ASTONISHINGLY, the last Renault I reviewed was the Scenic – way back in 2017. Its infotainment screen was (outrageously) mounted vertically in the centre console. At the time, I think only Tesla was using the portrait option. How things have changed . . .

However, I do have a fondness for all French cars, which goes back many years to a white Renault 18 I’d often borrow from my dad when I was between cars.  

I remember almost nothing about it – other than whenever I stopped in any built-up area, I would get total strangers opening the rear doors and trying to clamber inside. I got so fed up with explaining that I wasn’t a taxi driver that I started locking the rear doors before I went anywhere. Yes, this was the days before central locking. I also remember it being a very comfortable ride. So, some things haven’t changed . . . 

The subject of this week’s review is the Renault Austral – which could have been named by an elderly Antipodean who passed away two letters short of spelling out their birthplace. However, the word ‘Austral’ is a directional one, meaning ‘South’. However, Renault stuck an ‘e’ on the end of the boot lettering and now people are asking what “Australe” means and “how should it be pronounced?” There isn’t even a space between ‘Austral’ and the ‘e’. 

But who cares? Certainly not any owners of a Renault Austral(e) because it could just be the perfect family hybrid SUV. Spoiler alert: I loved it. 

Why? Well, I’d like you to read the whole review but I know we live in a world of Tiks, Toks and Tweets so here’s the skinny: 

5 Things that will make you want one 

  • It’s good value for money – the entry-level “Techno” starts at just £34,695 and is packed with kit like a head-up display, 12.3-inch digital dash, 12-inch portrait infotainment screen with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay 
  • It’s spacious both up-front and in the rear while boot space trumps the Nissan Qashqai e-Power at a generous 555 litres. Pull the release handles in the boot to drop the rear seats and you get a whopping 1,525 litres. 
  • The rear seats slide back and forth by up to 16cm to give more boot space or provide more leg room for rear passengers. 
  • The full-hybrid powertrain gives 197 bhp, so the Austral feels quick. The 0-62mph dash takes just 8.4 seconds. 
  • 55 mpg is easily achievable in real-world driving. I managed nearer 60 mpg in mixed driving around town and A-Roads. 

3 Extra things that will convince you to go for the range-topping Iconic Esprit Alpine model (£39,195): 

  • 4-wheel steering. A revelation when manoeuvring but it is also coupled with a a multi-link rear suspension system that means twistier roads are more enjoyable too.  
  • Harmon Kardon audio system with 12 speakers. Awesome. 
  • Huge panoramic sunroof with an electric blind that lets the light flood in. I imagine . . .This is Scotland in December, don’t forget. 

And just so you understand I’m not being paid by Renault, here’s 5 things I wasn’t too mad about: 

  • Three, yes three control stalks behind the steering wheel, on the right. One for gear selection, one for wiper control and a really-awkward-to-get-to third one for audio controls. 
  • Too many adjustments are available to the driver’s seat. In a full week I still couldn’t get comfortable, although I concede more patience may provide the perfect set-up. 
  • One-pedal driving was just out of reach. With brake regen set to maximum (via the flappy paddles behind the steering wheel), the Austral was relaxing to drive. But, it was frustratingly short of perfect by not coming to a complete halt when lifting off the throttle. 
  • I’m struggling to find another 2 . . . Okay, the massaging driver’s seat could have been more brutal. 
  • The view through the rear window isn’t great. 

If you’re still with me then here’s the rest of the info: 

The Renault Austral is a mid-sized SUV which goes up against the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tuscon and Toyota RAV4. It’s a descendant of the long-forgotten Kadjar, which was basically a Qashqai in a different frock. 

But, unlike the Kadjar, the Austral is much smarter looking thanks to strong design features like the striking front C-shaped LED lights and sharp, angular rear LEDs which mimic the fronts but stretch across the hatch to almost meet at the large Renault badge.  

My top-spec Iconic Esprit Alpine – or Renault Austral E-Tech Iconic Esprit Alpine, to give it its full name (and why on earth would you?) looked particularly good in Flame Red with Diamond Black roof (+£1,250). 

It’s also much smarter when it comes to the powertrain. The Austral E-Tech is a full-hybrid with a 1.2-litre petrol engine, ably assisted by a powerful electric motor and linked to a clutchless automatic gearbox which results in a fuel-sipping, 197 bhp delight. 

It drives very well indeed, but how much of that is down to the 4-wheel-steer and multi-link rear suspension, I don’t know. Lesser models, with no steering in the rear, have to make do with torsion beam rear suspension which I’m sure is fine but will probably take the fun out of some of those twistier A and B roads. 

Considering the petrol unit is only 1.2 litres the Austral feels very peppy indeed. That electric motor certainly earns its keep. You’ll also spend quite a bit of time running in EV mode too – especially around town – as the Austral’s 1.7kWh battery is large by full-hybrid standards. Honda’s Z-RV only gets 1.05kWh. 

The Renault Austral always sets off in EV mode and will run in that lovely, serene mode until you get up to speed. The transitions between electric-only and hybrid are seamless and because the auto gearbox is so clever, you’ll hardly ever notice the gear changes. They do become apparent if you push the car hard, in which case it needs a second to sort out its options and the engine revs can rise significantly. Nothing as annoying as other hybrids can be, though, especially those with “simpler” CVT drives. 

I found body-roll to be very well controlled and with the steering set to heaviest (it is configurable) the Austral felt truly sporty – not Cupra Formentor sporty, but still sporty. 

Even on 20-inch wheels, I found the ride to be comfortable on any type of road surface – which I found as surprising as it was welcome. You have to hit a pretty big lump in the road for the Austral to get out of shape. 

I’m also glad to report that the many driver assist systems (Renault boasts up to 30 of them on the Austra) don’t nag you to death. They’re also easy to find and either switch off or dial down. 

Inside, it has the more expensive Honda Z-RV hybrid beaten for the wow factor with its 2 very large, high-definition screens. One sits directly in front of the driver, while the other is mounted centrally, but angled toward the driver slightly. 

It’s a fine cockpit with Alcantara touches everywhere, stitched through in a mid-blue thread. A welcome change from faux leather. It has a sportier look than most rivals with front seats that are grippingly sportier around the posterior, too. 

On first seeing the large-handled, sliding wrist-wrest (thingy) in the centre console, I thought “Well that’s a waste of space”. I was wrong. It slides forward so you can rest your left wrist perfectly on its padded top to easily tap away at the infotainment screen. 

Pulling it backwards reveals 2 cup holders. But its “Piece de resistance” is the large flat surface that holds your phone and charges it wirelessly. Brilliant. No more leaving your phone behind in the car because it was hidden away in a dark recess below the dash. It’s just there; under your left arm. You can’t miss it. 

As stated earlier, the Renault Austral is spacious inside as well as practical. ISOFIX points are easy to access in the rear and parents will love being able to slide the rear seats forward, making it easier to reach around to the kids in the back. I also spotted the sunglasses holder, above the rearview mirror, doubles as a wide-angle mirror so you can keep an eye on the little rascals without having to lean around. Neat touch. 

The infotainment is built around Google so you can speak commands to alter things like climate and set sat nav, etc, although I found the combination of physical controls for temperature and air-con, combined with the large icons on the 12-inch screen, meant making any adjustments was very simple. 

So, the perfect family SUV? Very possibly. It compares well with my current favourite – the Honda Z-RV, which I found to be an even better driver’s car. But the Renault is significantly cheaper, is better looking and has much more of a wow factor on the inside. Its MPG figures are better too. 

If it was my money, I’d go for the mid-range Renault Austral Techno Esprit Alpine (£36,695). It has everything you need plus a powered boot, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. After all, Scotla is much colder than Austral . . . 

AT A GLANCE: 

Renault Austral E-Tech iconic esprit Alpine

OTR Price: £40,945 (as tested)

Engine: E-Tech, 1.2 petrol, electric hybrid

Power: 200 PS 

Transmission: Automatic

0-62mph: 8.4 secs 

Top Speed: 108 mph 

WLTP Combined Economy: 57.7 mpg 

WLTP Medium C02: 110 g/km

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