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In-depth reviews

Renault Rafale review – a practical coupe-SUV that punches upwards

“The Renault Rafale is a stylish and practical coupe SUV, but it’s not the last word in premium feel”

Carbuyer Rating

3.9 out of 5

Owners Rating
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Pros

  • Quirky French design
  • Brilliant infotainment
  • Practical for a coupe-SUV

Cons

  • Harsh engine noise
  • Numb driving feel
  • Rivals feel more premium

Verdict – is the Renault Rafale a good car?

There’s certainly a lot to like about the Renault Rafale – it’s stylish inside and out, includes some quirky, futuristic features and is very spacious despite its rakish appearance. However, while it’s certainly upmarket it doesn’t feel as premium as some rivals, and the driving experience is a little numb. We also found its petrol engine takes away some of its refinement under hard acceleration.

Renault Rafale models, specs and alternatives

Just when you thought every SUV niche in the Renault range was already filled, the French brand released another model known as the Renault Rafale. It’s a very en-vogue coupe-SUV which sits above the boxier Renault Austral in terms of price in the lineup – the Rafale starts from just over £42,000.

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Its styling adheres to Renault’s latest design theme, with a more angular look than many of the brand’s designs that came before it. Rather than the C-shaped lights of the Renault Arkana, the Rafale’s headlights are broken up into separate elements across the front end, flanking a grille made up of diamond-shaped elements that form an interesting pattern.

It’s clear Renault is trying to offer the Rafale as a more upmarket model in the coupe-SUV market, offering a little French flair to help it stand out against cars like the Audi Q5 Sportback and square up to other quirky French offerings like the Peugeot 3008 and Citroen C5 X.

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The Renault Rafale is a solely hybrid model with just one engine option available from launch, so choosing one should be fairly straightforward. It uses a 1.2-litre petrol combustion engine paired with two electric motors for a very respectable 197bhp power figure for a car of its size, propelling the Rafale from 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds. A plug-in hybrid four-wheel drive version will arrive later called the Renault Rafale E-Tech 4x4 – it gets a much heftier 296bhp power figure getting it from 0-62mph in just 6.4 seconds.

Frugal fuel economy is the Renault Rafale’s forte, though, so its hybrid system is capable of returning up to 60.1mpg and low CO2 emissions of between 105 and 107g/km, which is pretty impressive for a mid-size SUV.

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There are currently just two trim levels named Techno Esprit Alpine and Iconic Esprit Alpine. As standard all cars get four-wheel steering for better manoeuvrability, a 9.3-inch head-up display, a 12-inch infotainment screen, a rear-view camera and other tech, while spending around £2,500 more for the Iconic Esprit Alpine gets you a 360-degree camera, autonomous parking and an uprated Harman Kardon sound system as well as other extras.

Trim levels

Power options

  • Techno Esprit Alpine
  • Iconic Esprit Alpine
  • E-Tech full hybrid 200 (1.2-litre petrol engine with x2 electric motors for 197bhp)

MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions

“The Renault Rafale is particularly frugal for an SUV of this size, though it will cost a lot to tax”

The Renault Rafale is a car that’s exclusively offered as a hybrid model. Its small three-cylinder engine is backed up by two electric motors; one of these drives the front axle, while the other acts much the same as a mild-hybrid system, taking the strain off the small engine, which can also act as a generator. All of this makes the Rafale very frugal and economical to run, particularly for a car of its size.

Model 

Fuel economy

CO2 emissions

Renault Rafale E-Tech

60.1mpg

105-107g/km

How efficient is the Renault Rafale in the real world?

Renault says the Rafale is capable of running for up to 80% of the time on electric power alone, and regenerative braking technology helps to recoup much of the energy lost from slowing down and put it back into its batteries. We’re quite confident in Renault’s claim because when we drove the Rafale around the streets of Seville, Spain, we barely noticed the combustion engine kick into life at all, with the electric motors doing almost all the work.

How much will the Renault Rafale cost in tax?

The Renault Rafale won’t be the cheapest car to tax as it will incur the extra surcharge for cars that cost over £40,000, with the lineup starting from just under £42,000. That means that on top of the cost to tax a hybrid as an alternative fuel vehicle (£180 in 2024) you will also have to pay £410 per year from year two to year six of the car’s life.

What will the Renault Rafale cost to insure?

The Renault Rafale sits in insurance group 30 out of 50, so it should be quite reasonable to insure for a coupe-SUV of its size. For reference, the Audi Q5 starts from group 31 rising to group 41, though the equally quirky but much less powerful Citroen C5 X starts from group 20 in its most basic form, while the plug-in hybrid version of this car rises to group 31.

Engines, drive & performance

“The Renault Rafale is not a driver’s car, but its four-wheel steering makes it easy to manoeuvre in town”

The Renault Rafale shares its platform with the Renault Austral, but despite sharing many parts, the French marque has tuned the Rafale’s suspension for a slightly different feel. First of all, the track width – the distance between two wheels on one axle – has increased for a slightly more aggressive stance that decreases body roll; it’s certainly done the job because there’s very little to speak of.

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The steering is very numb, so it’s not the most involving car to drive on winding roads despite its somewhat sporty appearance. The Rafale comes with four-wheel steering, dubbed ‘4Control’, which makes for a particularly tight turning circle of just 10.4 metres – that should make it particularly easy to manoeuvre in urban environments. The problem is that it does make the car feel rather disconnected at lower speeds, which can take getting used to. 

At speed the four-wheel steering can also make the Rafale feel as though it’s losing grip at the rear end, so you have to remind yourself of what it’s doing and trust the system at first. The good news is that the four-wheel steering settings can be tweaked through the touchscreen – ours was set to maximum, so drivers might be able to find a more appropriate middle ground. 

An additional entry-level model will arrive later down the line without the four-wheel steering, so could be worth the wait for those wanting to keep costs down.

Hybrid models

At present, all versions of the Renault Rafale get a self-charging hybrid system, but a plug-in hybrid Rafale E-Tech 4x4 will arrive later, packing 296bhp, all-wheel drive, adaptive suspension and a sportier handling setup.

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For now, the standard E-Tech hybrid uses a 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine paired with two motors – one of these sits on the front axle to drive the front wheels and another assists the engine to take off some of the strain and improve fuel economy. The system produces 197bhp which isn’t a small power figure, but on the move, there’s some lag in its response which does not make for a particularly involving drive.

While the car is being propelled by its electric motors it’s very quiet and refined, but once the combustion engine kicks in under hard acceleration, it produces a gruff noise which upsets that serene experience.

Model 

Power

0-62mph

Top speed

Renault Rafale E-Tech 

197bhp

8.9 seconds

111mph

Renault Rafale E-Tech 4x4 (arriving later)

296bhp

6.4 seconds

TBC

Interior & comfort

“While it doesn’t feel quite as premium as some rivals, the Renault Rafale comes with lots of tech and the infotainment setup is one of the best”

With Renault gunning for a premium big-car experience, it has its work cut out to challenge rivals from the likes of Audi. Most of the Rafale’s interior is shared with the Renault Austral, and the good news is that it feels well put together – the bad news is that while many of the material choices are interesting, such as dyed cork or slate on the dash, none of it feels quite as premium as the materials used on its German rivals.

There are some interesting features, nonetheless, such as the optional ‘Solarbay’ sunroof. It has a hi-tech feature which allows you to turn the glass from transparent to opaque at the touch of a button rather than via a mechanical blind – the technology has been around for a while, but has only so far been seen on supercars and luxury EVs from companies such as Lotus, so it’s a neat addition that feels premium.

Is the Renault Rafale infotainment and sat-nav system easy to use?

The Renault Rafale gets the brand’s OpenR Link infotainment system which we think is one of the best on the market at the moment – it’s based on Google’s software which makes it very intuitive to use as it’s laid out like the menus on an Android smartphone, so it’s easy to adapt to. The 12-inch portrait infotainment screen and 12.3-inch digital driver’s display used in the Rafale are sharp and vibrant, and everything loads quickly with fast response times. The Google Maps app comes built-in while there are up to 50 other third-party apps available to download. If you’d prefer, there’s also wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Key features

Techno Esprit Alpine

  • 20-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels
  • Four-wheel steering
  • Rear-view camera
  • LED headlights and tail-lights
  • Automatic high-beam
  • Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB)
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Lane keep assist
  • Dual-zone air conditioning
  • 12-inch OpenR Link infotainment screen
  • 12.3-inch digital driver’s display
  • Driver attention alert

Iconic Esprit Alpine

(Techno Esprit Alpine plus…)

  • 12-speaker premium Harman Kardon audio system
  • 360-degree parking camera
  • Autonomous parking
  • Electric powered tailgate
  • Alcantara upholstery

Boot space, practicality & dimensions 

“You might expect a coupe-SUV to feel cramped, but the Rafale offers lots of passenger and boot space”

Despite the fact the Renault Rafale is a coupe-SUV and therefore has a sloping roofline, it offers plenty of head space for passengers. It’s just as long and has the same wheelbase as the Renault Espace sold in mainland Europe, but while that car has seven seats, the Rafale has just five, so occupants are also spoilt for legroom.

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There are handy practical features dotted around the cabin – the rear armrest has two cup holders, USB-C charging ports and even useful smartphone holders. The latter should be good for when passengers want to rest their arms but watch a film on a long journey.

Size comparison

Model 

Length

Width

Height

Renault Rafale

4,710mm

1,866mm

1,613mm

Audi Q5 Sportback

4,689mm

1,893mm

1,633mm

BMW X2

4,567mm

1,845mm

1,590mm

Peugeot 3008

4,542mm

1,895mm

1,641mm

Does the Renault Rafale have a big boot?

The Renault Rafale boasts a larger boot than many of its rivals such as the Peugeot 3008 and Audi Q5, with 535 litres available with all the seats up. There’s added underfloor storage, which increases the boot size to 647 litres. Fold down the rear seats and you’ll free up a cavernous 1,709 litres of cargo space, making the Rafale very useful indeed when you need it to lug around bulky items.

Boot space comparison

Model 

Boot space

Renault Rafale

535 litres

Audi Q5 Sportback

510 litres

BMW X2

515 litres

Peugeot 3008

520 litres

Reliability & safety

“The Renault Rafale should prove very safe, but Renault’s bad customer satisfaction rankings let it down”

The Renault Rafale is an all-new model for the brand and it’s too early to say what reliability will be like for the coupe-SUV. Renault, however, has performed quite poorly in recent editions of our Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, placing behind many rivals in 29th place out of 32 brands in 2023. That’s still ahead of premium German rival Audi, which came just behind it in 30th place, however.

Reliability was fairly average, with around 25% of Renault owners reporting an issue with their car in the first year of ownership, most of which were electrical issues. The brand scored best when it came to its infotainment system, exterior and interior styling and low running costs, the latter of which should prove even more impressive with the Rafale’s hybrid tech.

How safe is the Renault Rafale?

The Renault Rafale is yet to be tested by Euro NCAP, but it’s closely related to the more upright-looking Renault Austral which achieved the full five-star rating in 2022, so we’d be surprised if the Rafale didn’t too.

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The Rafale comes with a comprehensive list of safety kit including blind sport warning, traffic sign recognition with speed alert, active emergency braking which can apply the brakes autonomously if you’re about to have a collision, a lane departure warning and keep assist system, a driver attention alert system and occupant safe exit alert, which warns you as you leave the vehicle onto a road where another vehicle is approaching.

Should you buy a Renault Rafale?

We think the Renault Rafale is an undoubtedly stylish coupe-SUV. It’s much better at catering to this niche market sector than the smaller, and slightly underwhelming Renault Arkana, and yet it still boasts a practical, usable design that isn’t significantly compromised by its sloping roofline.

The problem is that while we love its infotainment system and it comes chock full of technology including that futuristic panoramic sunroof, it can struggle to feel quite as premium as many rivals, though it will definitely appeal if you’re a fan of quirky French design.

Another low point is its full-hybrid system from launch – while it’s refined at lower speeds around town, the gruff sound of its three-cylinder combustion engine rears its ugly head under heavier acceleration when out of town, and the suspension setup doesn’t offer much feel for the driver. We’ll be interested to see how the upcoming plug-in hybrid Rafale E-Tech 4x4 does in this respect with its Alpine-tuned suspension.

What is the Carbuyer pick of the Renault Rafale range?

It’s hard to be definitive about which version of the Renault Rafale is best from launch, given that there are just two versions available which will end up being mid-spec cars once a cheaper entry-level model and top-spec plug-in hybrid models come along. That said, of the two the Iconic Esprit Alpine costs just £2,500 more than the Techno Esprit Alpine and includes a few decent upgrades such as the premium Harman Kardon sound system, powered tailgate, 360 camera and nicer upholstery, so it might be worth springing for it as the lineup stands.

Renault Rafale alternatives

Renault has pitched the Rafale as a more upmarket car than many other cars in its lineup, so as a result it has a mix of rivals from traditional mainstream brands like Peugeot and other premium coupe-SUVs from well-established German rivals. The sizes of these can vary and you might find the Rafale is larger than some of its rivals because they’re more of a match in terms of price.

How we tested the Renault Rafale

We tested the Renault Rafale in May 2024 on the roads of Seville, Spain.

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Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

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