WE are so spoilt for choice for compact SUVs these days that manufacturers are always on the lookout for that point of difference which will make their offering stand out from the crowd.
Quirky or luxury inclusions are a good place to start, with novelty storage solutions and five-star safety ratings also good deal sealers.
The Renault Koleos may be a relative newcomer to the SUV market but it is certainly not short on flair and finesse.
It may share the same bones as the Nissan X-Trail but is proud of its French heritage, sometimes even boastful, and is bursting with those little touches that give that appealing European feel.
The retractable rear window sun blinds are one of those quiet niceties that make a world of difference.
Sun shields are essential for families with babies and young kids and the ones on the market are often flimsy, have to be custom-made to suit your vehicle, or cost an arm and a leg.
It doesn't take long for them to succumb to the elements and they often restrict vision when turning or changing lanes.
This Renault feature brings seemingly small but welcome relief. The sun blind is there when you need it and retreats easily when you don't, making the task of ferrying around young people a slightly less arduous affair.
Renault does not skimp on luxury with the Koleos boasting beautiful leather seating and quality soft-touch plastics accented by a carbon fibre effect in the cabin. Seats are supportive and pliable and electronically adjustable. Leg and headroom are generous up front, a bit less so but still comfortable in the rear.
Controls are close to hand, easy to operate and aesthetically pleasing. The tailgate splits horizontally and the boot can be accessed by opening just the top half if necessary, which makes life easier in tight parking spaces.
On the road
Our test vehicle was well served by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine nicely matched to the CVT automatic.
The Koleos has plenty of power on demand and showed impeccable manners both in the city and on the open road.
Manoeuvrability is excellent, it's is a bit softer than the X-Trail and surefooted in the wet. It is also surprisingly good off the beaten track.
Our meanderings held none of the dangers of the Paris-Dakar rally, but the Koleos was equal to the task.
The steering could do with a bit more feel though and the turning circle improved, but all-in-all it delivers a pleasurable drive.
What do you get?
The Privilege is top of the range and inclusions reflect that. Safety features include front, side and curtain airbags as well as electronic stability control with traction control, hill start assist, hill descent control, and ABS braking with emergency brake assist.
There's heated seats and power folding mirrors, electronic park brake, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity and a Bose sound system with six-CD stacker and seven speakers.
This sector is bursting at the seams with the Koleos doing battle against the Holden Captiva ($39,990), Hyundai ix35 ($34,990), Nissan X-Trail ($34,490), Mazda CX7 ($38,990), Kia Sportage ($38,990) and the Volkswagen Tiguan ($42,990).
A conversation mirror mounted just above the rear-view mirror and aeroplane-style tray tables for back seat passengers adds to the kid-friendly appeal.
The boot isn't that big, but there are other good storage ideas including underfloor compartments and extra large map pockets.
We found the navigation system a bit tedious to operate, and touch screens would be a more preferable option to the little joystick now on offer.
Also, the lack of a reversing camera is puzzling. Word is that Renault has been having some trouble getting the required electronics to pair up but their people are hard at work.
Official figures claim 9.5 litres per 100km and we found that pretty close to the mark. Servicing costs and part replacements could be on the dear side but the Koleos does come with a three-year unlimited kilometre guarantee and 24-hour roadside assist.
The trademark Renault grille, curvaceous front and modern rear styling give the Koleos something to crow about. Of course, it helps that it is French.
We found the Koleos a rather nice surprise.
Its stylish interior, modern exterior and plateful of extras combine nicely with an honest drive performance to make this offering a rather useful all-rounder.
Model: Renault Koleos Privilege.
Details: Five-door, four-wheel drive compact SUV.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic.
Engine: 2.5-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 126kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 226Nm @ 4400rpm.
Consumption: 9.5 litres/100km combined average.
CO2 emissions: 228g/km
Bottom line: $43,990.
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