Last updated 07:00, December 30 2016
If you parked a Renault Koleos alongside a Nissan X-Trail, would you notice any difference?
Of course you would. They're different vehicles, aren't they? Even though both models are built on the same modular platform created by the Renault-Nissan alliance, and both powered by the same 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol engine which is mated to the same continuously variable automatic transmission.
But they are different. While the Japanese-built X-Trail looks very much in keeping with current Nissan design philosophies and probably looks more like siblings such as the Qasqhai and the Pathfinder, the Koleos offers design clues that are - for want of a better word - French.
Except it isn't built in France. Or Japan, for that matter. Nope - this vehicle is assembled in South Korea via Renault's ownership of Samsung Motors.
This sort of mixing of motoring bloodlines isn't at all unusual. It happens all the time all over the world and involves every motor vehicle marque. We have Toyotas that are also Subarus, Kias that are also Hyundais, and Holdens that are also Opels and Vauxhalls.
And sometimes the differences between the models come down to nothing much more than badging and maybe a little bit of cosmetic change. But in the case of the Renault Koleos and the Nissan X-Trail the reality is they are quite different, although maybe if you stood back from the pair and squinted you might see some similarities. They're cousins, you might say.
The Koleos has been around for some time in New Zealand. The first-generation version arrived in this country more than eight years ago, but despite its rather distinctive name and consistent praise it has never achieved real penetration into the compact SUV segment of New Zealand's new vehicle market.
Much of that has been to do with the fact there are a very limited number of Renault dealerships in New Zealand, which has restricted growth of the French brand's profile.
Not only that, but Koleos competes in the country's fastest-growing vehicle segment - medium-sized SUVs - which means it is not hard to be swamped by competition from other better-known models such as the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander, Mazda CX-5, and of course the Nissan X-Trail and Qashqai.
But the Renault keeps on trying. Last year a brand new model was launched, and once again its designers have worked hard to create something different over the top of its Renault-Nissan underpinnings. While the Koleos' overall shape is conventional, there are some unusual touches including a chrome bar that runs along the side of the front guards, pseudo running boards along the lower sill, and C-shaped LED
There's nothing unconventional about the interior, but it is very well designed and spacious - Renault claims the rear seat room to be the most in its class, and at the rear there's 458 litres of cargo space, able to be increased to 1690 litres when the rear seats are folded down.
I particularly like the centre console which features an 8.7-inch touch screen and a very good Bose audio system. And the satellite navigation system aboard this vehicle has to be one of the most intuitive around.
Three versions of this latest-generation Koleos are available in New Zealand. The entry model - and the one we have been driving - is front-wheel drive and badged Zen. It retails for $44,990, which is $5000 more than the previous generation's entry model. But the vehicle carries a higher level of specification that includes 18-inch wheels, leather-look upholstery, keyless entry and start, and a safety pack which was previously an option and which offers autonomous braking, forward collision alert and blind-spot warning.
Other members of the Koleos fleet are a Zen AWD for $49,990, and an Intens AWD for $54,990. All models are powered by the same Nissan-sourced 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol engine.
This engine, which is familiar to all those who drive the popular X-Trail, develops 126 kilowatts of power and 226 newton metres of torque. It is mated to a CVT transmission that can be used manually as a seven-speeder. It all works efficiently and unobtrusively, although things can get a little noisy when the engine is made to work harder. Those who make a habit of moaning about CVTs not being 'real' transmissions will be happy to know the Renault-Nissan Xtronic automatic aboard this vehicle is one of the best around.
Overall, the new Renault Koleos appeals as an excellent medium-sized SUV that offers a high level of standard specification, very good ride and handling, good power and torque, and attractive looks.
Dare we suggest that overall it is a superior package to its close cousin the X-Trail? But then again all models are more expensive than their Nissan equivalents - so once again it is a case of you getting what you pay for.