David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by David Motton
Tow Car Editor
Fashions may change, but the popularity of crossovers and SUVs shows no sign of abating. The shift from hatchbacks and saloons to high-riding 4x4 lookalikes now has the feel of a permanent shift not a temporary trend.
Consider this as evidence: Renault says the number of direct rivals for the Kadjar has grown by 60% since it was launched in 2015. Now the Kadjar has been updated to keep pace with the rapid churn of new and capable competitors like the Seat Ateca and Skoda Karoq.
Styling changes are more extensive than they first appear. The fundamental shape may be the same, but revisions to the lights, front grille and bumpers become more obvious when you see the new and old cars side by side. Renault says the tweaks make the car look wider and more robust, but it's not a night-and-day transformation.
It's a similar story inside. A mish-mash of different finishes has been replaced with one type of chrome satin trim. There's a new touchscreen, with menu buttons within the screen rather than surrounding it. Look closely and you'll see improved door storage with space for 1.5-litre bottles and some more upmarket looking switchgear. However, the plastics for the lower dash and doors don't have the same premium feel.
More significant changes have taken place under the skin, with a new engine line-up - not one of the old petrols and diesels has been carried over unchanged.
The most powerful diesel has the most potential as a tow car. It produces 148bhp and - more importantly for towing - 251lb ft of torque. That's enough puling power for strong acceleration, and should haul a sensibly matched tourer with little trouble.
Two- and four-wheel-drive versions are available. In the UK, 4x4 models account for about 5% of Kadjar sales, but it's a choice that makes a lot of sense for towing. Aside from the obvious benefit of better traction, going for the 4x4 also adds 94kg to the kerbweight, bringing the total to 1692kg. That gives an 85% match figure of 1438kg, well within the car's 1800kg legal towing limit.
The Kadjar's 4x4 system is switchable; run the car in two-wheel-drive mode for fuel-efficiency, or switch to 4x4 auto which sends up to 50% of the engine's torque to the rear wheels if the fronts struggle for traction. There's also a 4x4 lock setting which holds the torque split at 50:50 front and rear.
Unfortunately we didn't have the opportunity to drive the diesel 4x4 on the road, but we did take it on an off-road route. It performed well in slippery mud, but it lacks a hill descent control to make holding a slow speed on steep slopes easy. But does that really matter? There's certainly enough off-road ability to help tow a caravan on damp grass, or to escape a muddy pitch.
Diesel buyers can also choose a 115PS (113bhp) diesel, which is cheaper to buy and fuel, but isn't available with four-wheel drive. The official combined figure for the lower-powered diesel is 65.7mpg. However, with 192lb ft of torque, the engine is some way short of the higher-powered diesel's punch. The kerbweight of 1531kg for the manual gives an 85% match figure of 1301kg, just within the 1350kg legal towing limit.
The TCe petrol engines are also new, and both are turbocharged in an effort to combine strong performance with efficiency. Although the 140PS (138bhp) engine is a little flat below 2000rpm, it pulls cleanly and smoothly. The 160PS (158bhp) petrol is obviously the stronger of the two, but a little noisier. For towing duties, though, the extra 15lb ft of mid-range pulling power is probably worth the £800 difference in price. There's no difference in kerbweight; both weigh 1442kg with a manual 'box and 1471kg with the EDC auto.
Of the two gearboxes, we prefer the EDC, which delivers quick, decisive and smooth gearchanges. The manual has a slick shift but a rather long throw.
Besides, an auto suits the character of the car better. The Kadjar is more of a relaxed cruiser than an entertainer. The ride is mostly comfortable unless the suspension is presented with really sharp-edged bumps, although it doesn't match the high-speed control of the Seat Ateca. The steering is light but short on feedback, and while the Kadjar corners with composure, it's not as much fun as a Mazda CX-5.
In terms of practicality, the Kadjar holds its own rather than setting new standards. Improved front seats are matched to a sound driving position, and there's enough room in the back for adults to be reasonably comfortable. It's good to see that there are now air vents between the front seats to stop those in the back being too hot or too cold, and all but the most basic model come with two USB ports in the rear of the car.
Boot space is reasonable, but some rivals offer more. There's 472 litres for your bags, which trail's the Skoda Karoq's 521-litre capacity. With the seats folded (an easy job using levers either side of the tailgate), luggage room increases to 1480 litres.
There are four spec levels in the new range, which will be available to order from January with first deliveries a month later. The range starts from £29,595 with the TCe 140 Play, which includes 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control, cruise control, rear parking sensors, and a seven-inch touchscreen which is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
For another £1500, Iconic models add satellite navigation, a DAB radio, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and 19-inch alloys.
A further £1500 pays for the S-Edition, with unique interior upholstery and blue stitching, full LED headlights and a panoramic sunroof.
Another £2500 brings the GT Line model within reach, with leather upholstery, heated seats and a 360-degree view camera. For now, this top-spec version is the only model to come with autonomous emergency braking. We think that's very disappointing from a brand like Renault with such a strong reputation for safety.
So, nothing really groundbreaking, but some worthwhile updates. The new engines certainly improve on the old ones, and we look forward to towing with a new Kadjar soon.