Renault Rafale review

Category: Coupe SUV

The Rafale is a new coupé SUV that's well equipped, spacious and comes with hybrid engine tech 

Renault Rafale front cornering
  • Renault Rafale front cornering
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  • Dan Jone test driving Renault Rafale
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  • Renault Rafale front cornering
  • Renault Rafale rear left driving
  • Dan Jone test driving Renault Rafale
  • Renault Rafale boot open seats down
  • Renault Rafale driver display
  • Renault Rafale right driving
  • Renault Rafale front driving
  • Renault Rafale front left driving
  • Renault Rafale front left static
  • Renault Rafale left static
  • Renault Rafale front detail
  • Renault Rafale headlights detail
  • Renault Rafale alloy wheel detail
  • Renault Rafale Esprit Alpine kickplate
  • Renault Rafale rear roof detail
  • Renault Rafale rear badge
  • Renault Rafale rear lights
  • Renault Rafale dashboard
  • Renault Rafale front seats
  • Renault Rafale back seats
  • Renault Rafale panoramic roof
  • Renault Rafale interior detail
  • Renault Rafale interior detail
  • Renault Rafale seat detail
  • Renault Rafale rear armrest
  • Renault Rafale boot open
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Introduction

What Car? says...

Cars drawing inspiration from aircraft are nothing new but the Renault Rafale has arguably the best claim to fame. It’s named after the Caudron-Renault Rafale – a 1934 racing plane that resulted from Louis Renault’s fascination with aviation and speed.

The Rafale aircraft broke records and won multiple awards, and we imagine Renault would love to replicate that level of success with this new coupé SUV. That’s probably why it's equipped with a full hybrid engine and underpinnings part-developed by sports-car manufacturer Alpine.

The thing is, it’s entering a world that includes the similarly-styled Citroën C5 X and Peugeot 408 as well as premium rivals including the Audi Q3 Sportback and BMW X2. Alternatively, you might also be tempted by sporty family SUVs such as the Cupra Formentor. Does it have what it takes to stand out? 

That’s what we’ll tell you in this review as we compare the Renault Rafale with the best coupé SUVs in key areas including performance, comfort, practicality and costs. Read on to find out more...

Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Every Renault Rafale comes with the same E-Tech Full Hybrid 200 engine, which combines a 1.2-litre turbocharged engine with two electric motors (one’s 50kW, the other is a tiny 25kW one on the engine starter) and a 2kWh electric battery.

You’ll almost always set off in electric mode and continue to drive on electricity until you put your foot down or the battery runs out of charge. The engine and hybrid system together produce 197bhp, and thanks to the instant electrically assisted power off the line, the 0-62mph time is a brisk 8.9 seconds.

It’s really easy to make good progress, and you have more than enough oomph for bursts of acceleration when overtaking or getting up to motorway speeds. The full hybrid Rafale will be followed by a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version with four-wheel drive and a lot more power (296bhp). The PHEV will be quicker off the mark and able to go further on electricity alone. 

In the Rafale E-Tech Full Hybrid 200, the only thing that really lets down the feeling of good progress is the slight pause that occurs between you putting your foot down and the automatic gearbox flicking down a couple of gears. That said, the gearbox is fine when you’re just driving normally, switching through the gears smoothly.

Things aren’t so promising when it comes to the Rafale’s steering. So far, we’ve driven the car in its Esprit Alpine trims, which include 4Control four-wheel steering. The system is great for parking and navigating tight bends but out on the road it makes the car feel very nervous, with small steering inputs causing fairly dramatic changes of direction.

Renault RAFALE image
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Added to the lack of confidence the steering gives you is the fact that the Rafale leans more through corners than the sportier Cupra Formentor, and as a results, it's not that much fun to drive. We wouldn't go as far as to say it's bad to drive but for fun on a country road you'll be better off with the Formentor – or, indeed, a BMW X2.

In the Iconic Esprit Alpine trim we’ve tried, the Rafale ride is better than the brittle ride you feel in the closely-related Renault Austral but still feels firm and there’s a thump as you drive over imperfections. The impressively-cushioned Citroën C5 X deals with imperfections far better and is generally comfier.

We’re sure the standard-fit 20in alloy wheels don’t help matters, so those after comfort will want to wait for the upcoming entry-level Techno version, which comes without four-wheel steering and therefore has a different suspension set-up.

In better news, the Rafale is impressively refined as you drive along, especially when it comes to engine noise. Of course, when running on battery power alone, there’s no noise at all, but even when the engine is running, you’ll likely not notice it unless you floor the throttle.

Wind and road noise are well contained, but there is a bit of suspension noise as you drive over larger imperfections.

Renault Rafale rear left driving

Interior

The interior layout, fit and finish

No matter which trim level you go for, the Renault Rafale’s sports seats are comfortable and offer plenty of back and side support.

What’s more, the six-way electrically adjustable seats, including lumbar support, make it really easy to find your perfect driving position. Once you’ve found it, you can save the setting through the infotainment touchscreen.

Despite being a coupé SUV, the Rafale doesn't give you kind of raised driving position you get in proper SUVs including the Audi Q3. Even so, it’s easy to see out over the bonnet and the narrow front windscreen pillars ensure you have good visibility at junctions. 

The view over your shoulder is reduced by wide rear pillars, while the very small rear window really limits your view straight out of the back. Parking is made easier by standard-fit front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera on all trim levels, or if you go for the top trim, an upgraded 360-degree camera and a system that’ll park the car for you.

When it comes to screens, you’ll find a 12.3in digital driver display behind the steering wheel and a 12.0in portrait-oriented infotainment touchscreen which is tilted slightly towards the driver. Both look crisp and the Google-based infotainment system responds to prods quickly. 

You get plenty of features, including standard DAB radio, Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, a voice-control function and built-in Google Maps sat-nav. 

As with many of the Rafale’s rivals, you operate all the infotainment features through the touchscreen. However, you also get a row of physical buttons along the bottom of the screen, which are a welcome addition and allow you to make changes to the climate control settings with far less distraction than if they were buried in the screen’s menus. 

Interior quality is impressive, with soft-touch fabrics covering pretty much every surface and any harder plastics hidden low down and out of sight. All the seats have Alcantara inserts that add to the high-quality feel and give the interior a touch of sportiness. True, it doesn’t feel as fancy as the BMW X2 interior but it’s a step up from the Citroën C5 X and Peugeot 408

It’s worth noting that we’ve only examined the higher-spec Esprit Alpine trims so far – we can't tell you whether the quality feel will extend to cheaper Rafales.

Dan Jone test driving Renault Rafale

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

Up front, two six-footers will have no trouble getting comfortable in the Renault Rafale, thanks to the generous amounts of head and leg room on offer. Even if they’re both quite broad, the wide interior means they won’t be rubbing shoulders.

There’s generous storage in the front interior, including door cubbies that’ll each fit a large bottle of water. There are two sections in the centre console – one with two cupholders, the other with a deep well for odds and ends. You can only access one at a time because the other will be covered by the sliding armrest, which doubles as a wireless phone-charging pad. 

As with the front, there’s plenty of leg room in the rear and more than enough head room for your 6ft friends. Better still, the central transmission tunnel has been kept very small and won’t leave your middle-seat passenger uncomfortably trying to find space for their feet.

We really like that you can fold a long armrest from within the middle seat, which thoughtfully includes two small storage cubbies and two fold-out phone or tablet holders to keep little ones entertained on long drives.

Handily, the rear seats can be split 40/20/40 and folded down, making it really easy to load long items into the boot without having to sacrifice one of the outer rear seats. That’s better than the 60/40 split you’ll find in the Citroën C5 X and Peugeot 408.

With its floor in the highest position, you get 535 litres of boot space, meaning the Rafale matches the C5 X and 408, and will easily swallow a family’s weekly shop or a couple of buggies. Dropping the boot floor increases that number to 627 litres but gives you a long drop down to the boot floor.

Renault Rafale boot open seats down

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

Until the new entry-level Techno trim arrives, the Renault Rafale will cost you more as a cash purchase than most rivals – including the Audi Q5 Sportback, Citroën C5 X, Cupra Formentor and Peugeot 408 – but less than the BMW X2.

Luckily, the Rafale is predicted to hold its value quite well, depreciating at the same rate as the X2 and slower than its other rivals. That’s good news because it should keep PCP rates competitive. To make sure you get the best price, take a look at our Renault deals page

The hybrid system should keep running costs low for private buyers, with up to 60.1mpg possible according to official figures. Company car drivers will find that the fairly low CO2 emissions keep it in the same benefit-in-kind (BIK) bracket as a hybrid Peugeot 408. That said, the forthcoming PHEV version will serve company car users better, reducing CO2 emissions to 15g/km, adding a 60-mile electric range and placing the Rafale in the 8% BIK tax bracket.

At the time of writing, there are two trims available for the Rafale – Techno Esprit Alpine and Iconic Esprit Alpine.

Techno Esprit Alpine gets 20in alloy wheels, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, matrix LED headlights, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a heated windscreen, a powered tailgate, touchscreen infotainment and parking aids.

Range-topping Iconic Esprit Alpine, adds some additional internal and external styling tweaks, a Solarbay panoramic glass roof, an upgraded 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo system and additional parking systems.

Euro NCAP has yet to test the Rafale for safety, but it comes with lots of safety equipment, including emergency lane-keeping assist, traffic-sign recognition, automatic emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring and a system that measures driver awareness.  

In terms of reliability, Renault came 23rd out of 32 car makers featured in our 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey – way below Toyota, Hyundai and Kia. The standard Renault warranty of five years or 100,000 miles is one of the longest out there, but you can get seven and 10 years respectively from Kia and Toyota.


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Renault Rafale driver display

FAQs

  • Yes, and you can order one now. At launch, you can only buy the Rafale with the Full Hybrid 200 engine and in the two top Esprit Alpine trims. A plug-in hybrid version and a cheaper entry-level trim are coming soon.

  • In the trim levels available at launch, the Rafale will cost more than the Citroën C5 X and Peugeot 408 (which start at around £30,000). A cheaper trim called Techno is coming soon and will reduce the entry-level price. You can check the latest prices on our Renault deals page.

  • Every Rafale comes with a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine with two electric motors. Combined, that gives you 197bhp and is more than capable of getting up to speed easily. A 296bhp plug-in hybrid version with four-wheel drive is coming soon.

At a glance
New car deals
Save up to £1,313
Target Price from £37,077
Save up to £1,313
or from £391pm
Swipe to see used car deals
RRP price range £38,195 - £44,695
Number of trims (see all)3
Number of engines (see all)1
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)hybrid, petrol parallel phev
MPG range across all versions 60.1 - 60.1
Available doors options 5
Warranty 5 years / 100000 miles
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £1,898 / £2,223
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £3,796 / £4,446
Available colours