First drive: Renault Kadjar

Renault Kadjar

Compact off-roaders have become some of the most popular cars on the road, with many buyers seduced by the promise of 4x4 styling allied to hatchback-sized running costs. And one of the most popular models is the Nissan Qashqai, which has sat towards the very top of the UK bestsellers list for the last few years.

It's no surprise, therefore, that Renault - which shares engines, tech and underpinnings with Nissan - has decided to get in on the action with its own version of the Qashqai - the equally bizarrely titled Kadjar.

What is it?

The Kadjar is a medium-sized family off-roader that offers a practical interior and car-like road manners. Buyers have a choice of petrol and diesel models, with the most powerful diesel engine being available with the option of four-wheel drive, too.

With sleek, curvaceous styling and a practical interior, the Kadjar looks likely to grab the attention of buyers after a high-riding off-roader, but without the traditional boxy styling.

What's under the bonnet?

The Kadjar is available with three engines. Most affordable is the turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol with 128bhp, followed by a 1.5-litre diesel with 109bhp - which is expected to be the bestseller, courtesy of its 74.3mpg claimed economy and low enough CO2 emissions to warrant free car tax, when fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels.

Topping the range is a 1.6-litre diesel that matches the petrol for power with 128bhp, with both accelerating to 62mph in around 10 seconds. While the petrol returns claimed fuel economy of around 50mpg, two-wheel drive 1.6-litre diesel buyers can expect to see approximately 65mpg. The more powerful diesel is also available with the option of four-wheel drive. An automatic gearbox is available on the less powerful diesel, meanwhile.

What's the spec like?

All models include a digital radio, front fog lights, digital dials, electric windows front and rear and Bluetooth, along with a reasonable sound system. Stepping up to Dynamique Nav adds a touchscreen sat nav system, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control and updated speakers.

Meanwhile, Dynamique S Nav adds 19-inch alloy wheels,front and rear parking sensors, leather and cloth seats plus electric, heated wing mirrors and a height adjustable driver's seat - kit which would typically be standard on entry-level models. Range-topping Signature Nav adds a panoramic sunroof, along with LED headlights and unique off-road style trim.

First drive: Renault Kadjar

First drive: Renault Kadjar

Any rivals?

Dozens! The Kadjar's key rival is the closely related Nissan Qashqai, which has a much boxier SUV-style shape than the voluptuous Kadjar. Other models to beat include the popular Kia Sportage and Hyundai ix35, the evergreen VW Tiguan and the affordable Skoda Yeti. Alternative options include the new Fiat 500X, the sensible Ford Kuga and Toyota RAV4.

What's it like to drive?

True to its family car billing, the Kadjar is both easy to drive and comfortable, with a slick gear change, an easy-to-balance clutch and direct steering. Refinement levels from both the petrol engine and more powerful diesel motor are strong, with little engine noise making its way through the cabin. These engines also provide more than adequate performance, though the diesel feels more up to the task of lugging heavy loads.

Thanks to the low levels of wind and road noise, both models make relaxing long distance partners, especially as the suspension offers a smooth ride and the seats are comfortable. Rough Tarmac does make itself heard in the cabin of cars equipped with large 19-inch wheels, though, and we had a puncture in our test car on a rocky road - proving that this is really an off-roader in name much more than in nature.

AOL Cars verdict

With striking styling, a comfortable, plush cabin and refined engines on offer, the Kadjar should sell in its droves. Thanks to punchy, smooth engines, good comfort levels and spacious rear seats and boot, the Kadjar should prove a wise buy - especially as Renault is quoting class-leading residual values, meaning that buyers should get most of their money back when they come to sell.

The only real black marks are that the rear doors don't open very wide, making it a little trickier to get into the rear seats than it could be, and the diesel engines that are likely to make up the bulk of sales, are substantially pricier than the petrol model. Even bearing this in mind, however, the Kadjar is an appealing option.

The knowledge

Model: Renault Kadjar TCe 130 Signature Nav
Price: £21,695
Engine: 1.2-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Power: 128bhp, 205Nm
Max speed: 119mph
0-62mph: 10.1 seconds
MPG: 48.7
Emissions: 130g/km