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RENAULT KOLEOS ZEN
Base price: $44,990.
Powertrain and performance: 2.5-litre petrol four, 126kW/226Nm, continuously variable transmission, FWD, Combined economy 8.1 litres per 100km, 0-100kmh 9.5 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4672mm long, 1678mm high, 2705mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 458-942 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/60 tyres.
We like: Striking style, interior space, refinement.
We don't like: Scrappy powertrain, cabin finish not as nice as other Renaults.
A couple of things about the Renault Koleos: it's not really French, despite the badge on the front. And yet it is so very French in many ways.
As with the previous Koleos, the latest model is based on a platform from Alliance partner Nissan. Think of it as an X-Trail-makeover and you're not too far off. But it's not built in France or even Japan: the Koleos is manufactured by Renault Samsung Motors (RSM) in Korea, a wholly owned subsidiary of the French company. Visit Korea and you'll see this car running around with a Samsung badge on the grille.
That's okay. The Japanese build very good SUVs. So do the Koreans. This could be the best of both worlds.
The only potential problem with Koleos is that if you're choosing this model over the more mainstream X-Trail (or indeed any of the other squillion medium-SUVs on the market), you're probably doing so to be a bit different. Or enjoy some perceived Frenchness.
That's okay, too. The Koleos might never been anywhere near France, but it's very Renault-like in its styling and dynamic demeanour.
There's a fairly ordinary-looking medium-sized SUV in there. No body panels are shared with the X-Trail, but there are probably enough hard points common between the two to explain a distinct similarity in profile and proportion.
But as is so often the case with French cars, the delight is very much in the styling detail. The Koleos styling is the work of Renault chief designer Laurens van den Acker (formerly the man who created all of those wild lines on Mazda models). He's clearly gone to town on the Koleos, with enormous C-shaped running lights at the front, a bold chrome line that runs right around the front guards and some intricate work around the tailgate. Love the way those lights meet in the middle.
There's a similar ethos in the cabin, which is built around quite conservative architecture but benefits from some surprise-and-delight detailing.
You can choose not only the style of digital instrument panel but also the colour (purple, green, go for it) and whether the graphics are presented in a 'negative' or 'positive' contrast. There's plenty to admire, although there's a lot more hard plastic than you get in a Captur.
Another striking thing about Koleos is cabin space. This is very much a medium-SUV in terms of exterior dimensions, but inside you get the ambience of a family wagon that's the next size up. For the record, it has an identical wheelbase to the X-Trail and is slightly lower, but it just feels bigger.
There's also a rather French character to the way the Koleos drives - despite the powertrain and platform coming straight from the X-Trail.
I'm not talking the pin-sharp handling of Renault's sporty models. The Koleos definitely doesn't have that, with its light steering and soft suspension. Nor is the powertrain particularly engaging: the 2.5-litre engine drones when it's working hard and the continuously variable transmission is prone to flaring, although it does step-down, mimicking a gearchange, when you get near the redline.
No, I'm talking about the other side of Renault: excellent refinement, comfy ride and a relaxed gait.
The Koleos definitely has that. It's commendably quiet on our coarse-chip seal, soaks up urban imperfections nicely and is actually quite well-controlled in faster corners, as long as you don't mind a bit of body movement. Roly-poly French cars are still quite appealing. Even ones from Korea.
At $44,990 the Koleos skirts around the X-Trail in terms of value for money. You can buy the Nissan in 2WD form with seven seats for $39,990, although the Renault is better equipped and a bit more special. But $42,490 buys you a five-seat X-Trail with 4WD - again, not as well-specified as the Koleos but with a bit more substance in the drivetrain.
The launch offer of a free Safety Pack for Koleos Zen (autonomous braking, forward collision alert, blind-spot warning) does sweeten the deal, though.
That's if somebody looking at a Koleos is really considering an X-Trail, or vice-versa. I suspect not. The hardware may be similar but the character of each is quite different.
The Zen 2WD tested here is the entry point to the Koleos range. You can have the same model in 4WD for $49,990, albeit to special order only.
Or step up to the Intens, which is only available in 4WD for $54,990. It adds the Safety Pack, real leather upholstery (the Zen's is 'artificial'), a portrait tablet-style touch screen, automatic parking, power tailgate, dual USB ports for the back, panoramic sunroof and lots of other standard equipment that makes the extra $5k seem entirely reasonable.
There's also a 127kW 2.0-litre turbo-diesel Intens on the way in early-2017, for $59,990.