Test drive: Renault Austral mHEV 160 auto: an outstanding success

This mid-range version of the new Renault Austral became obsolete very quickly. At launch, it featured the well-known 1.3 cc 4-cylinder engine shared with the Kadjar as well as various Daimler group cars. However, in this case it is mated to the continuously variable X-Tronic transmission also used by its cousin, the Nissan Qashqai. A very light 12 V hybridization puts it in line with the current trend towards electrification.

The engine may not be the most technologically advanced around, to the contrary of the body or the car’s interior as it now uses the electric Mégane parts. On the outside, the Austral has beautifully curved lines and a fairly high ride stance giving it a handsome presence. The front features C-shaped headlamps and a radiator grille peppered with small lashes of chrome. The rear end is also quite distinctive, with lights stretching all the way to the center of the tailgate on which the brand’s new logo sits proudly.

I like it

As we already noted during our electric Mégane and Austral tests, Renault truly entered the 21st century with its dashboards beautifully arranged around a 12-inch central tablet. The dashboard screen facing the driver is the same size. The trim is sober and ways to modify it are fairly limited. However, that’s just a detail. Fit and finish is top grade and the attractive seats are inviting. They could be more supportive and the bottom flat part could be a bit longer to improve them. Heating and ventilation old-school knobs will reassure those who don’t like touchscreens. The steering wheel shape may come as a surprise, but it’s a pleasure to use. The rear seat slides over 16 cm to offer more space for the passengers’ legs or improve boot volume up to 575 liters.

Quite clever

Driving the Renault Austral on a daily basis is a real pleasure. The raised driving position ensures peace of mind on any journey. The engine is muted, but lacks oomph on the main roads.  In Germany, the 160 km/h top speed might well consign the Austral to the right-hand lane. In town, you can move around easily, but driving in electric mode only will always remain a dream, even if you select the Eco mode. Simulating gear changes all the time means the continuously-variable transmission avoids the « coffee-grinder effect » so common with some Japanese cars. Finally, the multimedia system runs either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, allowing to navigate using Google Maps or downloading apps on the screen without having to connect your mobile phone.

I don’t like it

This compact SUV is fitted with large wheels and offers a fairly firm ride. This will hardly shock those used to other French brands known for their silky smooth running gear . Former enthusiasts of top-of-the-range German brands who can no longer afford them as a company car, won’t have any problem with suspension firmness. Even more so as that’ what probably explains why  the Austral is so dynamic on the road.

Why I buy it

Beautifully designed and fully upgraded inside, this SUV should enjoy a large success, especially as it will soon be available in a longer, 7-seater version called…  Espace. This Mild-Hybrid version is less powerful than the 200bhp E-Tech Full Hybrid version and should be more suited to private customers. And from the outside, it’s even impossible to tell it apart from the more powerful version. Fit and finish is pretty good and as you move up the range, the materials quality should ensure that the car stands the test of time and use. Against Belgium’ s best seller, the Hyundai Tucson, the Austral prices are just right.

Why I don’t buy it

The Austral starts from €38,900, but the one we tested was closer to €45,000…  a few extras can be very tempting indeed, like the Matrix LED Vision (€900), the head-up display (€600), the Harman Kardon pack (€950) or the titanium black leather upholstery (€1,000). The suspension settings might not be  to the liking of some who like made in France magic carpets. From time to time, the transmission can be hesitating and reluctant but eventually you don’t really notice it. Eventually, our test average fuel consumption was not particularly impressive but you know we never really bother with achieving the lowest one… but 8 litres/100 km should be considered as high… (Pictures: Pierre Fontignies – Translation: Dimitri Urbain)

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