When you first get into any car, it always takes a certain amount of time to find where everything lives, whether it’s the trip computer buttons, the bonnet release or the climate controls (especially as some manufacturers, such as Renault, hide them within various sub-menus).
All these things you generally figure out without too much difficulty and relatively quickly. But the problem I have with our Renault Koleos is that even after a while behind the wheel, I’m still none the wiser about where all the power is when I put my foot down.
Looking at the specifications of the car doesn’t help much, because on paper my Koleos seems like it should be quite potent. A 2.0-litre dCi diesel with 175bhp and 380Nm of torque should be pretty punchy, shouldn’t it?
But out on the road when I’m in need of a little bit of grunt, perhaps when pulling out on a roundabout or needing to make a pass on the motorway, I end up driving as if I’m in a puny city car with tiny power and torque figures.
So why is that? I’ve narrowed it down, and although a hefty kerbweight of 1,829kg is partly to blame, it’s actually the Renault’s X-Tronic automatic gearbox that’s at fault.
It’s generally fine for cruising about if you don’t ever need to make swift progress, because it keeps revs low. But if you ever ask this continuously variable transmission (CVT) for more than gentle pace, you’ll regret it.
Stamping on the throttle results in the revs rising and the rattly diesel making a lot of noise, but without much progress to match. I’d definitely prefer a manual version if I were choosing; not only does the CVT sap power, it also hurts refinement.
As with any car, once you are used to the gearbox you won’t be all that fussed about slight flaws in ride quality, interior plastics or any other detail that you might criticise when first getting to grips with it.
That’s how I feel about most of my initial gripes with the Koleos; they’re not ideal, and I’m bonding with the car despite them. But now that I have passed the honeymoon period and am well into my relationship with our French fancy, I still get annoyed on most journeys by the poor gearbox.
Despite that rather significant pain, I’m starting to appreciate some of the Renault’s finer points. The ride quality is (mostly) good, which not only ensures that I get to my photoshoot locations in a relaxed way, but also helps when I’m sitting in the back snapping tracking shots.
There’s loads of space for me to sit there, too, and plenty of storage for all the photography kit and car cleaning gear that I use every day.
Like most things from the other side of the Channel, the Renault has some charm to help boost its everyday appeal. Its interior design is great, and while there are some hard plastics, I really don’t mind them.
I’m also keen on the Koleos’s typically French exterior styling, and although I’m not usually a fan of the way SUVs look, I’ve started to warm to this one.
There are a couple of other bad points to touch on aside from the disappointing powertrain, though. The air-conditioning is making a slight ticking noise at full blast, which is a bit annoying but something I’ve only encountered when using the system during the recent hot months. More concerning is the 37mpg fuel economy. That’s okay, but way off the claimed 47.9mpg figure. For someone who drives a lot of miles like me, the fuel bills are stacking up. I’m very much of the opinion that if you do a high mileage, an SUV isn’t the car for you; they’re just too big and heavy to get decent fuel economy, and that weight clearly hampers performance as well.
*Insurance quote from AA (0800 107 0680) for a 42-year-old in Banbury, Oxon, with three points.