Renault Austral in the first driving report: Hybrid with an unusual structure

Like so many manufacturers, Renault seeks salvation in the multiplication of the SUV range. Arkana and Megane E-Tech can be seen as a start, Australia continues to implement the strategy. Models like Talisman and Espace have no future. How does the Austral drive with the initially strongest thrust?

With a length of 4.51m, the Renault Austral ranks roughly where cars like the Mazda CX-5, VW Tiguan, Nissan Qashqai or Opel Grandland are already in contention for customers. Renault does not rely on battery electric drive here, but on two light hybrids and one full hybrid drive. With the latter, Renault is following the path that Toyota took with the Corolla Cross, although there are large differences in the technical implementation. Because the hybrid drive of the Japanese is based on a cleverly conceived, but technically relatively simple structure. At Renault, things are a little different in Austral.

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The combustion engine in the top model is the one with the fewest cylinders and the smallest displacement in the Austral range. A 1.2-liter supercharged three-cylinder is installed, delivering 96 kW at 4500 rpm. The maximum torque is 205 Nm, available at 1750 rpm. Two electric motors with a total of 50 kW support the combustion engine. It should, and in this sense the basic idea is similar to that of Toyota, to run in the area of ​​its best efficiency as often as possible – and thus save fuel even outside the cycle.

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A purely electric drive is only possible for short distances and is not even the goal. The battery has an energy content of 1.7 kWh, which is charged by recovering and moving the charging point. If the current load demand is slightly below the range of the best efficiency of the combustion engine, it runs with a slightly higher load and thus helps charge the small battery – and vice versa. All three transmission sources are built around a multimode gearbox, which always uses one of its 15 possible configurations for maximum efficiency.

In practice, the driver has to engage with the concept. If he does, he gets a relatively low consumption. Renault promises 4.6 to 4.7 liters in the WLTP, which easily outperforms other Austral models of the cycle by around one and a half liters. During the first short trip, which alone due to the route profile left a lot of potential to reduce fuel consumption, the on-board computer showed about 6 liters. A detailed test must provide reliable values, this lap was too short for that.

It is probably the rounding differences that evoke a system power of 147 kW from 96 and 50. This means that very dynamic driving performance can be expected, after all we are talking about 200 hp in the old currency. But those who buy the top model in view of this high performance will soon be disappointed. Because system performance is, so to speak, just a waste product of the technical structure. Under certain circumstances, it raises expectations that are not or are only partially met. The Austral Hybrid undoubtedly accelerates fast enough, it shows no particular commitment to increasing speed. It finished at 174km / h and some people would have hoped for more from 200hp.

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What is striking is that the Austral remains fairly quiet across a wide range of power demands. The feedback-free and not particularly direct steering also paints the picture of a comfortable SUV. This is accompanied by a spring shock absorber design that manages to hide bad road surfaces as much as possible. Those who associate driving pleasure with quick turns will not be happy here, everyone else will sooner or later discover that Renault has put together a coherent and harmonious car on the wheels.

You can save 1500 euros for the rear axle, which can be steered up to five degrees, unless you often drive in tight parking spaces. The turning radius, which has been reduced from 11.4 to 10.1 meters, is particularly noticeable when maneuvering. On the other hand, hardly anyone will miss the noticeable turn in the opposite direction for stabilization at over 80km / h.

The workmanship makes a solid impression, the choice of materials is consistently of high quality. Comfortable seats, plenty of space inside and a contemporary design complete the picture. The fast infotainment system is also well done, its Google subtree with Android Automotive supplies. The interface, which is what the user sees every day, was partly designed by Renault itself. In the past, the group has done much worse here, but never better.

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Disappointing for a 4.51 m long car is the narrow trunk. There are 430 liters in the Austral E-Tech hybrid, just 50 liters more than a normal VW Golf (test) swallows. A Mégane E-Tech Electric also offers 389 liters and is 31 cm shorter than the Austral. It looks a little better in Austral models with mild hybrid, here Renault calls 500 liters. However, this isn’t exactly great for this vehicle class.

The Austral dashboard is very reminiscent of the shorter Megane E-Tech Electric.

The Austral will be available at dealers in Germany starting in December. The basic model with six-speed manual gearbox and 103 kW is reasonably priced and is also a good offer in this segment thanks to its rich standard equipment. Unfortunately, Renault severely limits the possible combinations of transmission and equipment line. The “E-Tech Full Hybrid 200” we drove costs at least 40,400 euros, the top version still 4000 euros more. The new Toyota Corolla Cross is financially in a similar frame.

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