The Renault Arkana is a slick-looking coupe-SUV and a fuel-saving hybrid that could be great in Singapore, but it’s let down by a confusing and complex gearbox
Photos: Clifford Chow and Ben Chia
The Renault Arkana is the French carmaker’s take on the coupe-SUV genre, i.e. something along the vein of the BMW X4. It certainly does combine the best of both worlds, with its tall stance and big wheels giving it a rather macho SUV vibe. Meanwhile, its sloping roofline and sleek styling details like its slim head and taillights contribute towards the ‘coupe’ part of the equation, and the overall look is quite eye-catching indeed.
Aside from its head-turning looks though, the Arkana also brings with it a few extras that makes this car a truly unique proposition. For starters, the Arkana is the first Renault car sold here to offer a hybrid powerplant, a la Toyota Prius. The aim of course is efficiency, and when paired with the Arkana’s sleek styling, the car actually does do pretty well on that front.
The Arkana uses a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that develops 141hp and 148Nm of torque, but it is matched up to two electric motors, and together they put out 250Nm of torque. It lets the car make fairly decent progress upon initial acceleration, but the car runs out of puff rather quickly at the top end, with 0-100km/h coming in a leisurely 10.8 seconds.
Where the powertrain excels however is its efficiency exploits. Renault quotes an average fuel consumption figure of 5.0L/100km, and over an extended test drive the very worst I got was 6.0L/100km. Someone with a lighter right foot (like, gasp, Ju-Len) could probably achieve somewhere closer to Renault’s official figure.
The system does seem to prioritise running on electric mode as much as possible, and we noticed that it does so even while cruising at around 90km/h on the highway, so it is entirely feasible for the Arkana run mostly in electric mode in Singapore’s traffic conditions. You can even get the car to drive purely in EV mode alone by pushing a button on the dash (a feature that some other hybrids have as well), so a zero emissions commute is entirely feasible.
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That’s really the highlight of the Arkana’s driving prowess though, because the rest of the car does feel somewhat of a letdown. We’ll start with the gearbox, which Renault says is a ‘dog-clutch, multi-mode’ automatic, and it’s something that flummoxed even us at CarBuyer, with our years of automotive experience. There are purportedly explanations out on the Internet somewhere on how it works, but good luck figuring it out. Trust the French to come up with something that even we couldn’t make sense of.
It’s supposed to work like a regular torque converter, but occasionally you hear a clunk and feel a slight lurch when it shifts, like a badly-engineered twin clutch gearbox. On hard acceleration the revs do tend to pile up as the gearbox seemingly waits to shift (there’s no paddle shifters or manual override function), and the sensation feels similar to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Overall it feels like an odd combination of every type of transmission available out there.
It’s just as well then that performance is not the Arkana’s strong suit, because the car does tend to get quite loud at speed, with the combination of engine roar and wind noise fairly noticeable when you get going. It’s not the most dynamic to drive too, with fairly unwieldy handling that indicates that the Arkana doesn’t like being pushed around corners. The ride quality is fairly acceptable, leaning towards the soft side, although it still does get unsettled over large bumps.
Look past the Arkana’s driving deficiencies though, and you’ll realise that the car does offers quite a practical package. Despite the roofline, there is actually fairly decent rear headroom for passengers, and quite a generous amount of rear legroom as well. The boot is a reasonable 480-litres, expandable to 1,263- litres with the rear seats folded down, and the car feels far less claustrophobic than many other similarly-styled coupe-SUVs.
Renault has also specced the Arkana quite well for our market too, with standard features including park assist, a wireless charger for your phone, hands free self-locking and unlocking feature, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity as standard (although the system does seem pretty laggy).
Our test car came with a number of extras that will be offered on a higher spec model that will go on sale next year, including an eight-speaker Bose premium sound system, the larger 9.3-inch central touchscreen (regular cars get a 7.0-inch screen), electric adjustable front seats, and the Renault Multi-Sense driving mode selection system.
The extras will purportedly add around 10 grand to the Arkana’s asking price, but even without them, the car already retails for an eye-popping S$174,999 with COE. Granted there’s not exactly another coupe-SUV like it on the market at this price, but if you’re not hung up on the ‘coupe’ part, there’s plenty of SUV alternatives that are far better propositions for your money.
Nevertheless, if you’re fine with a bit of style and mystery, and can appreciate a surprisingly level of practicality and efficiency, then the Renault Arkana makes for an interesting alternative in a sea of samey-samey SUVs. At the very least, it’s a car that will invite plenty of intrigue and questions, even if you’re unlikely to be able to answer all of them.
Renault Arkana Fastback 1.6 Hybrid
|Engine||1,598cc, inline 4|
|Power||141hp at 5000rpm|
|Torque||148Nm at 3600rpm|
|Battery||Lithium ion, 1.2kWh|
|VES Banding / Rebate||B / S$0|
|Price||S$174,999 with COE|
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