The term ‘flagship model’ doesn’t easily align with Renault in the same way it does with BMW, Mercedes-Benz, or even Volkswagen. One could argue that Renault hasn’t had a model prominently positioned as a flagship since the departure of the Laguna or Safrane, not to mention the Avantime and Vel Satis.

Thus, there is a psychological hurdle to overcome in presenting the new Renault Rafale, a robust yet stylish coupé-SUV. What role does it play for Renault? And who is its target audience? These questions are especially pertinent given Renault’s recent focus on the affordable small car market, launching compact models such as the Clio, Captur 5, 4, and Twingo. How does a large, quasi-luxury SUV fit into this strategy?

The Rafale is Renault’s seventh SUV, fitting narrowly between the technically related Austral and the seven-seat Espace, sharing its fundamental chassis with these models. Unlike these practically-minded family cars, the Rafale is more obviously aimed at the executive market, with a premium aura and accentuated dynamic credentials.

Renault has ambitious plans to challenge the German giants in this segment, benchmarking the Rafale against the Audi Q3 and BMW X2. Executives are confident that the Rafale will open new market segments for Renault and venture into new price territories, meeting substantial market demand. The D-segment market, as noted by Renault, is the fastest-growing in Europe, with sportback SUVs in particular demand. Discussions about re-entering this sphere with a saloon, fastback, or estate did not last long.

The Rafale launches with Renault’s complex E-Tech Full Hybrid powertrain, combining a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with two electric motors—one for supplementary traction power and another as an integrated starter-generator—delivering 197bhp and a 0-62mph time of 8.9 seconds. A small 2kW battery under the driver’s seat allows for engine-off driving over short distances.

A four-wheel-drive, 296bhp plug-in hybrid variant with a 22kW battery providing a 62-mile electric-only range will be available later this year, starting at £48,140, competing with the Mercedes GLC 300e and Volvo XC60 PHEV.

To simplify its lineup, Renault offers the Rafale in three trims: Techno, Techno Esprit Alpine, and Iconic, priced from £38,195, £42,195, and £44,695 respectively. These trims come with a generous standard kit, but options are fixed: for instance, the 360-degree camera is available only with the Esprit Alpine trim.


The Rafale is an imposing and striking vehicle on the road, especially for a mass-market family SUV. The designer behind its muscular lines also contributed to the similarly remarkable Peugeot 408. The Rafale showcases a modernist look, in line with the latest Megane and Scenic models, and features a motif on the sunroof depicting the outline of the 1930s racing aeroplane from which it derives its name. This design choice underscores Renault’s emphasis on heritage as it competes in a crowded market.

The Rafale is deceptively large, nearly matching the road presence of the Hyundai Santa Fe, and boasts one of the longest wheelbases in its segment at 2740mm, enhancing its utility credentials and expanding its target audience.


The Rafale combines the roles of a high-rise family hauler and a sleek cruiser. The rear seats are spacious, and the boot, despite the sloping tailgate, offers a flat floor and 535 litres of capacity, just shy of the Peugeot 408. Rearward visibility is slightly compromised, but the reversing camera compensates well.

The interior features tactile and accessible physical switchgear, a thick-rimmed steering wheel with intuitive controls, and a crisp 12-inch touchscreen that is easy to use. The climate control is managed by toggle switches, and a button beside the steering wheel activates stored ADAS settings, simplifying the process of deactivating assistance features on the move. The digital cockpit, including a 12.3-inch driver’s display and head-up projection, creates a cocooning, driver-focused environment.


The Rafale E-Tech is not particularly fast, with its 197bhp hybrid setup needing 8.9 seconds for the 0-62mph sprint. The hybrid system launches with the engine off, relying on 67bhp from the electric motor, which is noticeable. The petrol engine, when active, is refined and peppy but lacks a distinctive soundtrack and can feel thrashy under full load.

The Rafale’s unsynchronised gearbox, shared with the Austral, has improved with software updates, but still exhibits pauses and kicks during gear changes. The inability to change gears manually in high-load situations can be frustrating, although the paddles behind the steering wheel provide enough adjustment for regenerative braking.

Overall, the Rafale delivers smooth and frugal progress, even if it is not particularly rapid.


Renault’s bold claims about the Rafale’s dynamic credentials are somewhat overstated. The wider track and bespoke chassis tune improve steering response and reduce body roll, but the Rafale falls short of satisfying keen drivers. The steering is quick, and the chassis is predictable, but it lacks the engagement to encourage exuberance. The brake pedal is also somewhat unmodulated at low speeds.

The Alpine-fettled PHEV should address some performance and handling shortcomings with its four-wheel drive and 296bhp, but the added weight might impact rolling refinement. The Rafale’s ride is smooth over undulating terrain but fussy over coarser surfaces, with noticeable tyre roar and wind noise at higher speeds.


The Rafale is competitively priced compared to its electrified rivals. Two-year PCP finance packages start at £289 per month with 0% APR after a £12,659 deposit, with Renault contributing up to £1750 on a four-year package. This pricing undercuts premium German rivals and remains competitive with mainstream alternatives.

Projected running costs are attractive, with a WLTP cycle return of 60.1mpg. In real-world conditions, 45-50mpg is achievable, based on experience with the Austral. The Rafale is tax-efficient due to its low CO2 emissions, and the upcoming PHEV, with its 62-mile electric range and 8% BIK tax rating, will appeal to business buyers.


While the Rafale may not fulfill every dynamic or performance expectation, it stands out in a crowded market with broad appeal and competitive pricing. Its ride quality is a drawback, but its practicality and value make it a strong contender. The forthcoming PHEV variant is expected to bring further improvements. Renault’s decision to launch an SUV as its flagship model, rather than a saloon, aligns with market trends and business realities, ensuring the Rafale’s relevance and potential success.