Publication date: 2 June 2024
Renault Rafale

Renault Rafale

Height record

Review - Renault has a reputation when it comes to premium models. In the past, Renault managed to impress with the Safrane. It showed guts with the Avantime. It managed to innovate with the Espace and was fashionable with the Vel Satis. Now a new flagship model joins it. Will the "Rafale" be as groundbreaking?

The story of the Rafale begins with the French aircraft manufacturer "Caudron". It used Renault engines in its aircraft and was acquired by Renault in 1933. In 1934, Renault-Caudron attacked the aircraft speed record with the Rafale. With a speed of almost 300 km/h over a distance of 100 km, the flight was successful and thus the Rafale name made history.

Renault Rafale

Now Renault is using that famous name for its new flagship model. By choosing this name, it wants to make it clear that the Rafale is not a successor to another car (but at most an aircraft).

SUV Coupé

After the silly Avantime and stylish Vel Satis, the first encounter with the Rafale is disappointing: another SUV. And Renault already has so many SUVs! However, according to the manufacturer, this is what customers are asking for and to make the Rafale something unique, a mix of SUV and coupé has been chosen. Has Renault forgotten its own Arkana?

The basis of the Rafale is formed by the Espace, however all the sheet metal is unique. This is reflected in the proportions between them, as above the shoulder line the Rafale is an elegant coupé. The lines and the angle of the rear window and the rear spoiler make the Rafale appear longer, for a handsome silhouette. Below the shoulder line, on the other hand, the Rafale has the robust bodywork of an SUV, including the ground clearance that comes with it.

Renault Rafale
Renault Rafale


The layout of the dashboard does bear resemblance to existing Renault models. In fact, it is almost identical to that of the Espace. However, the seats have been specially developed for the Rafale. These have a bucket shape and the height adjustment allows for such a low seat that the Rafale approaches the snug feeling of a coupé. Just as easily, the high, powerful seating position associated with an SUV can be chosen.

Despite being roughly the same size as the Renault Espace, the Rafale is a five-seater and not a seven-seater. Those five-seats are very roomy. With large adults in the front, plenty of head and legroom remains in the back. The seats are upholstered in recycled Alcantara and Renault promises that the interior is free of animal products ("vegan").


New is the "smart" armrest on the rear seat, which houses USB sockets and a support for tablet computers. This makes it easy to play games or watch movies in the back. Also very clever: the panoramic roof can be electrically darkened. Therefore, no roller blind is needed and that gives 3 cm extra headroom. Even during the test under the blazing sun, the electronic roof managed to darken enough to keep the heat out.

Renault Rafale

The equipment is similar to that of Renault's other large models. That is, modern and complete. Also common with Renault is the Android-based audio, communication and sat nav system. Previously, Renault chose Google's style for this, but starting with the Rafale, it has opted for extravagant graphics with neon effect (this is also coming to the Espace and Austral in a software update). Moreover, the Rafale is the first Renault to use Android version 12 (was 11). The hardware has not been upgraded, but the test proves that it has enough computing power to run this new version of the operating system smoothly.

Renault Rafale


The Rafale is on the so-called CMF-CD platform, on which the Renault Austral and Espace also sit. For the Rafale and Espace, it had already been extended. For the Rafale, the track width has been increased. The Espace and Austral can only be fitted with optional multilink suspension, while that is standard on this top model. Of course, the suspension has a unique tuning, giving the Rafale a character of its own.

Determining the Rafale's handling is its all-wheel steering. When driven calmly with the flow of traffic, little of this is noticeable. The Rafale does not feel more agile or lively than the Espace or Austral. However, when driven more quickly, the Rafale proves to be much more capable! The all-wheel steering provides exceptional stability at high speeds, and those who have tried it once must have good self-control not to take each subsequent corner full at full speed. To put it another way, at speeds where other SUVs reach their limits, the Rafale is still calm and stable.

Also very nice: thanks to the all-wheel steering, this hefty SUV has a particularly small turning circle, which is practical in the city. Because of the flat rear window, visibility in the interior mirror is moderate. The large c-pillars  reduce visibility during manoeuvring.

Renault Rafale


The Rafale is powered by Renault's familiar hybrid engine. This consists of a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine plus two electric motors. During the test, it was noticeable that Renault has recently revised the software of this engine. The interplay between the engines is therefore more harmonious. Thanks to clever software and good sound insulation, the three-cylinder's rumbling noise is rarely if ever audible. At the same time, more power is available more quickly when requested by the driver.

Despite the fact that this is just a 1.2-litre three-cylinder, the performance is fine and befitting of a top-end model. In sport mode, the Rafale is aggressive and decisive. In eco mode, power drops sharply, but performance is still more than adequate.

Renault Rafale


Is the Rafale as groundbreaking as top models from Renault's past? No, unfortunately not. The Rafale is yet another SUV from Renault and also shares a lot of technology with the other SUVs. Still, the Rafale does have its own character thanks to its mix of SUV and coupé. The advanced chassis with four-wheel steering ensures that the Rafale is not limited to just promising looks.

The hybrid drive ensures comfort, fine performance and reasonable mileage. This makes the Rafale sensible as well as special. And therein lies the big difference from its illustrious predecessors! While those were admired for their quirky character, they hardly sold. The Avantime and Vel Satis even accounted for depth records in Renault sales. This time, innovativeness has been replaced by style, and quirkiness by functionality, so the Rafale should be a height record.

  • Very spacious
  • Powerful hybrid engine
  • Outstanding handling thanks to all-wheel steering
  • Poor visibility in rear-view mirror
  • Economical, but competition is more economical
  • All-wheel steering only comes into its own at very high speeds