Competing with well established brands, the likes of Toyota’s RAV-4, Subaru’s Forester and Kia’s Sportage, can this, well, quirky yet likeable offering from French manufacturer Renault steal the limelight in the under $40K mid-sized SUV market segment?
Whilst there are many opinions on both sides of the fence, it seems this rarity in the Aussie market might just have what it takes to get Renault into the mainstream?
Here’s what Car Sales had to say in their review:
Those swoopy coopy German SUVs are really starting to gain momentum these days and now even mainstream French brands want in, so say g’day to the Renault Arcana.
The oddly named small SUV is pitched as a cut price alternative to the BMW X2 and Audi Q3 sport-back and has a suitably sporty look. But is this sleek new SUV worth taking for a test drive? Let’s take a closer squiz.
Renault has been a perpetual minnow in Australia. Its vehicles commonly viewed as wacky, expensive lumps of fanciful French machinery.
On the surface the Arcana kind of falls into this group but there are plenty of positive talking points like that sporty design and solid equipment levels.
We’re testing the mid-spec Arcana intense model grade. A $37,490 proposition which makes it about 13 grand cheaper than the Audi Q2 sport-back and BMW X2 and it slots in just below the coleos medium SUV in Renault’s range. Under here we have a small but sprightly 1.3 litre turbo petrol engine that favours efficiency over brute force, just like the Renault captor light SUV upon which it’s based. The four-cylinder engine hooks up to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission driving the front wheels, and there’s no all-wheel drive option.
This is my first taste of the Arcana and while headroom is a little tight due to the sunroof, first impressions are positive. It’s got some classy furniture, lots of digital screens and plenty of functionality.
Get a little closer and some of the plastics look a bit average and the overall cabin design feels just a bit off-kilter, a bit last generation. I can tell you now Audi ain’t going to be too worried about this French incursion. But the Renault redeems itself when it comes to these seats, whose leather and suede upholstery is just lovely. The cushions are supportive and maybe a little bit firm but I really like these Scandinavian influence headrests. As a nice bonus this model comes with power adjustable front seats, complete with heating and cooling functions. It also gets a heated steering wheel with tilt and reach adjustment. You get two USB ports, one aux input and a 12 volt socket and incidental storage is neither great nor terrible, it’s kind of average. You’ve got two decent sized spring loaded cup holders or bottle holders. I like the fact that you can put the key here, nice little spot for it, your phone goes there, the door pockets will just fit a large bottle and you’ve got a small bin here with a sliding armrest.
We’re seeing some really clever and thoughtful interior designs these days and this one feels just a bit undercooked. I would have liked to see more novel features to match its bold exterior. That said the big 9.3 inch central touchscreen looks great, and while the menu system is not as intuitive as others out there, I’m always going to default to Apple Carplay so, I don’t really care.
The seven inch digital instrument cluster looks good and has average levels of customisation but it does get some unique features, such as this little timing system that shows how far behind the car you are in front. There’s also a bigger but optional 10.25 inch digital display. This is a well equipped vehicle but it is missing a few ingredients, such as a head-up display and it’s only got single zone automatic climate control. And… if you want wireless charging you’re going to have to step up to the top spec RS line model.
Parking the Renault is made easier with an automatic parking system, along with front rear and side parking sensors, not to mention a rear view camera. But there’s no 360 degree camera system on this model grade. In terms of safety technology the swoopy SUV is well equipped and I found the adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and speed limit sign recognition to be the most useful. For what is basically a small SUV backseat room is pretty good, I mean headroom’s a little tight with that sloping roof but legroom’s not bad and comfort levels are good too, you’ve still got the suede and leather seats, there’s some nice leather stitching on the doors and amenities pretty good as well. You get twin air vents, dual USB ports, individual reading lights, a fold out armrest with cup cupholders and twin ISOFIX child seat anchorages.
There’s no powered tailgate but real estate is impressive back here. You’ve also got the split level floor so you have the nice flat loading space or open up more room for bigger items. There’s also a side pocket here, a small light, but no tie down anchorages or bag hooks. It comes with a space saver spare wheel with extra storage inside that and split folding rear seats.
Righto, let’s see how this wannabe coupe drives. Cue the Daft Punk dance music!
Okay, so we couldn’t afford the rights to play Daft Punk but there’s no denying this little French machine likes to boogie. It’s sporty and responsive and dials into its dynamic design with gusto. Yep, there’s a lot to like about the way the Arcana handles, tracking through corners eagerly thanks to a nice tire and suspension combo. And despite its tall looks there’s not a whole lot of body roll going on.
I love the car’s sporty and engaging dynamics but on cruddy road surfaces ride comfort suffers. Look body control is really good but at times it feels stiffer than a surfboard. And on choppy roads it can get a little exhausting after a while. As for straight line performance the tech specs suggest this SUV barely has enough power to pull the skin off cold custard, but it delivers plenty of thrust thanks to a good spread of mid-range torque. Yes, it feels pretty slow off the line and won’t touch its German rivals but once rolling it’s pretty zippy and the seven-speed gearbox delivers pretty short sharp shifts, and I like the fact you’ve got the flappy paddles here. It’s, uh, it’s pretty responsive!
Overall refinement is pretty good. It’s a fairly quiet cabin, there’s not a lot of tyre noise and just a little bit of wind noise from the mirrors. While the hybrid powertrain is not available in Australia the regular engine is still pretty efficient. If you drive it carefully on the freeway you can get some pretty good numbers. Speaking of cruising, the obligatory jacked up ride height gives you a better view of the road than most passenger cars, but that’s from the front and side the rear view is hampered by the big rear pillars and small rear window.
I really like the way the Renault handles. I’m enjoying driving it and while it can be a little firm, it’s not chronic and I don’t think it’s going to be a deal breaker.
When it comes to running costs it has a solid 5 year warranty, 5 years capped price servicing and matching roadside assist. But the depreciation rates of Renault vehicles is pretty savage in Australia, so that will hurt when you go to sell it.
There’s a lot to like about this quirky SUV but there’s just no way it’s going to be cross shopped with a BMW or an Audi. Considering the brand’s best-selling model in Australia is a commercial van, it’s clear Renault’s issue is getting SUV buyers into showrooms. But if you’re looking for an upmarket coupe-like SUV that won’t break the bank it’s worth taking for a test drive.
Okay, so it’s not mind-blowing but you can bet your bottom dollar it’ll be one of the rarest SUVs on the road.