Johannesburg - The Koleos badge is one you might not have expected to see again, but the SUV nameplate has just made a comeback in South Africa, this time affixed to the boot lid of a vehicle that appears to have more ingredients for success in the uber competitive SUV middle ground, where Rav4, Tiguan and Tucson rule the roost.

For starters, the new-generation Koleos is a far more attractive vehicle than its croissant-mimicking predecessor, featuring clean, taut lines that are likely to appeal to buyers in this segment.

Measuring 4673mm, the Koleos is the longest vehicle in the Rav4 class, and it shows in its ultra generous interior space and competitive boot space. Despite this, it is priced at the lower end of the segment, ranging from R399 900 for the 2.5 Expression CVT to R439 900 for the 2.5 Dynamique CVT and R479 900 for the 2.5 Dynamique CVT with all-wheel-drive.

The latter was the version we spent a week with lately, but if we’re really crunching numbers, we’d say that the front-wheel-driven Dynamique offered the best value in the range - unless of course you intend on doing some medium-level off-roading, in which case the Nissan sourced all-wheel drive system will do the trick for you. This AWD system offers multiple modes, these being 2WD for efficient open-road cruising, 4WD Auto that varies the front to rear power split based on the impending conditions, and 4WD Lock mode, which allows a 50:50 split for rougher terrain encountered below 40km/h. This vehicle’s ground clearance is also close to best in class, at 110mm.

There’s only one engine and gearbox combination available and this comes in the form of Nissan’s proven, but aging, 2.5-litre normally aspirated engine, mated to an X-Tronic continuously variable transmission.

The engine produces 126kW and 233Nm, which is competitive at the base end of the segment, and the performance it delivers is for the most part quite tolerable, but you might want to look at one of its turbocharged rivals if effortless acceleration and tractability are high on your list of priorities. Consumption was a bit on the high side as well, our unit recording around 10.5 litres per 100km in a highway-heavy combination of driving conditions.

The gearbox is not as bad as you might expect as unlike older-generation CVTs, this one has built in steps (seven in this case) that make it behave and feel more like an automatic.

As is the case with many European vehicles, the suspension set-up in the Koleos is not really suited to South African roads, as it feels too firm for a vehicle of this nature, which is really more about hauling families in comfort than carving through corners. The road holding is neat enough though.

The interior, as mentioned, is quite family-friendly - it’s comfortable and spacious (as well as safe thanks to its five-star EuroNCAP rating), while equipment levels are generous.

To that effect, all models come with dual zone climate control as well as cruise control, auto headlights and windscreen wipers, rear parking sensors and a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.

The Dynamique adds leather seats with electric adjustment, blindspot detection, front and side parking sensors, reverse camera, keyless start and a larger tablet-style touch-screen that now incorporates the climate control functions. This however detracts rather than adds to the user-friendliness of the system as simple functions now need to be controlled via the screen. Renault did at least include a ‘swipe up’ shortcut to climate functions on the screen, but it’s still nowhere near as convenient as good old fashioned rotary dials.

The interior design is not exactly chic, but the materials are of a good quality and the atmosphere is lifted by a mood lighting system that offers a multitude of hues, from blue to violet and red, even yellow.

VERDICT

Renault’s Koleos has evolved into a far more attractive package that in both size and spec terms offers a lot of vehicle for the money, regardless of which version you choose. It could do with a turbo engine and the ride could be plusher, but neither of these dynamic shortfalls are necessarily deal-breakers at the price point.