The Renault Austral SUV offers a new level of economy in a hybrid petrol engine car that’s a real challenge for diesel drivers.

The solid exterior look of the Austral defies what’s really going on with this new French-designed SUV. It offers a radical option in terms of fuel economy with a range that’s capable of topping the 1,000km ceiling before the need for a re-fill. And it does this despite its size and load capacity.

The Renault Austral dash is very modern with a large 12in screen and systems powered by Google services for easy smartphone linkage.

Fuel economy targets are being smashed with each new car that comes on the market. The Austral crashes through that 1,000km ceiling with a fuel economy rating for a petrol engine car that’s way better than I could have imagined.

While the official rated economy figure is very impressive at 4.7l/100km, or 21.3km/litre, in practice it is very near to achievable.

My test drive gave almost a 10% lower fuel economy figure, while I still topped the 1,000km range with the 55-litre capacity fuel tank. There’s no better measure of how this car achieves a new level of petrol car economy when combined with the latest hybrid drive systems.

The test car came on large wheels fitted with Michelin 235/45R20 with minimal road noise.

Take the Renault Austral on some longer runs and the smoothness of the engine performance along with its responsiveness becomes comforting.

There are three versions of the Austral available, techno, techno esprit Alpine, and iconic esprit Alpine and, fortunately, I had the opportunity to drive the esprit Alpine version.

All versions are powered by the same 1.2-litre turbo-petrol engine that delivers an impressive 200bhp. This engine combines with two electric motors (an “e-motor” traction motor to drive on electric power and charge the battery, and an HSG high-voltage starter generator used to start the combustion engine, shift speeds and help to charge the battery), a central traction battery, and a smart multi-mode gearbox.

The car has a new regenerative braking system, which transforms the kinetic energy produced when decelerating or braking into electrical energy that is then stored in the battery.

This certainly improves fuel efficiency and extends the range in electric mode, while preserving the brakes and reducing particulate pollution.

More than 200 patents

Renault claims that the new E-Tech full hybrid engine used in all new Austral E-Tech gave rise to more than 200 patents.

I liked the column shift operation of the automatic gearbox, keeping both hands on the steering wheel. More and more car manufacturers will move to this option with automatic gearbox systems.

This engine and battery combination can give up to 410Nm of torque – that’s what gives the fast acceleration of 8.4 seconds in a 0 to 100km/hr dash.

That new lithium-ion battery is modest in weight at 50kg, which helps the Austral keep under the 1,600kg kerb weight ceiling and that too adds to its economy ability.

This Renault Austral is a solid feeling car with good boot space at 555 litres for the sliding rear seat version, but no spare wheel is included.

Renault claims that the system ensures that for 80% of driving time on urban roads, the car is driving in full electric mode. It claims that this translates into urban cycle driving requiring 40% less fuel than a non-hybrid petrol engine car, all without having to change driving habits or plug in.

This Austral from Renault is different from Nissan’s Qashqai in terms of engine size and power. It’s lighter and more economical, even if it costs a little more to buy.

The interior layout is very modern with large screens that work well and are integrated with the overall dash design.

All versions of this new Austral E-Tech full hybrid come with impressive standard specifications features.

The features that are shared across the range include a frameless automatic rear-view mirror, sliding centre console armrest, sliding rear bench seat, and automatic dual-zone air conditioning with air purifier. They also include 19in Komah alloy wheels (20in on the test car), matrix LED vision headlights, mirage-effect rear LED lights, flush roof bars, shark fin antenna, surround parking sensors with rear-view camera and a hands-free key card with keyless entry.

The new Renault Austral SUV sets a new benchmark in petrol hybrid car economy, without the need for plug-in, combined with impressive styling and a high level of comfort. Entry prices start at €45,295 or £34,695 in N. Ireland.

The Austral has a high level of safety included and achieved a top five-star rating in the recent Euro NCAP crash test. The car comes with up to 30 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) for ease of driving, parking and for safety reasons. These put the car at the top of its class in terms of comfort and safety and support its Euro NCAP rating.

The entry price for this new Renault Austral starts at €45,295 or £34,695 in Northern Ireland, so it is marginally more expensive than Nissan’s Qashqai. It delivers better economy and more comfort and, personally, I would prefer the Austral driving experience.

As the car is so new, I have no three-year costing figures to work from. Nowadays, it is economy that counts and while petrol hybrid SUVs have lower towing power than their equivalent diesel SUVs of the past, the reality is that diesel engines SUVs are getting scarcer. So, this Renault option goes a long way towards bridging that gap.

  • Engine: 1.2-litre turbo petrol.
  • Engine and electric power: 200bhp
  • Engine torque: 205Nm.
  • 0 – 100km/hr: 8.4 seconds.
  • Economy: 4.7l/100km or 21.3km/l.
  • CO2 rating: 109g/km.
  • Road tax annual: €180.
  • Main service: 12 months.
  • Euro NCAP rating: Five-star (2022).
  • Fuel tank capacity: 55 litres.
  • Luggage capacity: 555/1,455 litres.
  • Towing capacity: 1,500kg.
  • Warranty: Five years or 150,000km.
  • Entry price versions: €45,295 or £34,695 in Northern Ireland.