Renault Middle East loves to boast. Sales of the French carmaker’s models in Dubai and the Northern Emirates are up 90 per cent in 2012 over the same period last year mostly thanks to the “shockingly affordable” Duster SUV. And that doesn’t mean the company has managed to shift 10 cars as opposed to one in 2011 — the numbers are in the thousands.
If we look at the whole of the GCC, Renault Middle East is now ranked 17th among car companies (which would put it into Qualifying 2 in a Formula 1 session) and that’s a two-position jump. Granted, if you asked me to rattle off 17 car brand names in 17 seconds with an on-the-spot quiz I’d start umming and ahing after about a dozen and give up on Donkervoort.
But still, a two-spot jump, a 32 per cent increase in half-yearly sales on last count, and 6,000 cars finding new homes by July 2012. OK Renault, boast all you want. The sudden success story isn’t just down to the Duster — which is actually a Romanian Dacia — but also because of the Logan — also actually a Romanian Dacia — and the Fluence and Safrane saloons. The rest of the range, made up by models such as the Laguna Coupé and Megane Coupé-Cabriolet, merely loiters around in the back of the showroom.
However, we didn’t even get to the public’s favourite genre of car yet, the venerable crossover. And here is where Renault Middle East’s arsenal seems to possess the best weapon to fight off Korean and Japanese reps, like the Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, and Hyundai Tucson. Strangely the Koleos in question doesn’t feature in Renault’s top-four selling models here. Well, it should.
Especially since the company has now introduced a 2013 facelifted model. Since Renault owns majority stakes in Japanese carmaker Nissan and Korean manufacturer Samsung Motors, this Koleos is the automotive equivalent of fusion cooking. Think of it as raw snails in ganjang sauce. Or maybe something more appetising than that… The 2013 Koleos really is rather good, even if I didn’t think I’d like it, and then grew to like it.
Designed by the stylish French, developed by the meticulous Japanese, and built by the affordable Koreans, Renault has certainly prioritised the Koleos’ path to your driveway well. (Imagine if it was designed by the Japanese, developed by the Koreans and built by the French? We’d end up with a modern-day Alfa Romeo Arna.) For the facelifted 2013 model, the stylists updated the grille from the old, confused, mouse-looking fascia to this attractive and much more character-filled look.
The indicators flanking the larger grille use LEDs, and there are also new side mirrors and fog light bezels, as well as a fresh wheel design. Naturally since this is a Renault we’re talking about, the car’s still safer than a padded cell with a five-star Euro NCAP rating. Renault Middle East offers the model in either two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, and we’d earnestly recommend the significantly cheaper front-driver if it was available in top equipment trim, but it isn’t, so you should stretch to one of the three trim levels available on the beefy AWD car, safe in the knowledge that this crossover can actually even tread off-road.
Just not too far mind you. The intelligent 4x4 system monitors road conditions on the fly distributing engine torque to the four corners. Press the differential ‘Lock’ button and the torque is split evenly front to rear, but otherwise you’re in front-wheel drive mode most of the time. With very good departure and approach angles as well as a tall ride height you can tackle wadis without issues, but considering the 17in or 18in low-profile tyres it’s a good idea to stay away from soft sand.
On the road, these tyres are great, quiet and unobtrusive and grippy enough to suggest the Koleos is actually in constant all-wheel-drive mode. Weighing in at over 1.6 tonnes if you spec it highly, the Koleos still feels light and nippy with eager electrically assisted steering and a nice chassis balance front to rear. Laterally it’s not as composed, as the tall body (1,710mm, taller than a Sportage) tips slightly to the side in the turns, but as far as crossovers go it’s thoroughly secure on the road and feels tighter than its Korean rivals.
It feels like a big hatchback, which is exactly what it is since it sits on the same Nissan platform that underpins the Megane. The interior is another plus point when it comes to roominess and equipment, but the French carmaker’s build quality is still lacking, especially when it comes to raspy plastics and sub-par moulding seams. Additionally like its high-tech East-Asian rivals, the Koleos really needs to ditch the dash-top mounted antiquated screen and go with an integrated LCD unit.
But the comfort levels are great, starting with the well-tuned dampers, tall-mounted seats, headroom and legroom, icy air conditioning, and onwards. Renault offers plenty of kit for the Koleos as its most premium crossover, so you can even have it with a premium Bose sound system, massive dual sunroof that’s more of a panoramic roof, loads of storage binnacles including under-floor storage, and even rear 8in TV screens for the kids. Shut up little Johnny, and go back to Spongebob, can’t you see I’m dicing with this Fortuner? Good luck.
The engine is a carryover 2.5-litre four-cylinder producing 170bhp, and the power reaches the wheels through a CVT gearbox. It’s not the most sporting combination when pushed hard with a late horsepower and torque peak, but if you keep the revs low and forbid the CVT’s drone from edging into annoyance, the engine is smooth and noise is kept to a minimum.
Prices for the 2013 Koleos vary from the mid-70s to Dh100,000, and the LE 4WD range-topper is great value with everything included: tyre pressure monitoring, hill descent, auto AC, cruise, keyless entry, front and rear parking sensors, automatic headlights, and 18in wheels. The only options are metallic paint, a spare wheel, and Xenon lamps. Mmm, raw snails in ganjang sauce… It’s an acquired taste.