at present up to 35 apps available in car. Our car not surprisingly was very well appointed and featured a 9.3 inch HUD (head up display) that featured information projected on to the windscreen. Unlike many dash mounted pop-up perspex-screen HUDs the info is more clearly superimposed/positioned on the road ahead and therefor closer to the driver’s eye-line. The interior feels premium with soft touches, an adjustable centre console and plenty of cubbies (35 litres) and the obligatory wireless charging feature. The modular seating features rears that can slide to deliver more legroom or boot space. There are multiple USB-C sockets for devices and wireless charging and smartphone connectivity. The interior lighting is well done too. So the cabin is impressive with only one niggle – an intermittent, very slight rattle from the driver’s door area of our test car. Austral is capable of over the air software updates are available. The boot holds 555 litres. Our test car had an impressive H&K 12-speaker sound system with impressive bass that all ages will enjoy.
The hybrid system combines a turbocharged 1.2 litre, three-cylinder, petrol engine combined with an electric motor powered by a 1.7kWh battery. Combined Austral delivers a healthy 200hp though its new automatic gearbox. It wasn’t so long ago 200hp would only be found in a ‘hot hatch’. Average fuel consumption is a diesel-like 4.7l/100km and there is a full tank maximum range of 1,100km quoted. CO2 emissions are quoted at 105g/km. The Renault Austral has a good driving position that delivers good all-round vision. Bright Matrix LED headlights are standard across the range. Driving the automatic Austral hybrid is entertaining as the car has plenty of power and feels very nimble in any environment. Urban driving is a doddle and on the open road Austral can shift with gusto. The driving experience available is impressively wide for the class. ‘Multi Sense’ driving modes are selectable via a steering wheel mounted button. You can drive economically, enjoying the three degrees of paddle-shift selectable regenerative braking to charge back up the hybrid battery or drive the Austral in comfort or sport with enthusiasm where the car’s performance will impress.
On the road Austral feels ‘right sized’ in that it is compact but accommodating too! Its steering is direct and delivers a surprisingly small turning circle. Our test car had ‘4Control’ four/all wheel steering as standard that meant its turning circle was similar to a supermini’s. Renault’s 4Control turns the rear wheels slightly (up to 5 degrees) to assist manoeuvring. At slow urban speeds as the front wheels steer in one direction – the rears turn very slightly in the opposite direction. At higher speeds, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts, aiding stability. Four wheel steering is nothing new but in the past it was used only in higher end cars – and often only as an option because of the expense, however its use in this class of car is a first. From behind the slightly squared-off steering wheel you cannot sense the rears doing much apart from the sensation in your backside that the whole car is turning with precision.
Renault Austral fills a gap most of us didn’t know existed in the absolutely jam packed C-SUV segment. The Austral is a safe car too – stuffed with 30 ADAS systems as standard. Austral scored highly at NCAP crash testing also. Renault can take a bow for offering a couple of interesting, design-led cars in this competitive class. The Arkana (C-SUV four door coupe) has become a hit in a very short space of time and now the Austral will seek out buyers with a few more quid to spend. The French brand’s portfolio has many attractive cars and its latest model delivers a premium machine at a more mainstream price.