Skip advert
Advertisement

New Renault Rafale 2024 review: hybrid coupe-SUV with style and space

Renault has a second, and altogether more convincing, attempt at the coupe-SUV segment with the boldly upmarket Rafale

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

Find your Renault Rafale
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
Or are you looking to sell your car?
Customers got an average £1000 more vs part exchange quotes
Advertisement

Verdict

The new Renault Rafale is a coupe-SUV Renault can be proud of, and a much better showing in this niche, but very in vogue, segment than the lacklustre Renault Arkana. It delivers the dramatic looks buyers want, the tech on-board is top-notch and space is plentiful. However, its hybrid powertrain struggles outside of town, making this version of Renault’s new flagship more of a show dog than a greyhound. The upcoming Alpine-tuned, plug-in hybrid version has potential to extract a higher rating from us.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The coupe-SUV bodystyle is very on-trend right now, meeting the needs of buyers who want something that looks dramatic on their driveway but remains more than practical for everyday life. Renault’s first attempt to cash in on this craze was the bloated and underwhelming Arkana that we weren’t keen on when it arrived and haven’t grown to like in the time since.

So the brand has taken another swing with its all-new flagship, the Renault Rafale. We see the Rafale as a direct rival to the latest Peugeot 3008, which has a similarly rakish silhouette, or perhaps the Volkswagen Tiguan. But Renault has higher ambitions, also pitching it as an alternative to premium German offerings from the likes of BMW and Audi.

In case you’re curious, the Rafale name was plucked from Renault’s history in aviation, not automobiles. It was originally worn by a racing aeroplane that hit a record-breaking 277mph in 1934. 

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

You might be thinking that the Rafale looks similar from certain angles to another French coupe-SUV, the Peugeot 408. That’s not a coincidence, because the bold and slightly bullish design of the SUV was overseen by Renault’s design boss Gilles Vidal, who just so happened to help craft the 408.

It’s no knock-off of course, with the Rafale styled according to Renault’s latest design language, and there’s nothing Peugeot-like about the interior. For the most part it’s the same as the one in Renault’s mid-size SUV, the Austral.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Every Rafale features a 12-inch portrait touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital driver’s display running Renault’s simply excellent Google-powered infotainment system. It’s a setup that we’re very familiar with because it’s also found in the Austral, plus the all-electric Scenic and Megane.

It’s called OpenR Link and remains one of the best infotainment systems we’ve used in recent years. The screens are incredibly sharp and responsive, while the menus are always quick to load and intuitive because they’re laid out just like those on an Android smartphone. The system also comes with services like Google Maps built-in, and 50 other apps are available. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard-fit, too.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

The Rafale does have some unique touches of its own, however, such as dyed cork or slate dashboard finishes, while the seats have more side bolstering compared to other Renaults – for a more body hugging feel. 

Our top-of-the-range test car also featured the company’s new ‘Solarbay’ panoramic sunroof. Instead of having a mechanical blind, the opacity of the glass itself changes at the push of a button from fully transparent to fully opaque, or even half-and-half. It’s an impressive party trick to watch in person, and tech we’ve so far only seen in supercars and luxury EVs from Lotus.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Overall, we’d say that the Rafale’s interior feels well screwed together, but neither the material nor build quality is quite on the same level as the German cars it’s meant to compete with. The tech on-board helps make up for that, as does the amount of space on offer – not surprising when you consider this five-seat coupe-SUV is the same length (4.7 metres) and has the same wheelbase (2.74 metres) as the seven-seat Renault Espace sold in mainland Europe.

But this means passengers should have no complaints as, despite the heavily sloping roofline, six-foot tall adults get headroom to spare and more than enough space to stretch out their legs. For those who regularly have people in the back, Renault’s rear armrest includes two cup-holders, USB-C charging ports and handy fold-out smartphone holders. Meanwhile the 535-litre boot is larger than the new Peugeot 3008’s, and the Audi Q5 Sportback’s

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

For the moment, the Renault Rafale is only available with a full-hybrid E-Tech powertrain that produces 197bhp. It uses a 1.2-litre, three-cylinder engine and one electric motor to drive the front wheels, plus another e-motor to assist the petrol engine when needed and act as a generator.

According to Renault, this powertrain allows the Rafale to spend up to 80 per cent of the time driving in town on pure-electric power. We have no reason to doubt that claim as we noticed the engine stayed mostly silent when we drove through towns on our lengthy test route around Seville in Spain.

Advertisement - Article continues below

The Rafale’s regenerative braking setup isn’t capable of full one-pedal driving, but comes much closer than many other hybrids, as its strongest setting can bring the car down to a slow creep after the driver lifts off the accelerator. We also like the fact that there are paddles on the steering wheel for adjusting the regen system’s strength on the fly – something plenty of EVs still don’t have.

Unfortunately, the Rafale’s weaknesses start to show themselves when you leave town. Sudden demands for power or hard acceleration will cause the gruff engine to wake from its slumber. Hitting the throttle is often met with a few seconds of latency, as if the powertrain has forgotten its role in this operation. Once the Rafale settles into a cruise, the engine note fades into the background. We noticed a moderate amount of road noise when on the motorway, but no other intrusions.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Skip advert
Advertisement - Article continues below

The Rafale sits on the same CMF-CD platform as the Austral, but the suspension is tuned differently on the coupe SUV and the track has been widened by 20mm. Body movement is certainly well controlled, but the Rafale isn’t a particularly exciting car to drive on twisty roads, partly because of the uninvolving powertrain and partly due to the very numb steering. 

Advertisement - Article continues below

We have mixed feelings about the ‘4Control’ four-wheel steering that’s fitted on all but the base Rafale models. This allows for a turning circle of just 10.4 metres, which is remarkably the same as the Clio supermini’s, so certainly helps with manoeuvrability on really tight streets. However, the system makes the car feel quite floaty at low speeds, like it’s crab walking. Then when you’re going more quickly around corners, there’s the disconcerting sensation that the back end is losing grip. Our test car was preset for the system’s maximum effect, which is meant to boost agility, but you can tone it down through the touchscreen and that makes driving feel more natural.

We’re hopeful that the forthcoming plug-in hybrid Rafale E-Tech 4x4 will offer a driving experience more worthy of Renault’s flagship model as it’s packing 296bhp, all-wheel drive, adaptive suspension and a chassis tuned by Alpine’s engineers.

Also coming later this year is an entry-level Renault Rafale E-Tech without four-wheel steering for a £38k price tag. Right now, however, the Rafale is available in Techno Esprit Alpine trim from £42,195, or Iconic Esprit Alpine from £44,695. Like with other Renaults, there are no optional extras to choose from – what you see is what you get.

That said, even the more basic Rafale comes loaded with kit, including 20-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, the two huge displays, a wireless smartphone charger, automatic dual-zone climate control, a reversing camera and various driver assistance systems, like adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and driver attention alert.

Techno Esprit Alpine adds sportier styling, an exclusive wheel design, matrix LED headlights, a powered tailgate, four-wheel steering and a head-up display. If you want the Solarbay sunroof, a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system or 360-degree camera however, they’re only found on range-topping Iconic Esprit Alpine spec.

Model:Renault Rafale E-Tech Iconic Esprit Alpine
Price:From £38,195 / Iconic Esprit Alpine from £44,695
Engine:1.2-litre 3cyl petrol, 1x e-motor
Power/torque:197bhp/205Nm
Transmission:Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
0-62mph:8.9 seconds
Top speed:111mph
MPG/CO2:60.1mpg/105g/km
On sale:Now
Skip advert
Advertisement
News reporter

As our news reporter, Ellis is responsible for covering everything new and exciting in the motoring world, from quirky quadricycles to luxury MPVs. He was previously the content editor for DrivingElectric and won the Newspress Automotive Journalist Rising Star award in 2022.

Skip advert
Advertisement

Most Popular

New Ford Capri preview: famous name returns on 390-mile electric coupe-SUV
Ford Capri - front action
News

New Ford Capri preview: famous name returns on 390-mile electric coupe-SUV

Ford has reimagined one of its most iconic nameplates as a rival for the Volkswagen ID.5 and Skoda Enyaq Coupe
12 Jul 2024
Covers are off new MG HS family SUV at Goodwood Festival of Speed
MG HS on display at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2024 - front static
News

Covers are off new MG HS family SUV at Goodwood Festival of Speed

The previous MG HS was a big-seller for MG in the UK and there are high hopes for this one…
12 Jul 2024
Car Deal of the Day: updated Nissan Qashqai with sharp looks and hybrid power for only £220 per month
Nissan Qashqai - front cornering
News

Car Deal of the Day: updated Nissan Qashqai with sharp looks and hybrid power for only £220 per month

Nissan’s recently refreshed family SUV with hybrid power for close to £200 per month is our Car Deal of the Day for 10 July
10 Jul 2024