The stylish Arkana mid-sized coupe-SUV plays to Renault's strengths. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the improved version.
Ten Second Review
The Renault Arkana strays into a market segment for compact-sized coupe-SUVs previously only occupied by the premium brands. To compensate for the lack of a posh badge on the bonnet, you get plenty of pavement presence and a dose of Renault efficient full-hybrid technology. As for the inside, well here's where the efforts made to imbue recent smaller models with extra cabin quality have paid off, enabling Renault to push up-market using the same interior technology. The result is a surprisingly polished proposition, especially in this improved form.
Renault over the years has pioneered various completely new market niches - think Avantime, Twizy, Clio V6 and so on. It's nearly always been a disaster. Where the company has usually done much better is in properly developing an existing idea - think Clio, Scenic and Captur. So back at its launch in late 2020, the auspices are good for this car, the Arkana.
It championed an existing but relatively undeveloped market niche, that for the compact-sized coupe-SUV - which is the sort of thing that Renault's design department thrives on. Back in 2020, only premium European brands had launched models in this segment - think BMW X2 and Audi Q3 Sportback. The Arkana is sized similarly to those cars, with a fraction more rear seat and boot space. However you pitch it, it's the only volume brand model (and therefore the only truly affordable) entry in this segment. Here, we're looking at the updated Arkana, which gets a smarter look with different trim options.
While it's built on the same platform as the Clio, Renault says the Arkana offers a different kind of driving experience. It is different - but you'll have to accept compromises. The crossover vibe means a slightly higher ride height and a little more cornering body movement than a regular hatch. And, at least on the 18-inch wheels of our test car, the ride is firm - the Arkana certainly can't smooth out the bumps like softer-riding SUVs or more typical Renault models. Combined with steering that's precise but a little detached, this means that this isn't a car to hustle along. It's at its best being driven smoothly, when it becomes a comfortable cruiser.
From launch, Renault offered an entry-level mild hybrid TCe 140 petrol engine with this car, but now the only choice is the 145hp E-TECH hybrid petrol powertrain, an engine so compact that Renault's been able to package two electric motors alongside it beneath the bonnet. One of these sits on top of the gearbox, puts out 20hp, acts as a 'High Voltage Generator' and is tasked with starting the car and smoothing its gear changes. Most of the work in assisting the engine though, is done by a second, bigger motor that's attached to the rear of the transmission casing, puts out 48hp and is there to help the combustion powerplant propel the car once it's underway.
Both motors are powered by a tiny 1.2 kWh lithium-ion battery pack located beneath the boot floor and the whole powertrain is mated to an auto gearbox - of the race-style clutchless 'dog' variety.
There's nothing really very racy about the way the Arkana drives. Partly that's due to weight and the gearbox doesn't help, its response a bit like you'd get from a belt-driven CVT auto in that there's something of a weird disconnect between the engine and what your right foot is doing. When you accelerate hard, there's a rush of revs, the needle on the Power Meter ahead of you waves about like a windmill but there's often not much extra initial forward motion until all the complicated technology sorts itself out. It certainly seems to be getting in the way of what ought to be quite reasonable reserves of pulling power - the petrol engine musters 144Nm of it, whilst the electric motor generates 205Nm and the smaller High-Voltage Starter Generator motor delivers an additional 50Nm.
Playing with the various provided drive modes doesn't really help make the whole experience feel any more rapid. To replicate this E-TECH Hybrid model's rather modest claimed performance figures (10.8 seconds to 62mph en route to 107mph), you'll of course need to have selected the most dynamic of the three settings on offer - 'Sport' - but you're not going to want to use that too often for fear of decimating the frugal fuel returns which might have prompted you to choose this car in the first place.
Design and Build
Not too much has visually changed with this revised Arkana. The front grille has been redesigned with the brand's latest 'Nouvel R' logo, there are smarter bumpers, the tailgate gets a Dark Chrome logo and the tail lights gain smoked crystal-like covers. Plus exterior chrome detailing has been replaced by finishing in either black, satin black or 'Deep Glossy Black', depending on the version.
Otherwise, it's as you were. Renault Design Chief Laurens van den Acker says the Arkana silhouette is supposed to offer 'a balance between the elegance of a saloon and the powerful stance of an SUV'. Heard that claim before? So have we. Still, there's certainly nothing else in the segment with a rear end quite like this one. SUV credentials are endorsed by 190mm of ground clearance, plus rugged front and rear skid plates and wheel arches. The five-door bodyshell measures 4,568mm in length and 1,571mm in height and it's screwed together, not in France but in Renault's factory in Busan, South Korea.
Inside, not much has changed. With base trim, the digital infotainment screen on the dashboard still measures 7-inches diagonally but now displays information across a larger area. At the foot of the range, that's still matched by a 7-inch instrument screen. From mid-level trim upwards, the centre screen jumps in size to 9.3-inches and there's a 10-inch TFT instrument display. As before, it's a practical cabin, with useful touches like large front door pockets which can accommodate 1.5-litre water bottles. Thanks to a relatively lengthy 2,720mm wheelbase, the rear seat has legroom that's close to what you'd get in a much pricier Q5 or X4. And with the full hybrid engine, there's a 438-litre boot.
Market and Model
Pricing starts at just under £27,000 and runs up to just under £31,500; there's now a choice of three trim levels - 'Evolution', 'Techno' and 'Esprit Alpine'. For our market, Renault now only offers the E-Tech hybrid 145 petrol unit, a full-hybrid.
All Arkanas also get 'LED Performance' headlamps with C-shaped LED daytime running lights, plus diamond-cut alloy wheels of at least 17-inches in size, tinted rear windows, all-round parking sensors with a reversing camera, cruise control with a speed limiter, keyless entry and auto lights and wipers. Inside, there's automatic air conditioning , along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-mirroring and a 6-speaker Arkamys DAB sound system. With base trim, the instrument and centre screens are both 7.0-inches in size. Further up the range, the centre monitor measures 9.3-inches and the instrument display is 10-inches.
As before, all versions of the Arkana have a pretty comprehensive suite of active safety features, as you'll discover from a glance at the 'Driving assistance' part of the centre screen's 'Settings' menu. Here, you can see the main camera safety items - 'Active Braking' (with pedestrian and cyclist detection), 'Lane Departure Warning' (with 'Lane Keep Assist' active steering), Traffic Sign Recognition (with speed alerts), a 'Following Distance' indicator and 'Fatigue Detection', which will alert you to stop for a restorative coffee if sensors determine from your reactions that you're getting drowsy. Avoid base trim and you also get Blind Spot Warning (which stops you from dangerously pulling out in front of another vehicle) and 'Rear Cross Traffic Alert' (which makes reversing out of a parking space safer by letting the driver know if another vehicle's approaching from the left or right).
Cost of Ownership
Expect similar efficiency readings to those you'd get from Renault's Clio supermini and Captur compact SUV models when fitted with the same engine. The E-Tech full-hybrid 1.6-litre petrol unit manages 60.1mpg and 105g/km of CO2 in base 'Evolution' form; it's 58.9mpg and 106g/km in top 'Esprit Alpine' guise. The BiK tax rating is 26% - or 27% in top 'Esprit Alpine' spec.
This powertrain can provide up to 80% of city driving time with all-electric power, reducing CO2 emissions and fuel consumption by up to 40% over a combustion engine in urban driving. The Renault F1 tech used enables the vehicle to start in all-electric drive and delivers strong energy efficiency, thanks to the innovative multi-mode gearbox, a powerful energy recovery braking system and a high-level automatic battery-charging set-up. Drivers can use the Multi Sense settings to select a specific driving mode: 'My Sense' for daily driving, 'Eco' for even lower fuel consumption and 'Sport' to combine the power of the engine.
As before, this powertrain includes an 'e-save' feature. You can select it on the vehicle's centre screen in the vehicle' settings, or via the driving mode in versions that come with MULTI-SENSE settings, and it keeps the battery's charge at 40% at least, so you have that extra backup to keep on driving in electric mode if you need to, or to assist the engine on steep uphill slopes.
Even though most people no longer want or can justify a coupe, there's still a latent desire for a swept-back bodyshape that remains unfulfilled in the volume part of the market. Combine that with a fashionable SUV demeanour and you ought to have a winning recipe with this improved Arkana.
Of course, people who would normally stump up the extra for a premium brand mid-sized coupe SUV of this kind are unlikely to want to be fobbed off with a Renault. But if they take a look at, then a seat inside of this Arkana, we think they might be pleasantly surprised. In terms of style and technology, this French contender is certainly a match for its posh, pricier European rivals, though drive dynamics might be a different question. Still, models like this one are usually chosen for pavement presence and in that regard, for the money Renault is likely to want from you for this car, the Arkana's case is surprisingly compelling.