TEST – Finalist for the “car of the year” award, this new SUV bears witness to the return to the forefront of the diamond firm.
Renault is on the road to rebirth. It is an intuition on the faith of the discovery of the range which will be in the showrooms of its distributors in 2025. A privilege reserved for the members of the jury of the “car of the year”. The proof that the Diamond is regaining color: for the second consecutive year, a Renault is in the running for this coveted prize. After the Mégane E-Tech Electric arrived vice-champion this year, all hopes are allowed for the Austral to become the elected 2023. This SUV will make people forget the Kadjar which has not been unworthy since its launch in 2015 but which seemed too tender in the face of fierce competition in the forefront of which is the Peugeot 3008 but now also the 408.
Starting from the third generation of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance’s CMF-CD platform, which the French brand is using for the first time, the designers have designed a silhouette that does not have to be ashamed of its rivals in terms of of proportions and elegance. After a grille monopolized by a hypertrophied diamond treated in brushed satin chrome, the change is based on taut lines, a sculpted bonnet and curved shoulders. The Austral now fully assumes its SUV status with underbody protections, front and rear skids on certain versions as well as highlighted wheel arches that can accommodate 17 to 20 inch and 720 tires. mm in diameter. Around a wheelbase of 2.67 m, the Renault gains a few centimeters compared to the Kadjar and the 3008. It measures 60 mm more, or 4.51 meters. This is enough to make the difference in terms of habitability and trunk volume.
A handful of airplane gas
The revolution continues as the doors open. To the quality of presentation is added the modernism of a dashboard borrowed from the new electric Mégane. The largely customizable instrumentation is fully digital. It rests on a 12.3-inch screen that merges into a lying L-shaped assembly with the central 12-inch panel facing the driver (from level 2). Traffic is much more intuitive than with the old system and Renault had the good idea to keep the air conditioning settings in direct access. In addition to the quality of the graphics and the resolution of the multimedia screen, the user will rent the Google interface giving access to the services and applications of the search engine. Renault has even thought of simplifying navigation through the system menus by installing a hand rest in the shape of an airplane gas handle on the central tunnel. It is an integral part of the sliding curtain which acts as a smartphone holder and provides access to storage spaces.
Decidedly concerned with taking care of the occupants, this SUV adds a 9.3-inch head-up display and, depending on the version, a rear seat that folds down into two parts (2/3-1/3) and each part of which can slide independently on 160 mm. The seat backs have three levels of recline. Depending on the needs, we can therefore focus on legroom or cargo volume. In the best case, the latter stands at 575 litres, 20 liters better than with the 200 hp hybrid version. Finally, it’s a first: Alpine is no longer just a brand but represents Renault’s top-of-the-range finish. It has a particularly opulent atmosphere based on a technical fabric enhanced with gray suedette elements perfectly coordinated with the satin gunmetal gray bodywork color, reserving an almost matte finish. Still in terms of equipment, the Austral incorporates the latest in driving assistance and in particular Active Driver Assist, which allows the vehicle to adapt to the profile of the road and which provides level 2 autonomous driving.
This will not surprise anyone, in the context of the ecological transition, the Austral ignores diesel and only offers electrified gasoline engines. Unlike the Peugeot 3008 and 408 in particular, Renault has not retained the rechargeable hybrid, favoring light hybridization 12 or 48 V and full hybrid with its E-Tech technology (from 40,700 €). The most powerful inaugurates a 3-cylinder 1.2 liter turbo of 130 hp coupled to two electric machines, the first of 68 hp provides electric propulsion, the other acts as a generator and controls the automatic dog gearbox offering 15 combinations of functioning. A 2 kWh (400 V) battery completes the system, dispensing, this is one of its advantages, from connecting to the mains.
The batteries recharge very quickly while driving. In town, thanks to the many phases of deceleration and braking which punctuate the journeys and which make it possible to recover electricity, we travel almost 80% of the time in electric mode (less than 50 km/h). This contributes to displaying reduced CO2 emissions (104 g/km). Thanks to a more contained mass than with a plug-in hybrid, the Austral pulls out of the game in terms of sobriety with consumption that does not exceed 6.2 l/100 km in intensive use. With 200 hp, the driver thus has a good level of performance and times – 5.6 seconds to go from 80 to 120 km / h – and a high level of approval. One downside, however: cold, racing for a few seconds of the 3-cylinder to charge the battery is a bit caricatural.
At the wheel of the Austral, we will appreciate being able to manage the level of recovery using the paddles on the steering wheel and to have with the Sport mode a superior reactivity of the box. Finally, this makes all the salt of this SUV: the presence of rear steering wheels. We can only congratulate Renault for having brought out of its boxes this equipment that the Austral is the only vehicle in its category to offer. It gives it above-average agility on winding roads and facilitates maneuvering in town due to a tight turning radius. The Austral ticks all the boxes for a great career.
Engines: 3-cyl. 1199 cc turbo petrol + 2 electric motors
Power: 130 hp (cumulative: 200 hp)
Torque: 205 Nm at 1,750 rpm
Transmission: Traction, Automatic dog gearbox
Dimensions (L/W/H): 4510 x 1843 x 1618mm
Trunk: 430 liters
Weight: 1,517 kg
Performance (0-100 km/h): 8.4 seconds
Speed: 175 km/h
Consumption (Mixed EU): 4.6 l/100 km
CO2 emissions: 104g/km
Price: from €40,700