Missing the Marque: Renault Koleos

If you fail, try again. Of course, you might fail again.

Image: honestjohn.co.uk

Renault is rightly credited with producing the first European(1) MPV, the 1984 Espace. Whether or not the company was gifted with great foresight in doing so is a moot point, however. The Espace had been brought to Renault by Matra as an already completed design, one that had originally been commissioned by Chrysler Europe. After Peugeot-Citroën purchased Chrysler’s European operations in 1978, it struggled to rehabilitate the ailing business, hence it rejected the design as too niche and risky, forcing Matra to seek another partner.

In any event, the Espace was successful and this encouraged Renault to produce a full range of smaller MPV-style models, comprising the 1996 Scénic, 2004 Modus and, arguably, the monobox 1992 Twingo. For a time, the MPV was a highly popular bodystyle, valued for its space and versatility, but it would ultimately be usurped by a new style, the Crossover. This combined (much of) the versatility of the MPV with a bodystyle that looked more sporting, active and outdoorsy. While the MPV’s natural home was the shopping centre car park, the Crossover suggested trips into the wilderness with mountain bikes strapped to the back and a couple of kayaks on the roof.

Renault, perhaps somewhat complacent because of the success of its MPV models, was slow to pick up on this new trend. It did dip a toe into the 4WD market with the 2000 Scénic RX4, an all-wheel drive version of its mid-sized MPV with a raised ride height and plastic lower body cladding. This was followed in 2002 with the Kangoo Trekka, which used a Nissan-sourced hydraulic coupling that would send drive to all four wheels should the front wheels start to lose traction. Both were, of course, simply derivatives of existing MPV and van models.

Renault did not enter the market with a dedicated 4WD crossover until 2006 and its entry, the Koleos, was a rather left-field offering in what was an increasingly crowded and competitive field. Firstly, it wasn’t really a Renault at all. It was built by Renault Samsung in South Korea, where it was sold as the Renault Samsung QM5, and was based on the platform of the contemporary first-generation Nissan X-Trail.

Renault had hinted at its intentions as long ago as 2000 when it unveiled the striking Koleos Concept. Designed under the supervision of Patrick Le Quément, this was a vehicle in the style of the 2001 Vel Satis and Avantime and 2002 Megane Mk2 production models, a product of Renault’s Createur d’Automobiles period. It featured a monobox profile defined by bold arcs, with large wheels, high ground clearance and ultra-short overhangs.

After the concept, the production model was something of a disappointment. Launched at the Paris Motor Show in October 2006, the Koleos wasn’t ugly, per se, just rather bland. It had something of an egg-shaped side-profile with its falling bonnet line and steeply sloped windscreen and rear glass. Its short overhangs and upwardly sloping front and rear valances might have given it good approach (27°) and departure (31°) angles for theoretical off-roading, but otherwise there was little hint that it was a 4×4.

Image: carzone.ie

The Koleos was rather rotund, meek and timid looking compared to the big, square and butch X-Trail on which it was based. Even the more urban-biased Nissan Qashqai, introduced in the same year as the Koleos and sharing the same platform, featured black plastic lower body cladding and wheel arch extensions to signal its off-road capabilities(2).

The Koleos had a wheelbase of 2,690mm (106”) and overall length of 4,520mm (178”). Both dimensions were a little larger than the square-rigged X-Trail, although it contrived to look smaller. It was powered by inline four-cylinder 16-valve petrol engines in 1,997cc or 2,488cc capacities, or a 1,998cc diesel engine.

The larger petrol engine seemed to offer little advantage. While it produced 169bhp (126kW) compared to the smaller unit’s 138bhp (103kW), this translated into just a 0.2 second reduction on the 0 to 100km (62mph) time to 9.3 seconds and a 4mph (6km/h) increase in top speed to 112mph (180km/h). The diesel was offered in two states of tune, producing either 148bhp (110kW) or 173bhp (129kW) and its comparative performance figures were 10.4 or 9.8 seconds and 118mph (190km/h) or 124mph (200km/h).

Image: rac.co.uk

The transmission offered three modes: 2WD, ‘intelligent’ 4WD and permanent 4WD. The intelligent 4WD used an electromagnetic clutch to engage drive to the rear wheels if a loss of grip was detected. Apart from the 2WD-only entry-level model, the Koleos came equipped with ESP, hill hold and hill descent control as standard equipment. The interior was well furnished with storage spaces and the tailgate was split, the lower section folding down to provide a seat capable of supporting 200kg (440lbs). Standard equipment levels were generous.

UK prices at launch in 2008 ranged from £17,995 to £24,695, undercutting competitors such as the Ford Kuga and VW Tiguan. Ostensibly, the Koleos had everything it should have needed to succeed, yet the European market was largely indifferent to it, as can be seen from the sales data below:

Year: Sales:(3)
2007 1
2008 17,645
2009 21,765
2010 13,828
2011 16,874
2012 15,282
2013 8,404
2014 7,418
2015 4,675
2016 186
Total 106,078

Ignoring the launch and run-out years, average annual sales of 13k must have been very disappointing for Renault. Over the same period, annual average European sales of the Nissan Qashqai and X-Trail, the two models most closely related and comparable to the Koleos, were 191k and 21k respectively, which puts the scale of the Koleos’s underperformance into perspective.

Image: topgear.com

Undeterred, Renault launched a second-generation Koleos at the Beijing Motor Show(4) in April 2016. The new Koleos was based on the Common Modular Family (CMF-CD) platform developed jointly by Renault and Nissan, which also underpinned the third-generation X-Trail and smaller Renault Kadjar crossover. Although still manufactured by Renault Samsung in South Korea, the new model, was credited to Alexis Martot, Renault’s Lead Exterior Designer, and bore a strong family resemblance to Renault’s smaller Kadjar and Captur crossovers.

The new Koleos grew by just 15mm (½”) in wheelbase to 2,705mm (106½”) but by a more substantial 152mm (6”) in overall length to 4,672mm (184”). The petrol engines were carried over from the first-generation models, but with modestly increased power outputs. New diesel engines in 1,598cc and 1,995cc capacities were introduced, the smaller unit producing maximum power of 130bhp (97kW) and the larger 177bhp (132kW).

Image: drivers-seat.com

The smaller petrol and diesel engines were confined to 2WD versions, while the larger were offered in both 2WD and 4WD form. The manual gearbox was a six-speed unit and only available on diesel-engined versions, while a CVT automatic was standard on petrol versions and optional on the larger diesel engine.

Unlike its predecessor, the new Koleos was big and bold, styled to look very much like a mainstream crossover, which seemed to address the key issue with its predecessor. However, the European market was no more enthusiastic for the new model, as can be seen in the table below:

Year: Sales:
2017 13,232
2018 18,999
2019 12,371
2020 6,916
2021 6,048
Total 57,566

In July 2020, Renault announced the cessation of RHD exports to the UK and Ireland, citing ongoing poor sales. China appeared initially to offer better prospects for the Koleos, but after a promising start, sales faded badly:

Year: Sales:
2017 46,321
2018 32,606
2019 8,445
2020 578
Total 87,950

Quite why the second-generation Koleos, which remains in production, has fared so poorly in Europe (and China) is something of a mystery. It sells well enough in its native South Korea as the Renault Samsung QM6, where it averages around 39k annually. Is there possibly a ‘not made here’ mindset that prevents Renault from marketing it as aggressively as its European manufactured models? I look forward to receiving the thoughts of our readership on this.

(1) The first US equivalent, the Minivan, was also launched in 1984 by Chrysler Corporation as the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan.

(2) The lower-order Qashqai variants were just FWD, so the cladding was probably more useful in protecting it from car-park dents.

(3) All sales data from www.carsalesbase.com. An additional 10,679 units were sold in China and Australia between 2014 and 2016.

(4) An indication of where Renault perceived would be the biggest potential market for the new Koleos.

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

25 thoughts on “Missing the Marque: Renault Koleos”

  1. The use of the Koleos name for a car so unlike the concept Renault used it on is not the worst part of this story. It does annoy me the most though. The Koleos concept is another of PlQ´s effortst that has remained fresh and credible, something of a hallmark of the designs he oversaw. The particular detail that caught my is the daring way the c-pillar is the apex of an inverted triangle. It´s not what you´d ever expect and is thrilling for that. I can report that I am one of a small number of people who may have seen a production Koleos outside a showroom: in the town of Schliengen in 2017. I was astounded. I never saw one again.

    1. The top of the windows (rear window and DLO) seems to describe the arc of a projectile that comes from the rear window, bounces off the ground at the c-pillar and then follows the arc of the DLO. That then gets mirrored in the side of the car like a reflection. It’s delightful to me: playful yet very disciplined.

    2. The concept shows an understanding of how to use bodyside graphics that seems to be completely missed in today’s products. Richard rightly points out the striking inverted apex of the C pillar, which I view with a mixture of admiration, mixed with concern for its structural dishonesty.

      Unlike Richard I am sure that I have seen a production Koleos on possibly 17 different occasions, yet I have never, ever noticed one.

  2. Problem is its smaller and cheaper sister Captur is so much more convincing. People mostly don’t aspire to smaller, cheaper cars than they can pay for themselves. Attractiveness of a brand comes from above the model line-up. That’s why D or E segment Fords, Opels, Fiats didn’t work either.

  3. The sales of the second generation Koleos are influenced by three main rivals. Its sibling X-Trail, which has a nicer interior, not dominated by the large and cheap looking screen like in the Koleos. And the rivals Peugeot 5008 and DS7, real french products with a touch of premium.

    The first generation Koleos had the same problem the Peugeot 4008, the Citroen C-Aircross and the Opel Antara had. If you enter the interior you immediately see that they are strangers with disguise, made not for the european market.
    Compared to those cars, the Koleos sales are decent….

    Renault must have been convinced of the idea to fill the gaps of their range with korean products, so the Latitude became the new shining star of Renault….

  4. Dear Daniel, in an effort to provide to your question, all these Renault cars are expensive for this country where the economy underperforms steadily, forcing the wages to remain low. Therefore, no customer base. The brand image has been characterised by the Twingo, Clio, Megane, meaning by affordable cars with distinctive design, practical, and with good roadholding. These are the Renault cars you see on the streets every day. Also, the koleos as a word does not sound nice in Hellenic Language, and it is a reason for me to suggest that all models from all manufacturers would better use numbers like BMW 316, letters like Mercedes, as model descriptors.

    1. Sounded too much like Colitis to me.

      And a couple of years later Renault gave us the Flatulence, followed in 2015 by the Taleban.

    2. Koleow (Κολεός) isn’t just weird sounding, it is the word used in medicine to describe vagina, along with the word kolpos ( though probably most greek speaking people would not know that). I had finished medical school when “koleos” was announced, I had to doublecheck to see that they actually did call their car koleos. I guess there can not be many greek doctors in their customerclinics…

  5. It’s interesting to find that that Koleos is unappealing to Greek ears. I’d assumed that it was one of those computer-generated names that exist purely because they sound acceptable in as many languages as possible. In fact, weren’t Renault pioneers of such with Mégane?

    1. Talbot got there earlier with the Tagora, which was reported to be the first synthesized car model name in Europe, as I recall.

  6. Hello all. One Renault that seems to be selling rather well (at least in my part of Ireland) is the Arkana, a crossover coupé which accounted for almost a third of Renault sales here in 2022 and almost half in January 2023. I have noticed it chiefly because I am repelled by its ugly backside, all fake grilles and skid-plates:

    It’s actually fine down to the bottom edge of the tailgate, but everything below is an incoherent mess.

  7. The Koleos always reminded me strongly of the Scénic RX4:

    Not a good association as MPV’s might have been popular but were always seen as “uncool”, which was the main problem that the invention of the Crossover/SUV (Delenda Est) tried to remedy, I think.

    There seems to be an ongoing theme of marques bringing over cars from partners that never take off saleswise (the Opel featured here recently, for instance). That might have hampered the Koleos, although its sloping d-pillar actually rather prefigured the later Coupé-SUV trend (Delenda Est, etc.).

    As for the second generation, maybe the (European) market was moving away from bigger SUVs by the time it arrived? Non-premium ones at least. B-segment SUVs are the thing now. I even heard reports that Renault renamed the closely related Kadjar to Austral because it didn’t live up to expectations. 2020 was a lockdown year in China (oh, how time flies), I imagine that didn’t help the car market as a whole.

  8. What a big can of worms you’ve taken the lid off Daniel – all boiling down to what, in the 21st century, is the purpose of a car? And if it has one then who is actually going to buy it?

    Tom V’s observation on MPVs being “uncool” is well made. Our last “normal” car was a Passat Estate (B4), at a time when we often had cause to transport elderly relatives (tangent temptation – 700 miles on a tankful of derv; that’s what I call range). But very soon came the time when they cold get in alright but struggled to get out. The Passat was replaced by a first generation Scenic and a whole new world was opened up for us all. Uncool maybe, but entirely practical and still a good thing to drive. Of course the day comes when elderly relatives are long gone & one’s own decaying joints dictate what is and is not a fit-for-purpose vehicle….. Definitely, categorically, NOT any SUV I’ve yet encountered.

    And then there’s the bloat. Just look at that Arkana. The narrowness of the interior space compared to the width of its footprint. I have to drag in buses at this point: pre-1950 the maximum width for buses & lorries in the UK was 7 feet & 6 inches; during the war a batch of trolleybuses intended for South Africa were instead kept here for use in London to replace losses to enemy action. They were 8 feet wide and special dispensation had to be obtained before they could be used. Now I see that the new electric Bentley is 2.3 metres wide – which equates to 7 feet 6 inches….. and within that width was side by side seating for 4 people plus a gangway wide enough for a conductor to squeeze past a standing passenger. Yes I know about needing somewhere to hide all the airbags and safety structures so that the prat in the driving seat can mangle it with impunity but that just leads to another bone of contention…..

    I could go on but Eóin would rightly delete me and in any case I’ve just spotted a 12 year old Knockando which could do with sampling. Just the one, mind.

  9. Good morning and thank you Daniel, for a story about a vehicle I was barely aware of. So surprising it has largely failed in Europe. I had thought Renault would have been steamrollering the market with all their products. I wasn’t aware these were on a Nissan platform, though it makes sense to have Nissan handle that side of the design process; all they sell here any more is crossovers, SUVs (hate the term!) and dedicated 4WDs. Could the fact of it being a Nissan under the skin be holding it back?
    While Renaults are available here in Australia, they are rarely seen. They’re just not a brand many people would think of, other than Renault enthusiasts. With all the brands on the Australian market, Renault just doesn’t seem to have a point of difference, a positive reason for someone to think “I’ll take this one”, rather than a Toyota, Mazda or Hyundai. Or, nowadays, a Haval or MG.
    Someone in my town has a small Renault of this sort; I think it’s a Captur, which replaced a Koleos. And I did once see a Fluence; of course I misread the name at first, and thought “They couldn’t call a car THAT…..”

    1. Going back just over 30 years, when I departed The Lucky Country for good, it wasn’t much different.

      I can’t remember seeing any Renault, even one or two would be outnumbered by Austin Lancers, Isuzu Belletts, or early ’60s Datsun Bluebirds.

      In the cause of research, I dug out the June 92 issue of Motor: Renault’s entire offering was the 19TXE 1.7 in saloon and hatchback forms. The hatch was slightly cheaper at A$25,990. 45 dollars more got you a V8 engined Holden Commodore 5.0 Executive.

      Renault’s compatriots were also patchily represented. Peugeot sold the 205 Si 1.6 and GTi, various top-level 405s, and the 505 GTi wagon. Citroënistes could have the AX GT, BX 1.9 TZi and GTi, and XM 3.0. Somebody in my hometown had an AX GT on British registration plates – hard to imagine this was lawful.

      Generally European brands were poor value compared with the domestic or Japanese brands, whether locally built or fully imported. Hyundai were making aggressive inroads – you could have two Excels for the price of that Renault 19. The premium German and Swedish brands could sell on their name and social standing, but it’s hard to understand why the French persevered. Fiat and Rover had exited, and VW’s sole offering was the Golf GTI.

      Oddly Lada – Cevaro (Samara) 1.5 A$10,990 – and FSM – 650 Niki (126) A$ 6990 – were represented, proving that Australia will forever be a land of mystery.

    2. Hello Robertas! Good to hear you know my country. I like to think it hasn’t changed from those days when you were here, but….
      Renaults were popular-ish once, ‘in the old days’ back when I was a boy, when they were locally assembled. But they seemed to be a bit frail in our environment; my cousin’s 12 was always breaking down, and the RAC man actually cheered when he towed it to the wrecker. They shut down here in the mid seventies and went to fully imported, which priced them out of all contention – as you saw. Prestige pricing does not make a prestige car out of yesterday’s mainstream brand, just because it is built in Europe. Even when reasonably priced, they seem to have nothing to offer that the Japanese and Koreans don’t do more reliably. You mention the 19; I have never seen even one. Guess we all bought those Commodore V8s instead…
      With pre-Peugeot-era Citroens you used to know you were getting something different. You could see it was different, and with the GS hear it was different. Anyone could look at the car and the price maybe sort of made sense, even if you could buy a nicely-optioned Holden for less. Way different by the time of the C6; I was reading the other day they had a six-figure price tag. Whoever set that wasn’t thinking about the competition. No wonder they only sold 104 (double-checked, no typo) over seven years. Why did they even bother?
      Peugeots are a different case, arguably. The big Peugeots have a reputation for toughness going back to the round-Australia trials of the fifties. They would be seen by the armchair expert as an intelligent choice – but my friend has been waiting three months for a headlight for his 508. The smaller ones have an enthusiast following based on the street cred carried over from the 205.
      Which brings me to parts and service backup. This is one area where many European importers seem to have trouble. Having a couple of dealers in each state capital and maybe one larger city really isn’t good enough when the customer might have a six-hour-plus drive to get there.
      Going back to that old price list, I never saw a Lada on the street, and only one FSM – though I’ve known a few people with rear-engine Skodas. One had a front paddock full of spare cars…

    3. Good evening Peter and good morning Robertas. Thank you both for the historic and current perspective on the Australian automotive landscape, about which I know next to nothing. Interesting stuff!

    4. On further recollection, I can recall seeing a Heidelberg R12 around Launceston in the early ’90s.

      Even then, it would have been strikingly modern and exotic in Van Diemen’s Land.

  10. I was trying to recall why the mk1 made me feel so uneasy and then I realised: it’s not a million miles away from being a Pontiac Aztek.

  11. Looking back at those days it seems surreal that this thing* co-existed with the beautiful Laguna Coupé or the likewise eye-catching 3rd generation Mégane. Still, I think it could have worked with a more attractive color palette which probably helps it’s successor a lot – purple (officially amethyst) Koleoses are quite the sight in artifical light!

    *The author might be reluctant to call it ugly, but I’ll go ahead and rate the first generation Koleos 4/10 on the ugliness spectrum – and I’m not sure if any recent Renault came close to that score. The second migt be bland (not sure if it’s a better or worse trait), but the first edition lacks a coherent image. The head- and taillights look almost like generic parts rather than bits designed for this specific vehicle. The oversized wheel arches could work as sort of a toy-car gag, but then there is that character line going around the car that seems to be emphasizing the panel gap between the bumpers and the chassis? That’s weird, why did they put it there? Above the waistline the car is ok, but below it it’s just a mess.

  12. Re the latest version, I think this review sums it up pretty well – it’s got no USP. It’s a expensive, it’s not much larger than the Kajar, it’s a bit noisy, the boot’s a bit small, it’s not great to drive, etc. It’s not bad, it’s just pointless.

  13. I have seen the first generation Koleos a couple of times. All of them had the grey color seen in the first image of this article. Maybe it was the same car, just seen on different occasions. It stands out for being forgettable.

    I had no idea they did a second generation. In a way I’m surprised they kept the Koleos name. Why would you want to remind your customers of the first generation? Then again the second generation is just another crossover SUV type of thing and maybe it doesn’t matter all that much to the clientele.

  14. One of the reasons for Renault’s late jumping onto the SUV bandwagon was Louis Schweitzer’s rejection of this vehicle concept. This doesn’t explain why the first ‘crossovers’ coming from Renault after his retirement were as lacklustre, however.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: