First Drive: The Renault Austral arrives as a new hybrid crossover brimmed with technology

What is it?

The Austral is equipped with a new hybrid powertrain. (Renault)
The Austral is equipped with a new hybrid powertrain. (Renault)

Renault’s SUV offering has been riding high in recent years. However, the Kadjar, which was its mid-size offering, started to show its age and, understandably, was cut by Renault in favour of this – the shiny new Austral.

Coming to the UK in tip-top full hybrid form (other markets gain other variants) the Austral is here to help Renault gain traction back in the competitive C-segment, while expanding the firm’s range of high-riding models in the process.

With plenty of technology and an ultra-efficient engine setup, the Austral really needs to arrive with a bang to shake off the competitors. Let’s see what it likes.

What’s new?

The Austral is based on the same platform as the Nissan Qashqai. (Renault)
The Austral is based on the same platform as the Nissan Qashqai. (Renault)

The Austral takes advantage of learnings made across the wider Alliance group. So underneath it benefits from the latest CMF-CD platform which, as well as underpinning the latest Nissan Qashqai, has been designed from the off to incorporate electrification of some sort. It also means that it’s able to bring plenty of interior space, with the fitment of the battery not having too much of an impact on practicality overall.

The Austral is also jam-packed with the latest assistance systems, with 32 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) incorporated within its design to ensure that it keeps the driver, passengers and other road users as safe as possible.

What’s under the bonnet?

Renault is offering the Austral with a number of powertrain setups across Europe but, for now at least, the UK is getting just one. It’s the most powerful of all the offerings, bringing 196bhp and 255Nm from a combination of a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine and a 50kW electric motor, with a dinky little 2kWh battery there for energy storage. It’s not a plug-in hybrid, mind you, with Renault stating that it believed a regular hybrid to be the best fit for most drivers.

Renault claims that the setup should return up to 61mpg while emitting a very fleet-friendly 104g/km CO2. Meanwhile, the performance it delivers isn’t too bad, with 0-60mph coming in 8.2 seconds. Keep with it and you’ll reach 109mph flat-out.

What’s it like to drive?

The Austral’s powertrain is smooth and quiet. (Renault)
The Austral’s powertrain is smooth and quiet. (Renault)

The Austral kicks into life without the merest hint of engine intervention and it continues in whisper-quiet silence at lower speeds. Gain a little pace and that little 1.2-litre engine springs into action, albeit without any huge change in audio levels – it’s impressively refined with engine noise well isolated from entering the cabin. You also get optional four-wheel-steering on the new Austral, which helps to make it more manoeuvrable at lower speeds – it can do a U-turn in the same space as a Clio, in fact. However, the Austral isn’t a huge car in the first place, so this does feel like a feature too many. It’s also likely to add a good degree more expense and harm fuel economy, too.

Despite a slightly fractious low-speed ride – no doubt not helped by our test car’s 20-inch alloy wheels – the Austral feels quiet and composed at greater speeds. It’s not awfully quick, but performance is more than adequate for usual driving duties. Through higher speeds the Austral does show its weight, leaning somewhat through the bends and though the steering is well weighted, it’s not all that direct nor feel-some.

How does it look?

The Austral looks particularly good in the Esprit Alpine trim. (Renault)
The Austral looks particularly good in the Esprit Alpine trim. (Renault)

Renault has incorporated some smart details on the Austral. It’s the first car to come with Renault’s new ‘Esprit Alpine’ trim level, which takes inspiration from the sports car brand and kits the SUV out with all manner of more eye-catching additions.

But, in fairness, the Austral doesn’t need too many trinkets to spruce its looks up as it’s already a very attractively styled thing. The headlights look particularly sharp, while around the back the rear LED lights are nicely positioned. We’d only say that the ‘E’ badging which comes after the hybrid model’s name badge on the rear feels a little misleading, as it’s not a fully electric vehicle.

What’s it like inside?

The rear seats of the Austral offer lots of space. (Renault)
The rear seats of the Austral offer lots of space. (Renault)

That new platform underpinning the Austral has paid some serious dividends when it comes to interior space. There’s loads of room for those sitting in the rear seats, with the panoramic roof fitted to our test car having no discernible impact on headspace. Those rear seats are on rails, too, which allows you to choose between more boot space or more legroom. Material quality is good throughout, too, with overall fit-and-finish done to a high standard as well.

There are up to 555 litres of boot space with the rear seats slid forward, while folding them down entirely frees up 1,455 litres. The boot is also square and easy to access, though the underfloor storage area was taken up by extra sound system equipment.

What’s the spec like?

All Austral models come with plenty of equipment. (Renault)
All Austral models come with plenty of equipment. (Renault)

Though we’ve not had a full list of specifications or pricing for the new Austral, it’s expected to come kitted out with plenty of features. Our test car came in Esprit Alpine trim level, which adds a host of exterior tweaks such as a contrast roof, 20-inch alloy wheels and the aforementioned panoramic sunroof.

But the real gains come at the front of the Austral’s interior, where you get a super-wide screen setup. It’s running Google’s latest automotive technology, too, which works really well and gives great access to functions such as Maps and Spotify. It’s really quick and responsive too – but the best news is that it’ll be standard on all Austral models coming to the UK, so you won’t need to pay any extra to have it.

Verdict

The Google infotainment system is a real highlight. (Renault)
The Google infotainment system is a real highlight. (Renault)

The Austral might not arrive as a complete game-changer in the C-segment, but everything that it does, it does well. It’s quiet and refined, with the hybrid setup shifting between electric and petrol power seamlessly and intelligently. The onboard tech is great, too, with Google’s hand in the Austral’s infotainment system playing a pivotal role in its success.

The space and practicality boxes are firmly checked, too, with the sliding rear bench being another great feature. So while the Austral’s individual features may not break new ground for the segment, combined they make a car that is definitely worth considering.

  • Model: Renault Austral

  • Base price: £35,000 (est)

  • Powertrain: 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine with hybrid assistance

  • Power: 196bhp

  • Torque: 255Nm

  • Max speed: 109mph

  • 0-60mph: 8.2 seconds

  • CO2 emissions: 104g/km

  • Economy: 61mpg