Renault Austral SUV review
"The Renault Austral is a comfortable, spacious and hi-tech SUV that’s a big step-up from the outgoing Kadjar"
- Full of the latest tech
- Relaxing to drive
- Only one engine option
- Sluggish gearbox
- Other SUVs more exciting to drive
Verdict - Is the Renault Austral a good car?
The Austral is a full-hybrid mid-sized SUV that sits in a hotly contested class. It’s not especially exciting to drive, but its automatic transmission and electric assistance make it relaxing to drive, particularly in town and the suburbs. Alongside a spacious interior, this means the Austral is a solid choice for buyers looking for a hi-tech and efficient family workhorse, but its lack of a plug-in version limits its appeal for company-car choosers.
Renault Austral models, specs and alternatives
It’s amazing how quickly the SUV segment is evolving; only a few years ago, Renault’s offerings were top of the class, but they are now already starting to feel dated alongside competition from Kia, Hyundai and Peugeot – such is the ferocity of the competition.
The French marque is rectifying this with a string of new electrified models which began with the fully-electric Megane E-Tech hatchback, and now this: the mid-size Renault Austral SUV. A replacement for the ageing Renault Kadjar, the Austral shares many of its parts with the Nissan Qashqai and is a rival to the Hyundai Tucson and Peugeot 3008.
Don’t be deceived by the blue ‘E’ badge on the Austral’s bootlid – this is not a fully-electric SUV. Instead, Renault is instead only offering the Austral with a self-charging hybrid powertrain in the UK. This provides improved economy over standard petrol and diesel-powered rivals, although we wish there was the option of a plug-in hybrid powertrain, as you can find in the Toyota RAV4 and upcoming Honda CR-V.
On the inside, the Austral gets Renault’s latest suite of ‘OpenR’ infotainment tech which includes an expansive portrait-style touchscreen. Overall quality is also a step up from the old Kadjar; there are plenty of solid-feeling materials and the design is much more exciting than you’ll find in a Volkswagen Tiguan.
The Renault Austral debuts an all-new trim level to tie in with the French marque’s performance brand, called ‘Esprit Alpine’. However, while the extra styling touches brought by the Esprit Alpine specification do make the Austral appear a bit more purposeful, it’s quick to assert itself as anything but sporty, no matter which trim level you opt for. The range begins with Techno, which is likely to be the sweet spot – 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive headlights and a rear-view camera are all included. Techno Esprit Alpine sits above this, with Iconic Esprit Alpine the flagship. That car gets four-wheel steering and features like a 12-speaker stereo and panoramic sunroof. LED headlights are standard on every Austral. An animated light show greets the driver when they unlock the car.
MPG, running costs & CO2
As is the case with the majority of mid-size family SUVs, the Renault Austral is offered with a hybrid powertrain to keep running costs to a minimum. Renault claims the 1.2-litre petrol hybrid engine under the Austral’s bonnet will return up to 60.1mpg on the combined WLTP test cycle. This is ahead of the 53.3mpg official figure for the Nissan Qashqai e-Power hybrid.
Unfortunately, there are no plug-in hybrid or fully-electric variants of the Austral to keep company car tax figures low. CO2 emissions of 105g/km mean the Austral slots into the not-so-ideal 25% Benefit-in-Kind bracket.
For private buyers, the Austral E-Tech makes a good deal of sense, with a claimed range of up to 683 miles from a full tank of petrol meaning you won’t have to fill up all too often. Thanks to that clever hybrid tech, the Austral runs in fully electric mode most of the time in town. Renault reckons up to 80% of urban mileage can be covered without burning petrol.
Insurance groups for the Renault Austral are yet to be announced, but we expect it to mirror the Nissan Qashqai e-Power which ranges from groups 24-26.
Engines, drive & performance
As much as Renault would love you to think the Austral is a sporty crossover – especially in the racy Esprit Alpine trims – we found it’s better suited to comfortable cruising around town, which is ideal for most SUV drivers.
Top Austral models can be fitted with a four-wheel steering system, dubbed 4Control. Usually reserved for high-end luxury cars, this enables the Renault to turn its rear wheels in the opposite direction of those at the front to shrink the turning circle. The Austral can also turn its rear axle the same way as the front in order to increase stability at high speeds. All of this means Austral models fitted with 4Control feel much more like a family hatchback when performing tight manoeuvres, rather than a big SUV.
As previously mentioned, there is only one engine to choose from: a 196bhp self-charging hybrid. This comprises a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, alongside a small electric motor and gets the Austral from 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds, which is about average for a car like this. It’s pretty refined on the move, and the electric motor aids low-down performance, which is handy around town. As Renault promises, quite a bit of town driving is taken care of in EV mode, but push harder and the petrol engine fires up. Luckily it remains pretty quiet, more so than in the Nissan Qashqai e-Power or Toyota RAV4.
What lets the Austral’s powertrain down, however, is the clutchless automatic gearbox which comes fitted to all cars. While this is supposed to offer 15 different gear ratio combinations to prioritise acceleration and/or smoothness, in reality, it can be sluggish to respond and dampens the Austral’s performance somewhat. There’s sometimes enough hesitation that you may question if there’s a sizeable enough gap ahead to overtake slower traffic.
Interior & comfort
Renault has set the Austral’s suspension up to balance comfort with performance and while there is no adaptive option with different stiffness settings, the standard setup works well on smaller wheels. During our testing on British roads, however, we did find the ride firm on 20-inch alloy wheels, struggling to isolate the worst bumps from the cabin. When driving along, there is little wind noise to complain about, although many may find the piped-in engine sound a bit annoying. It can also take a while to get used to some of the controls, for instance, there are three stalks on the right-hand side of the steering wheel: one for the wipers, another for radio controls, plus a third higher up for the gear selector.
What truly makes the Austral a joy to travel in is the mountain of tech that’s on offer. The centrepiece of the Austral’s interior is Renault’s latest OpenR infotainment system; this is powered by Google software and comprises a 12-inch digital instrument cluster, alongside a 12.3-inch portrait touchscreen. Both are incredibly configurable and responsive to your inputs, while there’s also a large 9.3-inch head-up display meaning you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to see information such as your current speed. The voice control works very well, and you can even control smart devices in your home with intuitive commands.
The overall fit-and-finish of the cabin has seen a step up from the outgoing Kadjar; while the Austral is nowhere near as plush as, say, a BMW X1, nearly everything feels well screwed together. There’s a generous amount of soft-touch plastic on display, but harder materials can be found lower down and the air vents feel cheap. The huge panoramic sunroof gives the Austral’s cabin a wonderfully airy feel.
Three trim levels are offered here, called: Techno, Techno Esprit Alpine and Iconic Esprit Alpine. Even the first of these is hardly lacking in equipment, with 19-inch alloy wheels, matrix LED headlights, all-around parking sensors and a rear-view camera. There’s also Renault’s hands-free key card instead of a traditional key. In other words, most people shouldn’t need to look any further than the Techno for all the kit they need.
If they do, Techno Esprit Alpine gets a sporty look, thanks to 20-inch alloy wheels and a different bodykit, as well as Alcantara upholstery and blue stitching inside. The cabin also features heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, along with a powered tailgate. There’s even a massage function for the driver’s seat. The range-topper is roughly £3,000 more, adding the four-wheel steering, a 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, a panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charging and a 360-degree camera view.
Practicality & boot space
Being a family SUV, you’d expect the Austral to be incredibly practical; although it’s not quite the roomiest car in its class, Renault’s offering is one of the most versatile. For example, Renault claims there’s 35 litres-worth of storage bins dotted around the cabin, while the rear seats can be slid backwards and forwards to prioritise passenger or boot space – just like in the smaller Renault Captur.
There’s not a huge amount of space for your feet when sitting in the back, but even models with a panoramic sunroof boast plenty of headroom. Space in the door bins is decent, and two cup-holders take pride of place below the main infotainment display. There are also several lidded cubbies within the centre console.
With the rear seats slid all the way forwards, the Renault Austral’s boot offers a sizeable 555 litres of space – taller passengers may find things a bit tight in this configuration, though. When the rear bench is fully reclined, the boot shrinks to just 430 litres, which is significantly smaller than the Skoda Karoq’s 521-litre load bay. Another drawback is the rather large lip, which can make getting heavier items into the Austral’s boot difficult, and the fact the 12-volt battery sits beneath the boot floor, taking up some space that could otherwise be used to hide valuables.
Reliability & safety
Renault’s recent performance in our Driver Power customer satisfaction survey does raise questions surrounding reliability. In 2022, the French brand placed a disappointing 24th out of 29 manufacturers, with over 22% of buyers reporting issues with their new car within the first year of ownership. While the Austral is too new to feature in our Driver Power top 75 cars list, Renault is hoping the Austral will be able to restore its owner’s faith in the brand.
On a more positive note, the Austral has scored a full five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP. The result is no surprise, as Renault models have scored highly in this department for years. The Austral scored over 80% in three of the four main testing areas for Adult Occupant, Child Occupant and Safety Assist. As with many SUVs and CUVs, its score wasn't as good in the Vulnerable Road User category, although it was still in the upper tier of ‘satisfactory’ markers.
Renault also claims the Austral can be fitted with up to 32 different driver assistance and safety technologies, including autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and a 360-degree camera system. Upgrading to the mid-range Techno Esprit Alpine trim adds traffic-sign recognition with ‘overspeed prevention’ and adaptive cruise control with lane centring.
Which Is Best?
- NameE-Tech Full Hybrid Techno 5dr Auto
- Gearbox typeSemi-auto
- NameE-Tech FHEV Techno Esprit Alpine 5dr Auto
- Gearbox typeSemi-auto
- NameE-Tech Full Hybrid Techno 5dr Auto
- Gearbox typeSemi-auto