I’ve driven the new Renault Austral SUV – it’s high-tech inside and relaxing to drive but puts comfort before cornering

IT wasn't long ago that people were scratching around if they wanted a family SUV. Today buyers have a bewildering choice.

Now there's yet another option; this Renault Austral, which takes on others like the Kia Sportage and Skoda Kodiaq.

It comes with one engine option - a full hybrid combining a small but turbocharged 1.2 petrol, a battery and electric motor which together make 199hp.

Rather than plug it in, the Austral charges itself as you drive along and Renault reckons you can be driving on electric as much as 80% of the time.

The idea is that the Austral is 40% more fuel efficient than a normal petrol. In reality that's a struggle.

Despite an official figure of around 50mpg, we didn't manage much more than 40mpg driving sensibly on a mix of motorways and town and country roads.

That's not bad, but it's hardly game-changing, especially when you consider the complexity of the engineering.

Rather than take hybrid tech from its partner Nissan, Renault has developed its own, with two automatic gearboxes and some 15 gear combinations.

The result is a smooth and quiet engine when you're taking it easy, but too much dithering when you want to get going as the computers decide which of the many combinations is best.

But that's fine, because the Austral is a much better car when you're just cruising with its comfy suspension and quiet cabin.

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Show the Austral some corners and even in sharpest Sport mode it leans in the bends and its engine and gearbox refuse to be hurried.

You're better off sitting back and enjoy the interior, which is high quality and features the best infotainment Renault has ever offered.

Key facts: Renault Austral

There are two 12-inch screens, one for the driver's dials and one of the infotainment. Both are razor-sharp and thanks to Google's software, very easy to use.

The Austral's rear space is very good too, its rear seats fold and slide and its boot is a decent size, if not quite as large as the one in a Sportage or Kodiaq.

Renault is yet to confirm exact trim levels, UK prices or how much adding a handy rear-wheel steer system which makes the Austral's turning circle the same as a city car's will cost.

The Austral is likely to start at around £35,000, which make the roomier and better-to-drive Sportage and Kodiaq hard to ignore.

But the Austral will be easier on the eye than those cars to many and if Renault can get its monthly finance right there's enough comfort, quality and good tech here to make it a worthy choice.

Just leave it in Comfort mode if you do.


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