(Pocket-lint) - Ka-jar. Say it phonetically and fast and the name of Renault's new crossover doesn't sound quite so weird. Ok, we might have lied about that. We sometimes wonder whether all the good product names have now been used up. So much so that companies – and car brands seem to be the worst – now seem to be resorting to the downright weird.
Still, Kadjar is perhaps only as odd as Qashqai was on its first airing. A neat coincidence, because Kadjar and Qashqai are in fact twins. Built from Renault-Nissan's CMF platform, the French car and the one from Japan (well, Sunderland) share 65 per cent of their parts.
That's no bad thing though – if you were going to base your new crossover on one that already existed, you'd probably choose the Qashqai. And regardless Renault says 95 per cent of the stuff you can see and touch as a customer is unique to the Renault.
So the Kadjar should be a decent crossover. But should you choose one over its Nissan Twin?
Renault Kadjar preview: A French looker
The design of the Kadjar follows Renault's new design direction, established by Clio and continued with the smaller Captur crossover. Both cars have done well in the market and look smart on the road, while having a much more youthful and emotional design language than previous era Renaults. The Kadjar's a little more grown up, its snout's got more pout and the rear more junk in the trunk. It's a little less lithe-looking than a Qashqai.
The pay-off for all that is a colossal boot and plenty of space inside for all your family's clobber. You wouldn't describe the Kadjar as bad looking, and there are some nice design details, such as the hollow rear tail-lights and the chrome detail on the lower door.
But the way the Kadjar sits on the road is slightly less planted than the Nissan – and that longer rear overhang makes it feel just slightly more "dad in sweater" than the Nissan. But if you're a Renault person or just don't want to be another me-too Qashqai, the Kadjar ticks lots of boxes.
Renault Kadjar first drive: R-Link 2
Inside, the Kadjar pulls ahead of its Nissan twin. The plastic is slightly higher quality, the perceived quality a little better, and the layout is fresh, inoffensive and easy to use.
Step up to the top spec Signature Nav and you get some slightly better looking glossy trims and a lovely nappa leather. Along with the leather seats and panoramic roof that comes standard with this trim level, we conclude this is Renault's most premium interior yet.
If, like many buyers will, you plump for the next rung down Dynamique S Nav model then you won't be disappointed either. You still get part leather, nice plastics and a decent level of kit – you just lose the full leather seats, steering wheel and panoramic roof.
We think the thing you'll notice most inside, though, is the debut of Renault's R-Link 2 multimedia system, which runs through a standard 7-inch touchscreen and brings a fully digital instrument cluster. This second generation of Renault's system gives you the ability to personalise things with pictures and other gimmicky add-ons, such as a range of colour moods, keyed to Sport, Eco, Personal and some other modes we forgot because they were so banal. While it might sound dubious, in practice and on the road the system works well and the bigger screen than you'll find in an equivalent Qashqai is worth having.
The homescreen has a Windows-style series of menu tiles, it's possible to download apps from the R-Link store, and the sat nav managed not to get us lost or annoy us. What's more, unlike the system you find in the Clio and Captur, the Kadjar's screen is a capacitive touch display so you don't end up furiously stabbing at it as you can in the smaller cars. Some of the buttons are still too small though, and the graphics should be less cartoonish.
Renault Kadjar preview: Diesel do nicely
On price the Kadjar plays its trump card, because – model for model – it's cheaper than the Nissan. Comparing likely best sellers, a Kadjar 1.5 dCi Dynamique S Nav is £22,395, a Qashqai 1.5 dCi N-Tec+ (the closest equivalent spec) is £24,280. And thanks to predicted best-in-class retail, currently if you put £3,600 down, that particular spec of Kadjar is yours for £229 per month on a three year deal. An auto gearbox and four-wheel drive is also available – but only on certain models.
Kit is generous too. Dynamique Nav models come as standard with that 7-inch touchscreen, sat nav, plus DAB, dual zone climate and cruise control. Dynamique S Nav adds front and rear parking sensors, 19-inch alloys, one-touch folding rear seats and a clever multi-floor reconfigurable boot. Signature Nav models add LED lamps, the panoramic roof, leather upholstery and a Bose sound system – for which you're looking at a £1,200 premium over the Dynamique S.
We'd stick to the Dynamique S Nav in the 1.5dCi diesel engine guise. It's no rocket ship and you'll need to stir the light-throw 6-speed manual box to keep momentum on motorway hills, but we didn't feel the 20bhp advantage of the more expensive 1.6dCi justified its outlay. There's an abrupt clutch action on the 1.6 too which we found hard to get used to. For a car that's never going to be driven on its door handles, the 1.5dCi moves along happily enough and returned 8mpg more in our hands than the 1.6.
Close followers of the recent Volkswagen dieselgate crisis might be interested to know there's a 1.2 TCe petrol engine with 130bhp too. Offering a list price saving over either of the diesels, it could be an interesting alternative, but sadly wasn't available for us to test and real-world will deliver sub-40mpg fuel economy. But it's one to consider if your annual mileage is under 8,000 miles.
While the diesels' power didn't impress, what stood out about the Kadjar's drive was the exceptional refinement. This is a relaxing car that's easy to spend hours behind the wheel in. We think Renault deserves serious credit for the amount of work done to reduce wind, road and engine noise – which means the Kadjar moves around in a hushed, refined manner and makes for a very pleasant experience for those in the cabin. Even on big 19-inch wheels, the ride remains composed and pliant too. Just don't expect it to excite or occasionally surprise by involving you in the driving action like a Ford Kuga can.
While the drive didn't exactly excite us (and anyone used to the French firm's innovative Scenic will bemoan the dearth of interior cleverness) the Kadjar has all the hallmarks of a sure-fire sales hit.
Quite simply it does nothing badly, and while in the same breath it doesn't stand out in a crowded segment, it ticks so many boxes that it's more than worthy of your consideration than many.
If you like the Kadjar's looks then the list price saving makes it a compelling choice over the Nissan Qashqai. And those who know and love the Nissan will realise that's high praise indeed. Which, ultimately, just leaves the Renault's somewhat silly name to get your head around.