I can certainly agree with the first bit, and, though I know it’s futile, I have to register another protest against the fashion for SUVs and their derivatives – the SUV/coupe, the SUV crossover and the compact SUV. The market is indeed saturated, and the products are “relatively uniform”, to put it mildly. It’s hard to think of a manufacturer outside the upper reaches of exotica that doesn’t make a wide range of SUVs and crossovers, with every possible size and variation represented in the market. Everyone from Dacia to Rolls-Royce will do you an SUV. Time was when it was a choice between a Land Rover, Range Rover, Mercedes G-class, Suzuki Jimny, Jeep, Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrol or Lada Niva (recently returned, but that’s another tale) – all working vehicles, more utility than sport. Now everyone’s at it, and that’s because everyone seemingly wants one, even though they don’t really work in urban use, and even the sportiest, such as a BMW X5 M Competition, has a less than optimal centre of gravity. It’s a niche gone mad.
Yes, they are all too big, too heavy, too complicated (especially in four-wheel drive form), and too samey. They’re jamming congested city streets and narrow country lanes alike, and the high driving position doesn’t really compensate for the environmental impact. If everyone drove a hatch, saloon or estate instead, the world would be a greener place.
Which brings us to the Renault Arkana, which at least is a hybrid, but, oddly given Renault’s excellent progress with battery-only vehicles, there’s no all-electric option. As for its “unique” personality, it’s based on the same platform as the smaller Renault Captur, and shares lots of its moving and computing parts with Renault Group products. It’s quite a likeable car, this Renault, and it certainly doesn’t disgrace itself. I found it to be a typical mid-range SUV/crossover, with the usual high stance and high waist and a nice coupe line to the styling. It looks quite handsome and contemporary, then, without being too aggressive, and it avoids the in-yer-face grille treatment that the German premium brands insist on nowadays. The 18in alloy wheels are everything a fashionable parent would need to impress on the school run. This is a Renault that looks and feels like a high-quality product, and, being built by its Samsung associate in South Korea, it ought to be reliable with it.
“Arkana”, by the way, is made-up name referencing the Latin arcanum, meaning “secret”, and the English “arcane”, and one mystery is why the Arkana is bigger than the Renault Kadjar in their range, though the Kadjar is more expensive. I think it’s because the Qashqai-based Kadjar is the more sophisticated package, but you’d not notice that taking it to the shops.
The Arkana is reasonably well-equipped for the price/leasing deal, though you can get better value elsewhere (such as the excellent revised Qashqai). In the middle-trim “S Edition” I tried it enjoys the full suite of safety features, including adaptive cruise control with automatic braking, warning lights in the mirrors if someone’s getting too close when overtaking/undertaking and it’s clever enough to let you know if someone’s approaching as you’re reversing out of a parking space, for example.
For driving, it’s also OK, though again I can’t credit it with a “unique” personality, as its characteristics aren’t so radically different to what you’d discover in a Toyota C-HR, Mazda CX-30, new Citroen C4, Nissan Qashqai, Seat Ateca, Skoda Kodiaq, Kia Sportage, Ford Kuga etc etc etc, except that the ride is a bit jiggly and I noticed wind noise at speed. Hybrids usually have some sort of continuously variable and rather whiny transmission, but the Arkana’s seven-speed automatic gearbox with a dual clutch is smooth and matches the set-up well. It’s front-wheel drive only, by the way, which is a mercy.
If you want to go quietly about your business you can press a button and it will take you about, well, two miles – this is basically a fossil-fuelled motor usefully assisted on the move by electric propulsion, and with no plug-in facility – though the claimed carbon dioxide emissions are pretty good for the size of vehicle.
There’s plenty of space and a good sized boot, albeit with a high sill, and the connectivity is all you’d wish for, again in line with its mainstream classmates. You don’t get into it with any sense of occasion, as you would, say, a Range Rover. It’s not so much the Arkana itself that bugs me as much as the “saturated and relatively uniform SUV” market, to borrow a phrase. I just hanker for the old days when the French brands made brilliantly spacious and innovative people carriers, the Multi-Purpose Vehicles, or MPVs. Remember the Renault Espace, the Renault Megane Scenic, the Citroen Picasso? The breed has virtually gone extinct, pushed out by rabid consumer demand for the Arkana and all the rest of them. The only thing that can be said for them is they tend to be good bases for electrification, but battery-powered designs don’t have to be SUVs.
When will the madness end?