The Renault Arkana on test for Changing Lanes

Renault Arkana Review (2024) | Stylish and practical

Read Caroline's Renault Arkana review for everything you need to know about buying Renault's stylish SUV coupé in Ireland.

The Renault Arkana first launched in Ireland in 2021 and quickly became one of the brand's bestsellers, outselling the Clio and the Captur.

Along with the Megane E-Tech and the newly launched Austral, it gives Renault a strong presence in the compact side of the market.

The Arkana has recently been updated for 2024 so it was time for another spin.

The Renault Arkana on test for Changing Lanes
The Renault Arkana on test for Changing Lanes

What's so special about the Renault Arkana?

Styled as an SUV coupé, the Arkana is a stylish, five-seat family car with trendy crossover-inspired looks. It sits a bit higher off the ground than your average hatchback and features familiar Renault design cues like striking LED lights front and rear.

At the rear, the roof slopes down in an attractive coupé style - with little compromise to practicality as the Arkana houses a generous boot and plenty of passenger space. Alloy wheel sizes vary from 17- to 19-inch depending on trim level.

For the update, Renault has made a few subtle tweaks. Evolution and Techno trim lines are joined by the new Esprit Alpine, which replaces the previous R.S. Line and gets some sportier trim like 19-inch alloys and gloss black wing mirror caps.

The grille has a new diamond pattern and wears the new Renault logo. There's also a new F1-style blade in the front bumper, finished in grey on the Esprit Alpine. The rear lights have smoked glass covers and tailpipes are finished in gloss black.

There's also a new colour called Midnight Blue.

The cabin of the Arkana
The cabin of the Arkana

The Arkana is available as a 1.3-litre mild hybrid petrol or as an even more fuel-efficient hybrid. It also still manages to offer good value in the market, starting from €32,590 for the petrol and from €35,490 for the hybrid.

Driving the Arkana E-Tech Hybrid

The Arkana E-Tech Hybrid uses a 1.6-litre full hybrid just like the Clio Hybrid. It combines a four-cylinder petrol engine with a small capacity battery, two electric motors and a 6-speed multimode automatic transmission.

With 145hp, it has plenty of power while boasting lower CO2 emissions and the ability to drive up to 80% of the time on battery power alone at low speeds in town, for example.

It also proves to be very fuel efficient with real world consumption between 5.5 and 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres during my time with the car. It's not a plug-in hybrid, so doesn't need to be plugged in to get the best efficiency from it.

It's a capable drive without being as sporty as what the coupé looks might suggest. The steering is accurate and direct but the hybrid can get noisy under hard acceleration.

The ride is a little firm so in town and on country roads it feels a little bumpy at times. There's quite a lot of road noise at high speeds on the motorway too.

The Renault Arkana is available as a petrol mild hybrid or full hybrid
The Renault Arkana is available as a petrol mild hybrid or full hybrid

But on balance, it's a nice car to spend time with. It offers a good view out of the road ahead and is simple and efficient to drive.

The 1.3-litre petrol is available with 140hp or 160hp depending on trim level and also comes with an automatic transmission.

There's no diesel option in the Arkana range.

Inside the Arkana

The Arkana still scores well for practicality. The hatchback-style boot has a wide opening and capacity of 480 litres. It doesn't feel cramped in the back despite the sloping roofline and provides adequate space for two, or even three from time to time.

The cabin design and finish hasn't changed much in this update but it's still a nice place to be with a good solid feel and plenty of cool digital tech on board.

The Esprit Alpine (from €37,790) offers the plushest cabin of the range with details such as suede-effect and synthetic leather seats with Alpine logo and blue stitching. The leather wrapped steering wheel gets stitching in the colours of the French Tricolour. There's also a bespoke grey panel in the dash.

The boot of the Arkana
The boot of the Arkana

It also has luxury features like heated steering wheel, heated front seats with power adjustment. Lovely!

The entry level Evolution model comes with a 7-inch touchscreen now with in-built navigation and wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

It's worth going for the mid-range Techno model as it adds an impressive full digital driver display and larger 9.3-inch touchscreen.

Did you like it?

The Renault Arkana is still a great offering in the market for style, practicality and efficiency. It's not quite as sporty to drive as it looks and could do with a bit more refinement overall but for the price it still manages to offer good value for buyers. The update is very, very subtle but what a great looking car!

Arkana is a car with a lot of charm and it's no surprise it's such a big seller for Renault in Ireland.

____________________________

Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes, Juror for Irish Car of the Year

The Renault Arkana is practical, stylish and efficient
The Renault Arkana is practical, stylish and efficient

The 2024 Mazda2 Hybrid

Mazda2 Hybrid Review (2024) | Fuel-sipping hybrid

Read Caroline's 2024 Mazda2 Hybrid review for everything you need to know about buying Mazda's hybrid small car in Ireland.

The Mazda2 Hybrid joined the Mazda range for the first time in 2022. Sold alongside the Mazda2 petrol, the Mazda2 Hybrid is essentially a rebadged Toyota Yaris.

The hybrid supermini is an important step in helping the Japanese brand to reduce emissions and offer customers a fuel-sipping hybrid option (without the cost of developing its own).

Toyota is a leader in hybrid for over 25 years so this car certainly has good provenance. But is it distinct enough?

Now in 2024, Mazda seeks to distinguish this car a little more with a few styling tweaks from its own European Design Studio.

I travelled to Barcelona to take a first look at the new Mazda2 Hybrid, ahead of its arrival in Ireland this March.

The 2024 Mazda2 Hybrid
The 2024 Mazda2 Hybrid

Styling

The Mazda2 Hybrid is a Yaris in disguise but this time around Mazda has done a little more than a simple rebadging exercise. Mazda's version of the famous small car gets a new face with a unique bumper and Mazda five-point grille. At the back, the light clusters are separated by a body coloured garnish. Black side mirrors come as standard. The Homura models add glossy black trim, LED headlights and 17-inch alloy wheels. This is a very convincing spec for the Mazda2 Hybrid, with a sporty, squat stance on the road. Glass Blue is added as a new colour.

Overall the design tweaks do give the Mazda2 Hybrid a modicum more style than before, yet it still looks more like a Toyota than a Mazda. This may be disappointing for Mazda fans but doesn't take away from the fact that it's a very accomplished small car underneath.

Interior

Again, there's very little inside to distinguish the Mazda2 Hybrid from the Yaris, except for a Mazda badge on the steering wheel and printed on the mats. It's a solid, well-made interior - though it lacks the artistic flair of a true Mazda cabin. It benefits from the same digital upgrade the Yaris receives this year, including larger and more modern touchscreens (9” to 10.5”) with wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and the availability of an impressive full digital driver display.

Standard features include a reversing camera, leather steering wheel, electric windows, automatic air con and adaptive cruise control. Going up the trim levels adds things such as smart keyless entry, parking sensors, wireless mobile phone charging and even a head-up display and panoramic roof on the very top of the range Homura Plus model.

Inside the 2024 Mazda2 Hybrid
Inside the 2024 Mazda2 Hybrid

Practicality

At 286 litres, the boot is average for a small car but will fit two cabin bags side by side. The rear seats also split fold 60:40. Rear legroom is on the tight side so it's certainly one of the more compact models on sale - though you will get adults in there from time to time and children will be fine.

Engine

The Mazda2 Hybrid uses Toyota's 1.5-litre petrol electric hybrid with 116hp, just like the latest Yaris. It's incredibly frugal with fuel consumption quoted between 3.8 - 4.2 litres per 100 kilometres. Real world consumption is not too far off that, though consumption naturally increases at high speeds on the motorway.

Driving

The Mazda2 is a solid and capable small car on the road. It handles well without being particularly fun to drive. But the hybrid does feel more lively overall than a Mazda2 petrol, which can feel a bit lethargic, particularly on motorways. The Mazda2 Hybrid has no problem keeping up with the best of them on the motorway though it does get quite noisy with a lot of tyre and wind noise at high speeds. It's at its best in town and city driving when the hybrid drive really comes into its own. At low speeds, it frequently dips into EV mode, running silently on the power from its electric motor with no emissions from the exhaust. For this reason it's a very convenient option for buyers who want to be a little more environmentally conscious but without the need for chargers and charging - the small capacity battery is topped up in braking and deceleration.

Boot space in the Mazda2 Hybrid
Boot space in the Mazda2 Hybrid

Pricing

There are four trim lines confirmed for Ireland: Centre-line from €27,700; Exclusive-line from €29,550; Homura from €32,300; and Homura Plus from €34,700.

Verdict

It's challenging to put an individual stamp on a car as popular and well-known as a Toyota Yaris. Mazda has tried again with the 2024 Mazda2 Hybrid and the results are more convincing than before, particularly in the sporty Homura trim line. It's an attractive car though Mazda fans are likely to be a little underwhelmed by it overall as it lacks the artistic flair and craftmanship of a true Mazda. But, it's not a bad car: it's incredibly frugal and well-made with a modern, digital cabin and plenty of high-end safety features. It's lack of distinction from the Yaris might let it down in the wider market. But within Mazda's range, it's a frugal and lively compact car.

____________________________

Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes, Juror for Irish Car of the Year

The Mazda2 Hybrid is incredibly efficient
The Mazda2 Hybrid is incredibly efficient

The new Renault Clio - delightfully chic

Renault Clio Review (2024) | A brilliant small car

Read Caroline's Renault Clio review for everything you need to know about buying Renault's popular small car in Ireland.

The Renault Clio is an international bestseller and one of the French brand's best loved small cars. It's recently been updated to keep it competitive with a few small tweaks to the styling, addition of a new Esprit Alpine trim level and some enhanced equipment onboard.

Available as a simple petrol manual or as an even more fuel efficient hybrid, the 2024 Renault Clio range kicks off from €24,845.

The new Renault Clio - delightfully chic
The new Renault Clio - delightfully chic

What's so special about the Renault Clio?

There are few small cars as chic and stylish as the Renault Clio. The facelifted Clio gets a new front end that gives it a meaner and sportier look, particularly in the top of the range Esprit Alpine - inspired by Renault's Alpine brand of sports cars.

The grille now stretches the full width between the LED headlights, while the new F1-style blade in the front bumper is finished in grey on the Esprit Alpine. Another striking feature is the new half diamond shaped LED daytime running lights that give it some real dynamic appeal.

Alloy wheel sizes start at 16-inch, with the Esprit Alpine getting a fancier 17-inch diamond cut set with blue or grey centre caps, depending on the body colour.

There are new clear covers for the rear lights but otherwise it's business as usual for the Clio. It's still one of the best looking small cars on sale.

There are a few tweaks inside too. Nothing major but the Esprit Alpine replaces the old RS Line and has a few sporty additions.

The cabin of the 2024 Renault Clio
The cabin of the 2024 Renault Clio

Inside the Clio Esprit Alpine

The Clio's cabin has matured very well with impressive digital tech on board and an upmarket feel - particularly in the new Esprit Alpine (from €28,345).

Front sports seats come with blue contrast stitching and Alpine logos to add a sporty feel. There's a fabric dashboard panel with a French flag to remind you what you're driving and Tricolour stitching in the steering wheel too.

Entry level models come with a 7-inch digital driver display and 7-inch touchscreen that's easy to use, with now wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to make smartphone integration even simpler. The Esprit Alpine gets the flashier 10-inch digital driver display and 9.3-inch portrait-style touchscreen.

Standard features on the entry level Evolution model include keyless entry, automatic air con and rear parking sensors. The Techno adds a reversing camera and wireless smartphone charging, while the Esprit Alpine is the most luxurious of all with heated steering wheel/heated front seats and safety equipment like adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert.

The Clio Hybrid is brilliant in town and very fuel-efficient
The Clio Hybrid is brilliant in town and very fuel-efficient

The Clio feels roomy enough inside for a small car though the back seat will be more comfortable for two rather than three. The petrol models are best for boot space with a Golf-beating 391 litres. Opt for the hybrid and this goes down to 301 litres. But it's still a practical space for a few suitcases or shopping bags.

Driving the Clio Hybrid

The Clio is available with a 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine with 90hp and a 6-speed manual or as a 1.6-litre hybrid that promises even greater fuel efficiency.

The hybrid is more expensive to buy (from €30,545) but offers a few benefits particularly in town driving where it can run for up to 80% of the time on its small capacity battery alone powering just the electric motor to turn the wheels - just like a Toyota Yaris Hybrid. Nor does it require a plug, with the battery being topped up during braking and deceleration.

It's smooth to drive with a multimode automatic transmission making it simple too. It has more power (145hp) than the entry level petrol and contributes to a more mature feeling on the road. Slot it into the ‘B’ mode to increase regenerative braking and you can adjust the driving behaviour somewhat with the Multisense driving modes.

Rear seating in the Clio
Rear seating in the Clio

Over my time with the car, average fuel consumption was 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres, making it cheap to run too.

The Clio is good fun to drive with direct steering and good body control through bends. Comfort and refinement levels are pretty good for a small car though it does get noisy over coarser road surfaces and doesn't do much to take the edge off the bumps and holes of Irish rural roads.

Did you like it?

It's an easy yes! It's hard not to find yourself endeared by the Clio's charm. It's compact enough to be fun, yet big enough to offer some decent practicality. It's super stylish and well-equipped making it one of the most desirable small cars on sale.

It's hard to justify the hybrid's price tag over the basic petrol though it is a more sophisticated offering overall, cleaner and more efficient.

Either way, the Clio is still one for the shopping list.

The brilliant Renault Clio
The brilliant Renault Clio

____________________________

Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes, Juror for Irish Car of the Year


The super smart DS 7

DS 7 Review (2024)

Read Caroline’s DS 7 review for everything you need to know about buying the latest version of the DS luxury SUV in Ireland.

DS is owned by the same company that owns many well-known brands like Peugeot, Alfa Romeo, Opel and Citroen. The DS 7 is the French luxury car brand's flagship SUV that launched in the Irish market in 2019.

In 2023 a facelifted DS 7 arrived in Ireland with updated styling and a tweaked interior too.

DS is still a relatively small player on the market but sales in Ireland have been growing since the arrival of the new DS 4 hatchback in late 2022.

The DS 7 is a curious car indeed. It feels more upmarket than bestsellers like the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and Nissan Qashqai yet faces stiff competition from established premium SUVs like the BMW X1, Volvo XC40 and Audi Q3.

So what might sway buyers towards the stately DS 7? Let's take a closer look.

The super smart DS 7
The super smart DS 7

Styling

The DS 7 is a handsome five-seat SUV. It has considerable presence and up close it's nothing short of premium in its design. It's a car that has benefited greatly from a recent facelift that brings it more in line with the styling of the rest of the DS range. At the front, the grille is now wider and framed by slim pixel LED headlights and new DS 'light veil' daytime running lights, as seen on the DS 3 and DS 4. There are now three trim lines - Performance Line, Rivoli and Opera - which alter the look somewhat from sporty to more elegant. Alloy wheel sizes vary from 19- to 21-inch. At the back DS Automobiles is now spelt out across a strip connecting jewel-like LED lights.

Interior

The cabin feels very plush and upmarket with a range of high-end furnishings available. Performance Line models go with a sporty Alcantara interior, while the mid-range Rivoli luxes it out with a full black leather interior. Even the dashboard panels and doors feature luxurious leather quilting, which adds to the opulent feel. The heated leather seats are comfortable and supportive with a massage function in Rivoli models including a lovely 'Cat Paw' setting! Other unusual features include a BRM clock that slips elegantly from the dash on start up. There's an impressive new full digital driver display and updated 12-inch touchscreen and infotainment with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The cabin of the DS 7
The cabin of the DS 7

Being a DS there is a little bit of quirkiness to the placement of some of the controls. For example, you'll find the buttons to open the electric windows in the centre console. But you get used to this arrangement after a while. The ventilation controls are in the touchscreen, which can be a bit fiddly to operate while driving but there is a row of shortcut buttons underneath to pull up menus quickly.

Practicality

The DS 7 is bigger overall than its closest rivals like an X1 or XC40. There's a big boot of 555 litres, which is ideal for family life. A powered tailgate comes as standard on Rivoli and Opera models. There's no clever compartment to store the charging cables for the plug-in hybrid model but there are switches to let down the rear seats from the boot. The DS 7 feels equally generous on space in the back seat, with lots of head, leg and shoulder room.

Engines

The DS 7 has quite a narrow engine line-up in Ireland. Buyers can choose from a 1.5-litre diesel with 130hp or a more powerful plug-in hybrid with 225hp in front wheel drive models and even more powerful four wheel drive variants (300hp and 360hp). All come with an 8-speed automatic. The diesel offers excellent economy, particularly for high mileage motorway users. The plug-in hybrid has a battery that can allow some exclusive EV driving for a range up to about 69 kilometres. This is ideal for those who can charge at home or work and make use of this limited electric range when driving around town.

The DS 7 Rivoli on test for Changing Lanes
The DS 7 Rivoli on test for Changing Lanes

Charging

It will take about seven hours to charge the DS 7 plug-in hybrid from a three-pin plug and just under two hours from a 7kW wallbox.

Driving

The DS 7 is built on the same platform and underpinnings as some other well-known SUVs like the Peugeot 3008 and the Citroen C5 Aircross. Yet DS engineers did tweak it to live up to the more upmarket positioning of the DS brand. There is a more sophisticated rear suspension for example and more sound insulation. Certainly the most impressive aspect of the DS 7 on the road is just how comfortable it is. Plug-in hybrid versions (badged 'E-Tense') come with the DS Scan Suspension, which uses a camera to scan the road ahead and adjusts the firmness or softness of the suspension damping depending on what it sees. It works brilliantly and makes this car an absolute pleasure to drive and travel in. The handling is very secure and confident, while the light steering in town makes it a breeze to drive and manoeuvre in traffic or parking. There is some road noise but generally the cabin is pretty well hushed. There are also a few driving modes to alter the driving experience but the DS 7 really excels in the Comfort mode. The plug-in hybrid offers plenty of power to match the premium positioning of the car but it can get thirsty when the battery is empty. Like most plug-in hybrids, it's best to keep the battery charged as much as possible otherwise the diesel will work out a better option overall.

Boost space in the DS 7
Boot space in the DS 7

Pricing

Pricing for the new DS 7 range starts from €50,390 for the diesel and from €57,800 for the plug-in hybrid. The DS 7 E-Tense plug-in hybrid in Rivoli trim retails from €61,800.

Verdict

The DS 7 is a stylish alternative to some of the usual suspects among premium SUVs. It also happens to offer generous space inside and unique French luxury style and furnishings. It does get expensive as you go up the trim levels but there's some relative value to be had in the range too. The diesel remains a popular choice among DS 7 buyers, though the plug-in hybrid has its merits too including more power and a quieter driving experience overall. But it does need to be charged to get the best from it so that's a commitment that won't appeal to every buyer. Still, it's really the comfort the DS 7 offers that makes it a excellent companion for Irish roads. The facelift gives it a pleasant, contemporary update that helps it stand out even more.

____________________________

Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes, Juror for Irish Car of the Year

The DS 7 is on sale in Ireland now
The DS 7 is on sale in Ireland now

The 2024 Toyota C-HR

Toyota C-HR Review (2024)

Read Caroline's 2024 Toyota C-HR review for everything you need to know about buying Toyota's trendy hybrid compact crossover in Ireland.

The Toyota C-HR has been a big success for Toyota Ireland since it first launched here at the end of 2016. The stylish coupé-crossover has been a consistent bestseller, with over 15,000 sold in Ireland to date.

The new C-HR aims to build on the success of the first with a bold new design and even more efficient hybrid technology.

It goes on sale from about €40,000 and is available to test drive in dealers now with first customer deliveries expected from January 2024.

The 2024 Toyota C-HR
The 2024 Toyota C-HR is on sale now from Toyota's Irish dealer network

Styling

The C-HR was always the style icon of the Toyota range. This new one brings it to the next level with a striking new front end, more pronounced character lines and some very dramatic bi-tone colour options that extend into the rear of the car for the very first time.

The C-HR sits alongside the newly launched Corolla Cross in Toyota's mid-size crossover offering. However, the C-HR is designed to stand out and yes it does! At the front, the new slim LED headlights give C-HR the new family face of Toyota, like the latest Prius and BZ4X. There are some sharper character lines along the side of the car. At the back there are new horizontal lights that give a dramatic light bar effect with a special 'Toyota C-HR' illumination in the middle that lights up when you lock and unlock the vehicle.

There are a range of colours available, with Sport+ and Sol models coming with a very trendy black contrast roof. Go for the top of the range Premiere Edition or GR Sport Premiere Edition and the contrast black is extended into the rear of the car. Alloy wheel sizes vary from 18- to 20-inch. New flush door handles and a split roof spoiler add to the C-HR's aerodynamic efficiency.

Interior

The cabin has matured very nicely for this new generation of C-HR. It feels like a bigger, more substantial car from behind the wheel. There's a pleasant mix of digital features, good quality plastics, plush materials and a classic solid Toyota feel. Fabric sports seats come as standard but going up the trim levels adds more suede finish and vegan leather trim. There's a fabulous new digital instrument panel and new steering wheel. An 8-inch touchscreen is standard on the entry level Sport model with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But all other versions get a very impressive 12-inch screen. Ventilation is adjusted from a row of buttons beneath the screen.

The cabin of the 2024 Toyota C-HR
The cabin of the 2024 Toyota C-HR

Other standard features include parking sensors, reversing camera, heated front seats, keyless entry and dual zone climate control. Sport+ adds wireless smartphone charging and a panoramic glass roof. The Toyota Safety Sense 3 suite of safety equipment comes as standard with features like blind spot monitoring, lane departure alert with steering control and safe exit assist.

Practicality

The C-HR hasn't changed much in size but it still offers adequate accommodation for a trendy crossover. The boot is a small bit bigger than before at 388 litres in the 1.8-litre hybrid and 364 litres in the 2.0-litre hybrid. That's about on par with the average hatchback. But it is well designed with a wide opening and the availability of a powered tailgate. The rear seats can also split fold 60:40.

Legroom and headroom is good enough in the back for a car of this size. Toyota has also removed the kink from the window line so it feels brighter and more family-friendly than before. It's snug and comfortable. There's no centre armrest but there is a cupholder in each door and one USB-C port for back seat passengers.

Engines

After Corolla and Corolla Cross earlier this year, Toyota's new fifth generation hybrid now makes its debut in the C-HR range. There are 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol electric hybrids available. It has more compact parts to save weight and improve efficiency. The 1.8-litre is expected to be the biggest seller. Power is up from 122hp to 140hp, with 0-100 km/h completed in a reasonable 9.9 seconds. Toyota quotes fuel consumption of about 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres for this model. There's also a more powerful 2.0-litre hybrid with 198hp and fuel consumption rated at 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres.

A 2.0-litre C-HR plug-in hybrid is expected to arrive in the summer of 2024.

The C-HR is available with choice of hybrid engines
The C-HR is available with a choice of hybrid engines

Driving

The new C-HR is built on an upgraded GA-C platform from Toyota with improvements to the suspension, steering and brakes. The controls all work well together and the car has a solid, cohesive feel on the road. It's easy to control, with a wider track and lots of front end grip giving it a secure and planted feel through bends. On the Spanish roads of my test route, the C-HR was a mature and comfortable drive. There's not too much road or wind noise either.

There are a few different driving modes like Normal, Sport, Eco and Custom, which alter the driving experience somewhat. There's also a B mode to increase regenerative braking.

Like other Toyota hybrids, the C-HR uses an e-CVT automatic gearbox. It still can get quite noisy under hard acceleration but can be avoided with a gentler use of the accelerator. It's a hybrid that is more geared towards efficiency and that's where the C-HR really excels, with consumption as low as 4.4 litres per 100 kilometres during my test drive.

Pricing

The 2024 Toyota C-HR range starts from €40,250 for the 1.8 Sport model. Sport+ starts from €42,920 and Sol from €45,010. The Premiere Edition is priced from €49,940 and the GR Sport Premiere Edition from €52,500. Both come with the more powerful 2.0-litre hybrid.

Rear seating in the C-HR
Rear seating in the C-HR

Verdict

The Toyota C-HR was always the style icon of the Toyota range. The new version takes that to the next level with even bolder styling and paint options.

It is a super stylish crossover that really does stand out against rival crossovers and SUVs. For outright space, some rivals offer a little more but the C-HR still feels roomy enough inside to be practical.

A mature feel pervades this car now, from the finish of the interior to the way it covers the road. The handling is very good though the hybrid drive is best suited to more efficient than sporty driving.

It has gone up in price but then again the new C-HR is more than the car it started out as. It is exceptionally well-equipped and loaded with lots of standard safety features and digital tech.

Overall, Toyota has once again created a stand-out car in the C-HR that will please the style-conscious and be incredibly efficient to run too.

____________________________

Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes, Juror for Irish Car of the Year

The Toyota C-HR is a super stylish crossover that's incredibly efficient too
The Toyota C-HR is a super stylish crossover that's incredibly efficient too

WATCH A VIDEO OF THE NEW C-HR!


The Cupra Leon on test for Changing Lanes

Cupra Leon Review

Read Caroline's Cupra Leon review for everything you need to know about buying Cupra's sporty hatchback in Ireland.

Cupra was a badge that adorned many high performance Seat cars over the years like the Ibiza Cupra and the Leon Cupra.

But all that changed in 2018, when Cupra became its own standalone brand within the Volkswagen Group.

And it’s been a big success, releasing some great models like the Born and the Formentor, and becoming one of Ireland’s fastest growing car brands along the way.

The Cupra Leon sells in smaller numbers than the Born and Formentor, but Cupra has still managed to sell around 300 of them this year.

The Cupra Leon goes on sale priced from about €35,310, with the choice of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid. That’s still competitive against the likes of the Toyota Corolla, the Opel Astra, Peugeot 308 and the Ford Focus. And you get to drive a car that looks as good as this.

The Cupra Leon on test for Changing Lanes
The Cupra Leon on test for Changing Lanes

Styling

If you thought it looked a lot like a Seat Leon, you’d be right because this is one model that is still shared with the Seat brand. But it’s been beefed up and given the Cupra makeover. Cupra is of course a more upmarket, performance brand within the Volkswagen Group. And these days Seat Ireland no longer offers the Leon in the sporty FR trim, leaving space for Cupra to carry the mantle - which it does very well. The Cupra Leon looks meaner and more aggressive with sportier bumpers, larger air intakes, large front splitter, dark chrome front grille frame and side skirts. It also wears Cupra's copper trimmed badge in the centre of the grille. It's a very eye-catching car and attracts plenty of admiring glances.

The wheels deserve a special mention. No one does alloy wheel designs as cool as Cupra's. 18-inch come as standard, while high performance VZ models get 19-inch. The test car pictured has an optional copper/black tipped 19-inch design. Stunning!

All in all, it looks good parked up beside high spec versions of its rivals.

Interior

The cabin is very similar in its basic design and layout to the Seat, but it has been 'Cuprified' and all for the better. The material quality is better overall with some nice soft touch panels in the doors and gorgeous seats. The Leon e-hybrid gets bucket seats as standard, though entry level petrol and diesel models get more basic sport seats. There's the option of those same bucket seats in full leather, blue or black. The steering wheel stands out with the Cupra logo and the full digital instrument cluster with a number of different layouts to toggle between from the touch of a button. There's a lovely strip of ambient lighting around the dash, with the choice of a few different colours.

The cabin of the Cupra Leon
The cabin of the Cupra Leon

A large touchscreen comes as standard with wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Wireless smartphone charging is an option but there are a few USB-C ports. The minimalist cabin means that pretty much everything is controlled from the screen, including the ventilation. It can be a bit fiddly to use on the move, though you get used to it. Other features include heated steering wheel, heated front seats and a reversing camera.

Practicality

The Cupra Leon is built on the same underpinnings as the latest Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3 for example. It is one of the most spacious hatchbacks of its kind, with generous headroom in the back. Tri-zone climate control comes as standard.

Petrol and diesel versions have a decent 380 litres of boot space, though the plug-in hybrid can only manage 270 litres. But opt for the Sportstourer and that goes up to 470 litres.

Engines

There are a range of engines for the Cupra Leon and it's get a few spicier power options than the Seat. The range kicks off with a 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine with 150hp and the choice of a manual or automatic gearbox. There are similar options for the 2.0-litre diesel, also with 150hp. There's also a 1.4-litre plug-in hybrid with either 204hp or 245hp. The 12.8kWh battery onboard can be charged in about 3.5 hours at a rate of 3.6kW and driven electric for up to about 60 kilometres.

For some real high performance, there's the Cupra Leon VZ 2.0-litre TSI turbo petrol with 245hp or 310hp and four wheel drive.

The Cupra Leon is available with a range of engines
The Leon is available with a range of engines

Driving

The Cupra Leon is a really nice hatchback to drive with precise steering and sweet handling. It gets a front differential lock as standard so it handles the tarmac with real skill, turning into corners with lots of grip and staying wonderfully flat and balanced throughout. The Leon is almost worth it just for that skill.

Dynamic Chassis Control comes as standard on VZ models, but was added as an option to the test car. It means you can fine tune the suspension damping and steering through a few different settings: Comfort, Sport and Individual. It's comfortable for a sporty hatch and the extra firmness of the Sport mode actually enhances the driving experience. The only annoyance is persistent road noise from the tyres.

With 204hp and an electric motor for a burst of torque, the e-Hybrid is one of the most powerful of the range with 0-100 in 7.5 seconds and 350Nm of torque. It's expensive to buy however and does need to be charged to get the best from it - including efficiency. On an empty battery, it gets thirstier. But if you can charge it regularly and even drive on electric power alone for a limited range, then it can work well. But otherwise most buyers will be served well enough by the 1.5 petrol.

Pricing

The Cupra Leon range starts at about €35,310 for a 1.5-litre petrol manual. Diesels start from €37,585. The Leon e-Hybrid on test with 204hp costs about €48,145.

Rear seating in the Cupra Leon
Rear seating in the Cupra Leon

Verdict

The Cupra Leon is a brilliant sporty hatchback. It stacks up very well against high spec, sporty versions of rivals like a Corolla GR Sport, Astra GS, and Focus ST Line. It's fun and spirited to drive, and Cupra has done a good job at giving it a makeover to make it feel more special. It does get quite expensive however, particularly as a plug-in hybrid. However with one of the more basic engines, it's a very good buy indeed.

____________________________

Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes, Juror for Irish Car of the Year

The Cupra Leon is a brilliant hatchback
The Cupra Leon is a brilliant hatchback

The new Lexus RX 450h+

Lexus RX 450h+ Review

Read Caroline’s Lexus RX 450h+ review for everything you need to know about buying the new RX plug-in hybrid in Ireland.

The Lexus RX has been the Japanese brand's flagship SUV for 25 years and a pioneer of hybrid technology in the luxury segment since the first RX hybrid was launched in 2005.

In 2023, the new fifth generation model introduces plug-in hybrid technology to the RX range for the very first time. And in Ireland it will be available exclusively in this form.

The new Lexus RX 450h+ is priced in the region of €89,000, with two trim levels available. The new RX gets improved design and handling, and a new digital cabin.

It goes up against other luxury SUVs like the BMW X5, the Audi Q7, Volvo XC90, and the Mercedes-Benz GLE.

Lexus has been a leader in hybrid technology in the luxury segment for many years. So is the new RX plug-in hybrid one of the best luxury SUVs on sale?

The new Lexus RX 450h+
The new Lexus RX 450h+

Styling

The new RX is probably the brand's best yet when it comes to design. With a few tweaks including an elegant new nose, the RX oozes class and sophistication - a sort of understated elegance without any brashness.

It's about the same length as before but the wheelbase is a bit longer and the A-pillar pushed back for a more elongated bonnet. There is a tasteful evolution of the famous Lexus spindle grille at the front with nice detailing and slim LED headlights. At the back, there is a new full width light bar and L-E-X-U-S spelt out.

There are two trim levels on offer, Luxury and Premium. Both now come with 21-inch alloy wheels for a dynamic look.

Interior

The theme of understated elegance continues inside. The cabin has been suitably modernised with an upmarket design and new tech on board too, like the full digital driver display and new 14-inch touchscreen with over the air updates and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. There are two handy dials to adjust the temperature but otherwise there is a heavy reliance on the touchscreen, which may upset traditionalists.

But it's hard not to be seduced by the quality of the cabin, with plenty of leather and soft touch materials to command the luxury price tag. It's very easy to get comfortable, thanks to heated and ventilated front seats as standard with massage function and 8-way power adjustment.

There's good storage too for a large family car. Some neat features include the centre cubby that can open from either the driver or passenger side, and an electronic door release that adds the premium touch.

The cabin of the Lexus RX 450h+
The cabin of the Lexus RX 450h+

The Luxury model also features full leather upholstery, wireless smartphone charging, heated steering wheel, panoramic view monitor, ambient lighting,  panoramic roof and the third generation Lexus Safety System+. If you step up to the Premium model, there's an upgraded premium stereo with 21 speakers, wood trim, heated and ventilated rear seats, 10-inch head-up display and an adaptive variable suspension.

Practicality

The new RX has a longer wheelbase than before, so there’s a bit more legroom and plenty of headroom as well. It feels high-end in the back with lots of features like an armrest and tri-zone climate control.

There's a 461-litre boot and a powered tailgate as standard. There's also space under the boot floor to put the charging cables and lots of handy features like switches to let the rear seats down and a retractable cover to hide valuables.

Engine

In Ireland the new RX is available as a plug-in hybrid, badged the 450h+. It uses a 2.5-litre petrol engine, two electric motors and an 18.1kWh battery. The power output is 309hp and the battery can be charged to full at a maximum of 6.6kW in as little as 2.5 hours to give an electric driving range of up to 65 kilometres.

The new Lexus RX is an elegant and classy SUV
The new Lexus RX is an elegant and classy large SUV

Driving

Lexus has a long history in building hybrid cars and SUVs. When the RX 400h launched in 2005, it was the first electrified model available in the premium market. Built now on the brand’s GA-K platform shared with Toyota, the RX has improved handling and responsiveness. Four wheel drive ensures there’s loads of grip for a nice, secure drive. There's even a Trail mode to prevent wheel-slip when driving on slippery or uneven roads.

The plug-in hybrid balances power well with efficiency. The RX 450h+ is smooth and responsive to drive, with 309hp and the 0-100 sprint completed in 6.5 seconds. Though it's not an SUV you will really want to hurry in, offering a comfortable drive and hushed cabin. It's easy to drive and doesn't feel too big in town.

There are a number of different modes you can switch between like an Auto mode that moves between the EV and hybrid drive as the car sees fit, and a battery save mode. When the battery runs out of charge, the RX behaves like a standard hybrid so it’s remarkably efficient. Over a week of driving I averaged about 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres. With regular charging, it would be possible to achieve even lower fuel consumption or run it as an EV exclusively on short commutes. Motor tax is €140 per year.

Boot space in the Lexus RX
Boot space in the Lexus RX

Pricing

The Luxury model starts from €89,070, while the Premium is available from €97,680. Both prices include metallic paint.

Verdict

The Lexux RX is quietly elegant and classy, with a gorgeous interior and high levels of equipment. The new plug-in hybrid makes a lot of sense, offering buyers the option to run the RX on electric power alone for a limited range or as a fuel-sipping hybrid. It does't feel too bulky on the road, yet is spacious inside. There's a lot to like about the new RX and it's a great alternative to the usual suspects in the large luxury SUV class.

____________________________

Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes, Juror for Irish Car of the Year

The RX plug-in hybrid shines for its elegant design and efficiency
The RX plug-in hybrid shines for its elegant design and efficiency in real world driving

The new Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid on test for Changing Lanes

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid Review (2023)

Read Caroline's Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid review for everything you need to know about buying Toyota's new hybrid car in Ireland.

The Toyota Prius is an icon of the Toyota range. Over 5 million have been sold worldwide. It's where hybrid began for the Japanese car brand over 25 years ago.

Since then, Toyota has become synonymous with hybrid technology and its range of cars are among Ireland's bestsellers like the Corolla, Yaris Cross and C-HR.

For a long time the Prius was the world's most famous hybrid car. But it wasn't always the prettiest.

Until now.

The new Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid on test for Changing Lanes
The new Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid on test for Changing Lanes

What's so special about the Toyota Prius?

The new Prius goes on sale priced from €45,900 so it is more expensive to buy than before. However it's now exclusively sold as a plug-in hybrid in Ireland with the ability to drive on electric power only for up to 71 kilometres, otherwise enjoyed as a fuel-sipping hybrid.

This is a gorgeous car. The Prius has been completely reimagined for this new fifth generation model. The iconic wedge shape is still apparent but it's been honed and toned into something entirely beautiful and eye-catching.

Shorter and lower than the car it replaces but with a longer wheelbase, the design is hugely aerodynamic to boost efficiency. Finished in charming Tokyo Gold, the Prius can turn heads in appreciation.

19-inch alloy wheels come as standard with LED lighting adding a stylish flourish to the design. Hidden rear door handles give a coupé-like profile.

The cabin of the new Prius
The cabin of the new Prius

Inside the Prius

The new cabin is less futuristic than the previous version, with a more mature and upmarket feel.

There's a new steering wheel, digital driver display and large touchscreen in the centre of the dash with over the air updates, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and voice control.

Ambient lighting adds a premium touch while there are good quality soft touch materials in the dashboard. The harder plastics in the doors and centre console let down the side a bit.

High-end features include heated and ventilated front seats, digital rear view camera and lots of standard safety equipment.

Three will fit across the rear bench with generous legroom though headroom is not the most generous due to the sloping roofline.

A powered tailgate comes as standard and opens to reveal 284 litres. That doesn't sound like much but in reality it will swallow up a few suitcases but buyers looking for a bigger boot would best be looking at a Corolla Touring Sports, Corolla Cross or RAV4.

The new Prius Plug-in Hybrid can drive up to 71 kilometres on electric drive alone
The new Prius Plug-in Hybrid can drive up to 71 kilometres on electric drive alone

Driving the Prius Plug-in Hybrid

The new Prius is built on the second generation of Toyota's GA-C platform of the Toyota New Global Architecture. It handles the road with some real elegance, feeling neat and well-balanced through bends. The steering is also well-weighted, keeping the driver connected to the driving experience.

The plug-in hybrid uses a new generation of Toyota hybrid with lighter and more compact parts. At its heart, there is a 2.0-litre petrol engine, a small capacity battery and an electric motor feeding power to the front wheels.

There is 223hp in this new model, which is considerably more than the previous Prius plug-in hybrid. 0-100 is just 6.8 seconds so there is plenty of power when you need it. The Prius is smooth and agile to drive though it's not one that encourages you to drive quickly. The eCVT transmission gets a bit noisy during enthusiastic driving, even in the Sport mode.

It is much better enjoyed at a more relaxed pace where it proves exceptionally efficient. Even without plugging in to charge the battery, the new Prius can easily achieve 4.5 litres per 100 kilometres in fuel consumption. Truly exceptional.

Boot space in the new Prius
Boot space in the new Prius

Wind noise is relatively subdued but there is some persistent road noise.

There's a 3.3 kW on-board charger, which can top up the battery in four hours from a wallbox or 6 hours from a socket at home.

Did you like it?

The new Toyota Prius is a truly desirable car for its good looks. It marks a new chapter for the Prius and a very good-looking one at that.

It's also exceptionally efficient and the plug-in hybrid gives the driver the option to run this car on electricity alone for a limited range that may particularly suit urban dwellers.

However this is not a cheap car and cabin quality is a bit patchy in places, while for some it just may not be practical enough.

But if you're enthralled by driving one of the world's most iconic cars with  serious eye-catching good looks, then the Prius is a reliably efficient companion.

Model tested: Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid
Price: 
€45,900
Engine:
2.0-litre petrol electric hybrid
Power: 223 hp
Torque: 208 Nm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 6.8 seconds
Motor Tax: 
€140 per year

____________________________

Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes, Juror for Irish Car of the Year

The new Prius is a stunning hybrid hatchback
The Toyota Prius is a stunning hybrid hatchback

The Cupra Formentor on test for Changing Lanes

Cupra Formentor Review (2023)

Read Caroline’s Cupra Formentor review for everything you need to know about buying Cupra's stylish crossover.

The Cupra Formentor first launched back in 2021 and was Cupra's first model designed exclusively for the brand. Since then the Cupra range has expanded to include the Born electric hatchback. The Cupra Leon and Ateca complete Cupra's range of family cars and SUVs - with a little bit of attitude. The new electric Cupra Tavascan is expected to arrive in 2024.

Cupra is pitched as an upmarket sporty brand within the Volkswagen Group. The Formentor has really helped to establish Cupra as a new standalone brand in the Irish market since Cupra first appeared here in 2019. The Formentor's blend of sporty crossover style and array of power options including petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid has made it a good choice for Irish motorists. It is the brand's bestselling model currently.

In this review, I take a closer look at the Formentor range in 2023 and drive the plug-in hybrid version with 204hp.

The Formentor goes on sale priced from about €40,630.

The Cupra Formentor on test for Changing Lanes
The Cupra Formentor on test for Changing Lanes

Styling

The Formentor is priced in the region of familiar family SUVs like the Kia Sportage and Nissan Qashqai. But it's a bit more of a sporty coupé-crossover by design. It's lower and longer than a Cupra Ateca SUV but still sits a little higher off the ground than your average hatchback, which gives it a sense of presence. There's also a touch of rugged crossover style with a contrasting finish around the wheel arches, bumpers and lower sills to add character.

The Formentor is quite outlandish in its looks - in a good way. It definitely stands out on the road as something a little different. There's a sporty front splitter, sexy roof spoiler and diffuser effect in the rear bumper hinting at some good performance. Though the plug-in hybrid's copper 'exhaust tips' are for styling only. There are a range of captivating 18- and 19-inch alloy wheel designs available with Cupra’s signature copper accents.

Interior

The cabin is quite distinct too and feels very 'Cupra'. The gorgeous bucket-style sports seats are a must-have and really add to the sporty vibe. The dashboard layout feels very driver-focused, with a lovely leather-wrapped, Cupra-branded steering wheel and lots of soft-touch materials adding to a feeling of quality that seems just about right for a car at this price point. There's more of Cupra's signature copper trim to add style and exclusivity.

Inside the new CUPRA Formentor
The cabin of the Cupra Formentor

The Formentor is very well-equipped with tri-zone climate control, reversing camera and heated front seats/heated steering wheel. There's also a full digital driver display and you can toggle between a few different layouts from a button on the steering wheel. The large touchscreen in the centre of the dash comes with Cupra-specific graphics as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for seamless integration with your smartphone. It can be a little bit fiddly to use. There's heavy reliance on the screen for simple tasks like adjusting the ventilation or the fan speed for example. You get used to it but it's not the most practical of systems.

Practicality

The Formentor will seat five and offers two large footwells in the rear as well as a decent enough amount of headroom for a stylish crossover like this. It will be more comfortable for two rather than three passengers. But there are amenities included like separate vents as part of the tri-zone climate control, USB ports, an armrest and hatch that opens through to the boot.

When it comes to boot space, the petrol and diesel models are best offering a competitive 450 litres. If you go for a plug-in hybrid that figure goes down to about 345 litres. It's a shallower space overall but still useful.

The Formentor offers a range petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid
The Formentor offers a good range of petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid engines

Engines

Petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid options are available with either a 6- or 7-speed DSG automatic gearbox depending on model. The entry into the range is a 1.5-litre turbo petrol with 150hp. There's also a 2.0-litre diesel with 150hp. The plug-in hybrid uses a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine, electric motor and a 12.8 kWh battery. So it can be driven electric for up to about 55 kilometres at most. It's available with 204hp or 245hp (VZ trim only).

At the top of the range, there is a high performance 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine just like the Golf R, putting out 310hp in the Formentor.

Driving

On the road the Formentor is more fun to drive than most crossovers and SUVs. Being a more performance-oriented brand, the Formentor gets an electronic limited slip differential that improves traction and grip in front wheel drive models. It helps to keep the Formentor tidy through bends. The steering is direct and well-weighted, and the whole car feels quite driver-focused. In plug-in hybrid form, it's not a hot hatchback but there is plenty of power when you want it. The Formentor responds willingly, with 0-100 completed in 7.8 seconds.

To get the best efficiency from the plug-in hybrid, the battery is best charged, which takes about 3.5 hours at a rate of 3.6kW. Over a week of driving in mostly hybrid mode, my average consumption was about 6 litres per 100 kilometres. Motor tax for this model is €140. The ride quality is mostly good with just a hint of firmness over bumps and imperfections in the road surface. The Formentor settles down well to a cruise on the motorway but there is some wind noise at high speeds.

Rear legroom in the Cupra Formentor
Rear legroom in the Cupra Formentor

Pricing

The range starts at about €40,630 for a 1.5 petrol manual, from €42,335 for a 2.0 diesel manual and from €48,300 for the plug-in hybrid. VZ high performance models are available from €57,795 for the plug-in hybrid and from €74,825 for the top of the range 2.0 TSI 310hp.

Verdict 

The Formentor is a brilliant crossover. It offers style and sportiness in abundance, without compromising the sort of practicality that will make it work for families too. There is a great range of power options that keep the Formentor relatively affordable. While also offering a good plug-in hybrid option for buyers who have the ability to charge to get the best out of the car. Inside, the Formentor is stylish and well-made, with lots of standard equipment coming as standard. What's more, it's really enjoyable to drive.

____________________________

Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes, Juror for Irish Car of the Year

The Formentor goes on sale from €37,135
The Formentor is a brilliant crossover

The new Renault Austral E-Tech Hybrid on test for Changing Lanes

Renault Austral E-Tech Hybrid Review

Read Caroline's Renault Austral E-Tech Hybrid review for everything you need to know about buying Renault's new compact SUV in Ireland.

The Austral is Renault's newest SUV. It replaces the Kadjar and slots into the range just above the Renault Arkana, with pricing starting from about €45,000, rising all the way to €52,000.

It's classed as a 'C-segment' SUV so goes up against familiar rivals like the Nissan Qashqai, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and Peugeot 3008.

The Austral goes on sale in Ireland exclusively as a hybrid - there's no pure petrol or diesel options in the range. But it's a powerful hybrid with 200hp that offers some excellent efficiency in real world driving.

The new Renault Austral E-Tech Hybrid on test for Changing Lanes
The new Renault Austral E-Tech Hybrid on test for Changing Lanes

What's so special about the Renault Austral?

We've had to wait a while for the Austral to arrive. Alongside the newly launched Megane E-Tech and the popular Arkana SUV coupé, the new Austral signals something of a renaissance at Renault.

With these three models, Renault hopes to gain more ground in the C-segment, Europe's most popular segment for new car buyers.

While the Megane E-Tech is electric only and the Arkana offers some petrol and hybrid options, the new Austral is a flagship of sorts, boasting Renault's newest hybrid technology.

There's also bold new styling that complements the Megane, including Renault's new logo and brand identity. The Austral also sees the introduction of new 'Esprit Alpine' models, with design inspiration from Renault's Alpine brand of sports cars.

19-inch alloys come as standard on the entry Techno model, while the Techno Esprit Alpine and Iconic Esprit Alpine both get 20-inch alloy wheel, as well as an exclusive matte grey paint option.

While the Austral is a much more expensive car to buy new than the Kadjar it replaces, it is absolutely loaded with equipment and technology so marks a step up for the brand among family SUVs. Does it have what it takes to take on the mighty Qashqai, Sportage and Tucson? It certainly looks the part.

The Austral is Renault's new hybrid SUV
The Austral is Renault's new hybrid SUV

Inside the Renault Austral

The Austral's interior is another highlight. The level of standard equipment is truly astounding. All versions come with a head-up display, full digital driver display and portrait-style touchscreen.

The digital tech is very stylish and glossy. Like the Renault Megane E-Tech, the touchscreen uses a Google operating system with useful integration of Google Maps, Google Assistant and much more. But Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be used if you prefer.

Esprit Alpine models dial up the style with unique Alcantara and fabric seats with blue stitching and headrests embossed with the Alpine logo in blue. There is also more Alcantara fabric in the dashboard, with elegant ambient lighting. The new Renault steering wheel features French Tricolour stitching and more Alcantara.

Other standard features include heated steering wheel and heated front seats with massage function and power adjustment.

There's lots of legroom and headroom in the back for a compact family SUV, as well as amenities like an armrest, cupholders, air vents and USB-C ports.

The rear bench split folds 60:40 and can be moved forward to create more boot space. In their normal setting, the boot offers 430 litres. That's a bit off the best in class but with the rear bench moved forward, up to 555 litres is possible. A powered tailgate also comes as standard.

Iconic Esprit Alpine models also come with a full panoramic glass roof with blind, 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, 360-degree camera and wireless phone charging.

Inside the Renault Austral
Inside the Renault Austral

Driving the Austral E-Tech Hybrid

In Ireland, the Renault Austral will be available exclusively as a petrol electric hybrid that does not require charging to get the best efficiency from it.

It's got 200hp so it's competitive in power terms to other hybrid SUVs in this class like the Qashqai E-Power and the Tucson Hybrid. It differs to the Arkana E-Tech Hybrid with a 1.2-litre three petrol engine at its heart, two electric motors, a small capacity battery and an improved automatic gearbox.

The result is a hybrid that is even smoother and more refined. Most of the time, it switches between EV drive and hybrid drive with very little fuss. Occasionally you can hear the engine working, but it never thrashes around.

The power delivery is strong and responsive, with a number of different driving modes to enhance the drive including Comfort, Eco, Sport and Perso to fine tune things like the engine responsiveness, steering effort and the agility of the chassis.

It proves to be very efficient, averaging about 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres during my time with the car across a variety of road types - from motorway to town and rural roads.

Rear seating in the Austral
Rear seating in the Austral

Top of the range Iconic Esprit Alpine models come with four wheel steering as standard. This allows the rear wheels to turn a little, which boosts the agility and manoeuvrability of the Austral in low speed town driving and parking. Out on the open road, it creates more stability and makes the Austral nice and secure to drive quickly.

Versions with four wheel steering get a more sophisticated multi-link rear suspension, while those without use a torsion beam.

The only real downside is that the Austral rides quite firmly over less than perfect road surfaces and there is audible road noise.

Did you like it?

Renault is upping its game with its latest cars and SUVs to go on sale. There has been a notable step up in price but also quality, while the digital tech on board is truly impressive for a compact SUV.

On the road, the Austral offers a powerful and refined driving experience, while also delivering on efficiency. It's not completely perfect though on Irish roads and some rival SUVs offer more comfort over less than smooth tarmac.

But on a whole the Austral is a welcome return for Renault to the family SUV market with style and practicality in abundance. It can take on the best in class with a touch of class.

The Austral is a stylish, practical and efficient SUV
The Austral is a stylish, practical and efficient SUV

Model tested: Renault Austral E-Tech Hybrid Iconic Esprit Alpine
Price: 
€52,295
Engine:
1.2-litre petrol-electric hybrid
Power: 200hp
Torque: 410Nm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 8.4 seconds
Motor Tax: 
€180 per year

____________________________

Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes, Juror for Irish Car of the Year