Renault Austral E-Tech Review - Select Car Leasing
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Renault Austral E-Tech Review

Introduction

The Renault Kadjar had a good go at winning-over the UK's car-leasing public, falling just short. But the massive C-SUV segment is far too important to ignore, so Renault is having another crack at it with the Austral.

Sitting above the coupe-SUV Arkana and beneath the incoming Rafale flagship, the Austral is prepared to go head-to-head with the all-conquering Nissan Qashqai, the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson dynamic duo, and about 20 other models from all the mainstream manufacturers.

Like the Kadjar, the Austral once again shares its basic platform with the Qashqai but features Renault's own take on a hybrid powertrain, plus one or two high-tech features you won’t find anywhere else.

We’ve been testing the top-of-the-range Iconic Esprit Alpine version to find out if they’re enough to turn the car-buying public’s heads.

Select's rating score* - 3.8 / 5

At a Glance

The Austral is understated in its looks. A couple of pinched lines on the bonnet and wings, plus Renault’s trademark C-shaped front and rear lights, sets the Austral apart from a Vauxhall Grandland, VW Tiguan or Ford Kuga.


Renault is also keeping the Austral line-up simple, so there are three trim levels — Techno, Techno Esprit Alpine and Iconic Esprit Alpine — and just one engine, a 1.2-litre affair linked to two electric motors. All cars come with LED lighting, a 12.0-inch central touchscreen powered by Google’s Android Automotive, and a head-up display, while top-level cars get four-wheel-drive and four-wheel-steering.

Key Features

Yes, just like a £100k Range Rover or £300k Rolls-Royce, the Austral comes with rear-wheel-steering, making it unique in the segment — and pretty much any segment below the super-luxury.

The 4Control Advanced is the third generation of a system that first appeared in the 2008 Laguna GT. In the Austral, the system has been upgraded, offering an increase in maximum angle from 3.5 to 5 degrees and a broader spread of settings which operate either in conjunction with one of the preset drive modes or can be customised to suit the driver’s personal preference.


The appeal of the system is two-fold. Around town, the rear wheels tuck in, giving the 4.5-metre-long Austral the manoeuvrability of a far smaller car. In fact, at 10.1 metres, the Austral’s turning circle is smaller than that of the Clio supermini or even the Mini hatchback, making urban driving a piece of cake.

On the open road, the all-wheel steering maintains that agility, allowing quicker, neater turn-in at higher speeds without compromising the car’s stability. It takes a little getting used to, especially at its more extreme settings, but it does give the Austral the feeling of a smaller, nimble car.


Performance & Drive

There’s only one drivetrain in the Austral — a 200hp petrol-electric hybrid that uses a 1.2-litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine, electric traction motor and integrated starter-generator. It’s all linked to a seven-speed automatic transmission, and while most versions are front-wheel-drive, top-spec models get an all-wheel-drive arrangement as standard, along with that trick all-wheel steering.

200hp is pretty decent for the class, putting the Austral between the 190hp Nissan Qashqai and the 229hp Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson. But Renault is completely open that the hybrid setup is all about economy, not performance. Although the car’s basic platform, called CMF-CD, is shared with Nissan’s Qashqai, the hybrid setup is Renault’s own rather than the Japanese firm’s peculiar engine-as-generator e-Power system, allowing it to focus more keenly on efficiency.

Zero to 62mph takes a reasonable 8.4 seconds — quick enough. Driven carefully, the EV motor will power the Austral to 70mph and beyond in smooth silence. Heavy acceleration will bring the petrol engine into play and lead to a brief pause while the transmission sorts itself out but doesn’t bring any undue noise — it’s certainly a far quieter and smoother affair than Nissan’s e-Power unit, and overall it’s among the quietest cars in the class.


There’s a relatively large (by full-hybrid standards) 2kWh battery, and Renault says that thanks to this and smart brake regeneration, 80% of urban journeys can be completed in purely electric mode.

The surprisingly sharp turn-in to the Austral, thanks to the 4Control Advanced all-wheel steering at its more extreme settings, means this SUV will dive into corners with impressive verve. Elsewhere, however, there’s not much in the way of weight or feel to the steering, and quick turn-in doesn’t make up for an otherwise lifeless feel.

We only drove the 4Control version, which comes with multi-link rear suspension. Lower-spec cars come with a different torsion beam system that might behave differently, as well as smaller wheels that are likely to be more comfortable.


Running Costs

Renault claims that the Austral has the strongest residual values in the class. That equates to fairly attractive finance and leasing deals. There are cheaper deals to be found on some rivals, but these are generally for lower-spec alternatives, meaning the Austral is competitively placed among them.

The entire focus for the Austral has been on efficiency; the Austral also has one of the most efficient powertrains in the segment, offering a truly impressive WLTP figure of 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 105g/km. That means a BiK of 26% for company car drivers, which compares very favourably to many of the alternatives.

Renault offers a three-year/60,000-mile warranty on all its new cars, which is less than the five or seven years offered by Korean rivals.


Interior

While the Austral is fairly anonymous from the outside, the interior does more to differentiate itself thanks to some attractive touches and a smart, responsive user interface.

There’s the usual proliferation of gloss black and chrome coloured plastics, but everything feels well made and touches like the suede dashboard surface with contrast stitching are pleasingly tactical, along with the eye-catching French flags on the seats of Iconic Esprit Alpine models.

In front of the driver is a massive 12.3-inch digital instrument display supplemented with a 9.3-inch head-up display. Both are crisp, clear and configurable, with the instruments able to display Google Maps directly in front of you thanks to the car’s Android Automotive operating system. This also powers the 12.0-inch screen at the centre of the dash and makes for a responsive and intuitive interface.


There’s a clever sliding wrist rest that makes the touchscreen easier to use, and there are nicely ergonomic toggle switches for the air conditioning.

Renault says the Austral offers the best rear legroom in the class, and it certainly feels hugely spacious, whichever seat you happen to be in. There’s plenty of room for the standard “four six-footers”, and headroom isn’t an issue even with the remarkably large panoramic sunroof, and despite the hybrid battery being located under the rear bench.

Renault also cheekily claims that the Austral has a 550-litre boot, which is pretty good for the class. While that’s true, it’s only the case if you slide the rear bench all the way forward, but that suddenly makes the rear passenger space considerably less generous. Give your passengers the maximum legroom, and the boot shrinks to 430 litres. 


Safety

Renault has long prided itself on the safety credentials of its models, and the Austral is no different. Every model comes with seven airbags, autonomous emergency braking, and lane keep assist. Blind spot warning, rear active emergency braking, and rear cross-traffic alert are also standard, with other bits of tech adding up to 30 advanced driver assistance systems. These range from highway assist, which combines adaptive cruise control and lane centring, to adaptive matrix LED lighting and automatic parking assistance.

Euro NCAP gave the Austral the full five stars in its testing, with strong overall performance for occupant protection and safety assistance systems but a weaker rating for how it protects vulnerable road users.

There are two Isofix points in the rear, plus a third in the front passenger seat.


Options

Like so many brands, Renault is abandoning the lengthy options lists of the past in favour of a few simple, well-equipped trim levels. In fact, the only choice buyers are faced with is a selection of metallic paint colours in single or two-tone finish.

Every version gets the digital instruments and a 12.0-inch central screen, head-up display, adaptive matrix LED headlights, reversing camera, keyless entry, and dual-zone automatic air conditioning.

Techno Esprit Alpine adds heated seats and steering wheel, a powered tailgate, 20-inch alloys and massage seats, while the top-spec Iconic Esprit Alpine includes a panoramic glass roof, wireless phone charging, unique exterior and interior styling plus the all-wheel-drive and all-wheel-steering.


Rival Cars

The C-SUV segment is huge and getting bigger. Renault reckons that C-segment cars will represent 44% of the UK market by the end of this year, and 62% of those will be SUVs, with more than a quarter full hybrids like the Austral.

So there’s no shortage of rivals out there that the Austral needs to beat. Most obvious are the Nissan Qashqai e-Power (below), Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, which between them, occupy three of the top six places on the UK’s best-seller list this year.


They start at lower list prices than the Austral for entry-level hybrid options. However, for a like-for-like specification, the prices are far closer, and none offers quite the efficiency of the Renault.

Honda’s inbound ZR-V is another full-hybrid machine offering plenty of tech and space for all the family but nowhere near the same efficiency, and it’s a similar story for Ford’s Kuga full hybrid.


Verdict

There is no shortage of cars duking it out for supremacy in the C-SUV market, all trying to find some angle to make them stand out. While the Austral is well equipped, so are most similarly priced alternatives. 


However, the impressive frugality and refinement of the E-Tech hybrid system are worthy of note, as is the spacious and well-thought-out interior. While it might not be car that will instantly win over the heart, the head might have a few words to say about it.


Where to next?

View latest Renault Austral leasing deals - from just £316.79 per month inc VAT**.

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**Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top leading independent car website reviews of the Renault Austral

**Correct as of 26/07/2023. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 24 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £2,851.11 (Plus admin fee) Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.

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