(Pocket-lint) – With car buyers turning their backs on the humble saloon in favour of crossovers and SUVs, we’ve seen plenty of creative designs and car profiles pop up over the past few years. The Renault Arkana is part of this new breed.
It fuses desirable saloon or coupé looks with the higher-riding stature of a crossover, giving greater road presence, a ‘fast’ back and an interesting overall shape.
But does the Renault Arkana have anything to offer outside looks?
The Arkana gives Renault a fresh new design, it’s desirable from the outside and – at the top trim – can look really eye-catching, especially in Valencia Orange.
The Arkana is generally well-appointed, with the hybrid configuration giving more frugal fuel use and access to some limited electric-only driving – even if that is just backing off your drive at 5am and not disturbing the neighbours.
However, the Arkana doesn’t drive as well as the smaller Clio, which offers similar power, and for a car with more of a coupé or saloon looks, it’s the interior noise that we found to be the biggest downside.
Certainly, it’s a car you’ll want to test drive to see how you feel about it before you part with your money, with close competition from Renault’s own Captur.
- Looks great from the exterior
- Good native tech
- Good fuel economy
- Noisy cabin
- Lacks interior quality
- Not great to drive
Design and build
As we’ve said, the Renault Arkana typifies a new generation of cars, wanting to appease the demand for an SUV-like design. The Citroën C4 could be seen as another example, and we must say that we’re quite fond of the looks overall.
There’s an eye-catching roofline, giving more of an illusion of length rather than actual length, so this is still a fairly compact car. Priced as it is, it’s also a car that’s pitched toward smaller families.
From the exterior, at least, there are attractive trim details and great alloy wheels, folds in the bonnet giving that sense of fluid movement and rear lights that almost look like a fancy moustache.
There are three trim levels – Iconic, S Edition, RS Line – bumping up the standard equipment, seeing a shift from 17- to 18-inch wheels, adding in cruise control, the larger 9.3-inch infotainment display and enough other comforts to make the S Edition seem like the better bet.
The RS Line opens access to some of the higher-end options (like the amazing Valencia Orange paint), as well as leather seats with red stitching and the option for a Bose sound system. The engines are the same across the range, however, and so the trim level is mostly about interior details.
Moving to the interior
From an attractive exterior, you slip into a comfortable space on the interior. In this segment, you’re looking at practicality rather than plush materials – and this is some way from the level of comfort you might get from something like the DS Automobiles DS 4, which, in some trims, will fall into a similar price bracket.
The seats are firm on the S Edition we reviewed, and are finished in cloth. It’s both practical and hardwearing, which we have no problem with, but there’s also black leather as an option, which comes as part of a bundle to include heated seats and a steering wheel for £1000.
The interior materials are a combination of hard and soft plastics, with the design dominated by the 9.3-inch display in the centre of the dash – adopting the interior design seen previously on the Renault Zoe. Touch areas are finished with leather or faux leather.
The only real problem we have with this is that the centre tunnel is finished in harder plastics, and we found that uncomfortable if we rested a knee against it. There’s hard plastic lining the B pillar, too, which we often knocked with an elbow or heard rattle as the seatbelt hit – a reminder of a cheaper interior that we never seemed to be able to escape.
Mostly, the layout of the climate control dials looks great and is easy to use. However, there do seem to be a number of blank switches under the display, leaving you wondering what you’re missing out on – opt for heated seats and you soon fill them up.
As per other Renault cars, media controls appear to be absent until you find the hidden controller on the steering column. It’s out of your eye-line, but, once you’ve found it, it’s easy enough to navigate by touch – mostly for volume control.
Overall, then, it’s easy enough to find a driving position that gives you solid visibility, and everything falls into easy reach.
Elsewhere, there are 480 litres of boot space in the hybrid – a little smaller than the non-hybrid – but this is usable and easily stuffed with bags for a week away.
The rear bench provides enough space for larger passengers in the rear, as well, with no concerns about headroom, but there’s not a huge amount of knee room left in the rear if you do sit a long-legged passenger in the front.
Infotainment and interior tech
As we mentioned, the Arkana adopts the infotainment system from the Zoe, so you’ll find a 9.3-inch display, sitting like an iPad in the centre of the car. We like that it sits slightly proud, rather than being dropped lower down, as you can glance at it without having to look too far down into the car. Note, though, that the entry-level trim does have a smaller display.
It’s a portrait aspect display, which is uncommon and it does give a sense of the unique. This is paired with a digital display for the driver, which offers some customisation. That amounts to changing the theme – although we couldn’t get it to display the speedo dial on offer – while you can also customise various sections of the display to show information you might want, like MPG averages or playing media.
Back to the central display and it’s simple enough to use, covering the major areas of radio, navigation, calling and some car customisations, although there’s not much to tweak at this level. From the homepage, it offers widgets so you can sort of access everything, with the option to add or remove these over several pages.
The mapping and navigation are both good, meanwhile, being fast to respond to changes and helping you easily find destinations. It’s powered by TomTom and Google Search, and, for many, the native options might be better, as they use the screen space battery rather than plugging in your phone.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto run well enough, too, but we found they make less use of that display space – as all the controls, including the home button, are on the display, apps can’t go full screen, as you’d not then be able to use the UI.
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When driving in Android Auto, that means you’re only using about two-thirds of the display, just because of the way Google’s in-car software renders on the screen. Suddenly, that 9.3-inch display is looking more like a 6-inch square.
The sound system is also a little thin and has to fight with the car’s most noticeable downside. It’s pretty noisy inside – mostly because of a lack of sound deadening – meaning exterior noise comes in and gets louder as you go faster. Some of that might come from the 18-inch wheels, so it might be worth seeing if you can test drive on two different sizes to see if that makes a noticeable difference.
The sound system can be improved by tweaking the sound settings, we should say. By default, it seems to be as thin and tinny as possible, but a boost to the bass gives it a little more richness and brings it to life a little more.
On the road
Equipped with a 1.6-litre petrol in this hybrid configuration (the other option is a 1.3-litre petrol mild hybrid), all models are mated with an automatic gearbox. It tends to rev high, which, again, gets noisy in the cabin, especially when it comes to things like overtaking on the motorway.
The hybrid configuration allows the electric motor to recoup some excess energy on braking to charge the batteries 1.2kWh, and then provide limited electric-only driving. While there’s a hybrid badge on the back, it’s really playing an assistance role – and there’s no plug-in hybrid option for longer electric driving.
Renault’s figures suggest 58.9mpg would be possible, but our average was closer to 50mpg, which still isn’t too shabby. This didn’t include trying to drive the car economically, either, so we’re sure this figure could be bettered.
Arranged as it is, there’s a 0-62mph time of 10.8 seconds, and that won’t set the world alight. What’s surprising is that the Arkana doesn’t drive as well as the Renault Clio, despite being equipped with the same engine. In our experience, the Clio just seems smoother and more fun – mostly likely aided by being a traditional hatchback design and less of a crossover.
The suspension is on the firmer side, and, should you hit a pothole, you’ll feel it and hear it through the car. You’ll definitely want to take advantage of the MySense driving modes in order to customise things and opt for heavier steering, as well, since everything feels a little light and vague as standard. With heavier steering, you feel like you have a little more control, but the pedals – brake and accelerator – both feel really light.
There are two driving positions on the gear stick, with ‘D’ being straight driving and ‘B’ granting you lift-off regeneration for closer to one-pedal driving and giving you better returns to the battery. This is ideal for urban driving, although it won’t bring the car to a complete halt and you’ll still have to use the brake.
The cruise control works pretty well, too. It’s adaptive, neatly keeping you the appropriate distance from the car in front, while there’s also a lane-keep assistant that will keep you heading in the right direction – useful additions to a car at the more affordable end of the spectrum.
The Renault Arkana looks good with a fresh design, but, from the interior, it’s a little noisy, raising questions about the overall quality. There’s great safety tech and good connected features, but it doesn’t feel great to drive – even if it is reletively efficient in its hybrid guise.
Writing by Chris Hall. Editing by Conor Allison.