Renault, like so many car makers, claims to have done something unique with its new Arakana.
In fact, it claims its new C-SUV competitor is unique in two ways.
The first is that it’s the brand’s first SUV with coupe styling. As firsts go, a different body shape is hardly earth-shattering and the SUV-coupe isn’t a new concept but it is still fairly rare among mainstream brands. BMW and Mercedes have been at it for a few years with the likes of the X4, GLC, but, to my eyes, Renault’s first effort is better than any of those.
Perhaps because it’s a smaller car it looks more elegant than those hulking lumps and its lines look better thought out. There’s a simple flow from front to back uninterrupted by unnecessary styling “touches”. The result is a clean, unfussy shape that has a certain elegance which works surprisingly well with the raised ride height.
RS Line cars, like our test model, get the pick of the additional styling, with bigger wheels, unique bumpers, a honeycomb grille, gunmetal grey inserts and skid plates and side steps which, silly as they sound, actually enhance the Arkana’s look rather than harming it.
As neat as the Arakana’s lines are, calling it a coupe shape is still pushing it a bit and there’s a slight air of high-riding Megane. But it’s a decent stab at doing something different and Renault isn’t the first brand to label something an SUV then try to make it look as unlike an SUV as possible - see also the Citroen C4.
While the exterior design is pretty bold and different, the interior is less so. There’s nothing much to make the all-new Arkana stand out from the rest of the Renault range. A 9.3-inch (7-inch in lower specs) portrait touchscreen sits at the hub of a simple dashboard interrupted only by the screen and four air vents. Under it are big knurled ventilation controls (yay!), a wireless charging dock and Renault’s standard automatic gear selector. Everything feels pretty solid but there’s not much in the way of wow factor and I’m really not a fan of the faux-carbon finish on RS Line cars.
Renault claims that despite its coupe-inspired roofline the Arkana has head and legroom for “even the tallest occupants”. As an official tall person, I can tell you that’s simply not true. There’s enough space up front but if your rear seat passengers are any more than 6’ 2” they’ll be bashing their heads and knees. For anyone else there’s reasonable space and, in fact, the Arakana doesn’t give away much head or legroom to the more traditionally shaped Kadjar.
Boot space varies from 480 litres to 518 litres, with the full hybrid’s battery eating a little into the storage space but what’s left is a practical, user-friendly space with a flat floor.
That hybrid system is the second part of what makes the Arkana unique. Renault sells petrol/electric versions of the Clio, Captur and Megane but the Arakana is the brand’s first purpose-made hybrid and comes with two different engine options.
The full hybrid E-Tech model features a 1.6-litre petrol engine mated to two electric motors while there’s also a mild hybrid TCe.
The E-tech offers 143bhp and claimed economy of 58.9mpg with emissions of 108g/km and is the only version I’ve tested so far. Its 0-62mph time of nearly 11 seconds sounds pretty sluggish but the immediate response at lower speeds means it feels livelier than that and it’s only at higher speeds that it begins to struggle and the petrol engine starts to make itself heard.
The smooth transition between electric, petrol and hybrid modes is handled automatically, with the Arkana defaulting to EV only at start up. Drive modes let you prioritise economy with a dulled throttle response or opt for a more responsive sport mode. I suspect most drivers will ignore both and leave the car in its standard My Sense setting.
A 1.2kWh battery provides power to the two motors and is recharged by regenerative braking, which in its strongest setting allows for almost single-pedal driving. While it doesn’t allow for long or fast EV-only runs it does help the Arkana get close to its claimed economy in the real world.
The mild hybrid TCe uses a 12V starter-generator system to supplement a 138bhp 1.3-litre petrol engine, offering claimed economy of 48.7mpg and emissions of 131g/km. It also beats the E-Tech to 62mph by a full second.
The Arkana is based on an elongated version of the platform shared by the Clio and Captur. Both of those are fairly softly sprung, easy riding cars so the Arakana’s ride is surprisingly firm in comparison. Overall it’s not too harsh but the added firmness can lead to unexpected jolts on particularly nasty road surfaces. The steering is also surprisingly weighty and quick compared to those two, giving the Arkana a more positive feel than the rest of Renault’s range.
Specifications are pretty straightforward for the Arkana with just the two engine choices and three trim levels.
Entry level Iconic models start at £24,380 (£1,050 more for the E-Tech) and feature 17-inch alloys, full LED lights, a seven-inch touchscreen and digital instrument panel (4.3-inch in the TCe, seven-inch in E-Tech). Auto lights and wipers, cruise control and reversing camera are also standard along with autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist and traffic sign recognition.
S Edition models are £2,300 more and add 18-inch wheels and a bigger touchscreen along with faux leather upholstery, ambient lighting and chrome exterior trim. Tech upgrades include adaptive cruise control, auto dipping headlights and rear cross traffic alert.
RS Line is another £2,300 and brings its unique exterior touches, leather and suede sports seats, aluminium pedals, and contrast red stitching around the interior. Added luxuries include heated seats and steering wheel, a frameless rearview mirror and hands-free Easy Park Assist.
The Arkana definitely stands out thanks to its unusual styling. It’s a strong look, backed up by a decent driving experience and relatively frugal drivetrain. But there are other cars in the class that offer more space and practicality, with better interiors, leaving buyers to weigh up their priorities.
Renault Arkana E-Tech RS Line
Price: £30,030; Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol with two electric motors; Power: 143bhp; Torque: n/a; Transmission: Automatic; Top speed: 107mph; 0-62mph: 10.8 seconds; Economy: 58.9mpg; CO2 emissions: 108g/km