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Renault’s Arkana ticks all the boxes for what car-buying Britons want right now – but is that enough for a winning formula? We put it to the test

When it comes to a box ticking exercise, Renault has certainly fulfilled the brief with the Arkana.

It’s an SUV with sporty, coupe looks. It’s jam-packed with tech and flashy screens. And it’s driven by a green hybrid powertrain. These are all the things new car buyers seem to be looking for right now.

But even with all the desirable ingredients, does this guarantee there is proof in this French pudding?

We borrowed one from Renault for a week and covered 1,000 miles in it to find out.

The Renault that ticks all the boxes: The Arkana, on paper, is everything UK car buyers are looking for in 2023 - an SUV with stylish looks and a green powertrain. Does that make this the perfect motor for Britons? The Renault that ticks all the boxes: The Arkana, on paper, is everything UK car buyers are looking for in 2023 - an SUV with stylish looks and a green powertrain. Does that make this the perfect motor for Britons?

The Renault that ticks all the boxes: The Arkana, on paper, is everything UK car buyers are looking for in 2023 – an SUV with stylish looks and a green powertrain. Does that make this the perfect motor for Britons?

Renault Arkana – what is it and where does it sit in the model line-up?

How popular are SUVs right now?

More than one in four (27 per cent) of all new car registrations in the UK are this type of car and six of the ten best-selling new models in 2022 were SUVs or 4X4-immitating crossovers. 

And this segment of vehicle is no longer the preserve of traditional box-shaped Land Rovers.

A trend for hulking SUVs with fashionable sloping roof lines started back in the late noughties when BMW introduced the sleek – but enormous – X6.

More car makers have jumped onboard, bringing to market a host of machines with compromised rear head room in the somewhat odd quest for big cars with curvier lines.

And Britons and other car-buying nations love them, which is why Renault wanted in on the act and launched the Arkana in the UK in late 2021.

One of the recent popular trends with new cars is the huge demand for stylish SUVs. While they might have coupe-like designs, there is a compromise on rear head room One of the recent popular trends with new cars is the huge demand for stylish SUVs. While they might have coupe-like designs, there is a compromise on rear head room

One of the recent popular trends with new cars is the huge demand for stylish SUVs. While they might have coupe-like designs, there is a compromise on rear head room

We took our Arkana hybrid test car on a 1,000-mile trip to Ireland, trying it on all manner of roads for a thorough assessment of comfort and driving performance We took our Arkana hybrid test car on a 1,000-mile trip to Ireland, trying it on all manner of roads for a thorough assessment of comfort and driving performance

We took our Arkana hybrid test car on a 1,000-mile trip to Ireland, trying it on all manner of roads for a thorough assessment of comfort and driving performance

The Arkana sits between the smaller Captur crossover and larger Koleos SUV, the latter of which is due to go on sale in Britain this year as the replacement for the Kadjar.

Arkana is available with two different powertrains. 

The first – and most conventional – is a 1.3-litre turbo petrol producing 138bhp with 12V mild-hybrid technology linked to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

Our test car is the second option.

A self-charging hybrid combining a 1.6-litre fuel-injected petrol engine, two electric motors and a small 1.2kWh battery. A combined power output of 142bhp is delivered to the wheels via a ‘dog box’ automatic transmission – we’ll get onto this later.

In the ‘R.S Line’ trim we have here, it’s priced from £33,055.

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What do you get for your money?

Prices for the more traditional petrol start from around £25,000 but they easily surpass £30,000 if you choose the full hybrid we have here. 

They all come fairly well kitted out, though. Every trim includes keyless entry and start, automatic air-con, a seven-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration, LED headlights and cruise control as standard. 

Our higher spec car had the upgraded 9.3-inch infotainment display, which is intuitive to use and with decent screen resolution.

Will it fit in my garage? Renault Arkana 

Price: from £26,795 

Model tested: R.S. Line E-TECH Hybrid 145 Auto

Price of model tested: £33,055 

Hybrid powertrain: 1.6-litre fuel-injection petrol linked to two electric motors

Power: 142bhp 

Battery: 1.2kWh 

Transmission: Semi-auto ‘dog box’

Drive: Front wheel drive 

Acceleration 0-62mph: 10.8 seconds

Top Speed: 107mph

Official fuel economy: 58.9 mpg (WLTP Combined)

Official CO2 emissions: 109 g/km (WLTP Combined)

Doors: 5 

Dimensions:

Length: 4568mm

Width: 1820mm

Height: 1576mm

Kerbweight: 1435kg 

Luggage capacity (seats up): 480 litres

Luggage capacity (seats down): 1,263 litres 

How does the Arkana drive?

The Arkana certainly handles as sportily as it looks.

Power is delivered only to the front wheels in both the petrol and petrol-hybrid variants. 

Pick up the pace and throw it into a corner and the front end hunkers into the tarmac like a greyhound frantically taking the first bend at the track. You really need to push its limits before understeer takes over.

This agility does come at a compromise, though – and that’s ride comfort.

Set up on the stiffer side of things, the suspension isn’t as compliant or cushioned as you might expect – or want – from a family SUV.

There is a real sensation of it being particularly weighty over the rear axle, with a more noticeable thud over rougher surfaces.

You’ll be scanning the road like a Terminator looking for potholes to avoid, and it is at your own peril if you don’t kill your speed to a suitable crawl for particularly steep speed bumps.

Unfortunately, the sporty characteristics of the handling and ride quality don’t extend to how it accelerates.

Floor the throttle and it takes 10.8 seconds to reach 62mph. And it will do so with the gearbox holding the revs alarmingly high.

In fact, we found the transmission frustratingly dopey at most times.

This is caused by the ‘dog box’, which seems an odd choice for an SUV.

This variation of gearbox takes its name due to the ‘dog ears’ that protrude from the gears (rather than the spiral cuts you get in more conventional transmissions).

They are generally reserved only for use in manual racing cars, because they eliminate the need for a clutch and therefore remove friction and energy loss. 

It allows the driver to forcefully jam the car from gear to gear at higher revs without wasting time with a third pedal. This tends to mean rougher shifts and increased wear, however.

These issue aren’t such a problem with the Arkana and its adapted automatic setup.

The semi-auto system in the Renault incorporates one of the electric motors to smooth the sequence between shifts to extend the longevity of the gearbox components. 

The concept was sold to bosses by an engineer at the French brand – he even showcased how the electrified gearbox operation would work with a fully-functioning Lego scale model.

The automatic gearbox system in the full hybrid Arkana can be infuriatingly intrusive and is our biggest gripe with how the family SUV drives The automatic gearbox system in the full hybrid Arkana can be infuriatingly intrusive and is our biggest gripe with how the family SUV drives

The automatic gearbox system in the full hybrid Arkana can be infuriatingly intrusive and is our biggest gripe with how the family SUV drives

While the system is passable in town, accelerating up to speeds outside 30mph limits becomes a delicate balancing act of trying to gather pace rapidly without triggering the gearbox to kick down and thrash the engine within an inch of its life.

This became an infuriating tightrope affair during our test period.

Even the most honed right foot would struggle to modulate the thin line between gradual acceleration and the transmissions’ eagerness to offer you thousands of engine revolutions. 

Dog box? Renault really should refer to it as a ‘Jack Russell box’, such is its yappy enthusiasm.

Is the Arkana economical?

Despite being a high-riding SUV, the suspension set-up is definitely tailored on the stiffer side of things. It isn’t as compliant or cushioned as you might expect – or want – from a family car Despite being a high-riding SUV, the suspension set-up is definitely tailored on the stiffer side of things. It isn’t as compliant or cushioned as you might expect – or want – from a family car

Despite being a high-riding SUV, the suspension set-up is definitely tailored on the stiffer side of things. It isn’t as compliant or cushioned as you might expect – or want – from a family car

Our 1,000-plus mile test – which incorporated all different road types – saw an average fuel efficiency of 49.8mpg Our 1,000-plus mile test – which incorporated all different road types – saw an average fuel efficiency of 49.8mpg

Our 1,000-plus mile test – which incorporated all different road types – saw an average fuel efficiency of 49.8mpg

On paper, the Arkana looks to be a family car that will be kind to your wallet.

‘Official’ combined fuel economy is quoted as 58.9mpg. However, even the most-drilled hypermiler will struggle to achieve this in the real world.

Our 1,000-plus mile test – which incorporated all different road types – saw an average fuel efficiency of 49.8mpg. 

That’s impressive MPG for a petrol car but a little way short of the claim, and is also testament to a week of right-footed finesse to keep the over-eager gearbox in check.

There’s some benefit of the car driving short distances in electric-only mode around town. 

Generate enough battery charge and steady, slow-speed use will see you covering between a mile or two without the petrol engine, which will earn you a little in fuel economy wasted by the gearbox on faster-moving roads.

Official CO2 emissions are just 109g/km CO2, which means first-year VED of £160 and £155-a-year at the standard rate from year two of ownership. It also translates to affordable benefit in kind taxation. 

Is an Arkana spacious?

The subsiding roofline towards the rear of the car means there isn’t much in terms of head space, even for those towards the taller end of five feet. The dark interior only makes it feel more cramped The subsiding roofline towards the rear of the car means there isn’t much in terms of head space, even for those towards the taller end of five feet. The dark interior only makes it feel more cramped

The subsiding roofline towards the rear of the car means there isn’t much in terms of head space, even for those towards the taller end of five feet. The dark interior only makes it feel more cramped

Full hybrid Arkanas have just 480 litres of boot space with the rear backrests in the upright position. As you can see from this photo, one large suitcase, a medium-size case and a rucksack - plus coats and an umbrella - filled the compartment Full hybrid Arkanas have just 480 litres of boot space with the rear backrests in the upright position. As you can see from this photo, one large suitcase, a medium-size case and a rucksack - plus coats and an umbrella - filled the compartment

Full hybrid Arkanas have just 480 litres of boot space with the rear backrests in the upright position. As you can see from this photo, one large suitcase, a medium-size case and a rucksack – plus coats and an umbrella – filled the compartment

Up front, driver and passenger won’t be asking for more head, shoulder and elbow room, and the Arkana is generally an enjoyable place to be with the surroundings of a classy cabin, a larger interior screen and plenty of plush materials across the main touch points.

But it’s a slightly less enjoyable experience in the back, especially if you’ve been blessed in the height department.

The subsiding roofline towards the rear of the car means there isn’t much in terms of head space, even for those towards the taller end of five feet measurements. 

And while the rear side windows are adequately sized, tiny quarter windows, a letter-box-like rear screen and dark ceiling and interior panels (in our test car) makes it feel even more cramped.

Choosing the hybrid version also restricts boot capacity. 

While the mild-hybrid petrol has 513 litres of available loading space, the incorporation of the battery and electric motor means our test car has a slightly limited 480 litres with the rear backrests in the upright position.

For a party of three on a week-long trip away, there was – just – enough space for one large suitcase, a medium-size case, rucksack, winter coats and an umbrella. There’s no doubt that adding one more passenger to the equation would have proved problematic.

Cars & Motoring verdict

While the Arkana appears to have all the right ingredients on paper, it's a little underwhelming in reality, especially against more colourful rivals... While the Arkana appears to have all the right ingredients on paper, it's a little underwhelming in reality, especially against more colourful rivals...

While the Arkana appears to have all the right ingredients on paper, it’s a little underwhelming in reality, especially against more colourful rivals…

The Arkana might have all the right boxes ticked on paper but it’s a little underwhelming in reality.

While it doesn’t do anything particularly poorly, it also doesn’t standout in any area.

Against more distinctive rivals like the Toyota CH-R, you get the feeling Renault has played it a little too safe.

If anything, it gives the impression of being a car born of focus-group feedback, and for that reason it fails to trigger any sort of emotion in a driver.

Yet it’s the intrusive automatic gearbox that was our biggest gripe with the Arkana. It makes for an unnecessarily noisy and uncomfortable experience – often at times when it really doesn’t need to be.

If you’re looking for more style than substance, you might be able to overlook its unspectacular performance. And with real-world fuel economy of almost 50mpg, the full hybrid will at least be relatively affordable to run.

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