UPDATE June 7th

The new Rafale E-Tech 200 starts at 39.900 euros and for the money, you get the 4Control system that allows you to take corners like a champ, as well as the hybrid powertrain for lower fuel consumption.

First of all, outside impressions. The Rafale is large, one of the largest models made by Renault, only rivaled by the Espace, but the aerodynamic shape of the Rafale betrays the otherwise wider and longer body. The car I drove was painted in the Alpine Blue color, but there was also a gray variant. Personally, I liked the blue one better, since it corresponds with the car's historic background, as well as making it feel more alive, if you will.

The car was also showcased in a bright red color, as well, but that was on the Atelier Alpine version, which we couldn't yet take for a spin.

Back to the Esprit Alpine Rafale that we had here, it looks great, similar to some Peugeot counterparts, like the 3008 and despite the coupe look of the car, it's way roomier inside than you might think.

Believe me when I tell you that once you get into the Rafale, you won't feel the need for the larger Espace, unless you need 7 seats. The Rafale offers lots of space at the front, no matter how tall you are, while in the back, you can comfortably lay back and relax on a longer journey. Seriously, I was amazed at how much legroom there was in the back and even more by the headroom, which again for a coupe SUV is a huge deal.

While we're on the subject of headroom, let's talk about the roof, which on the Rafale is a Solarbay with panoramic view. So far, nothing to be wowed about, right? Well, this Solarbay technology is able to turn the roof transparent or opaque, depending on the preferences. You can even turn half of it transparent, while the other half opaque, from a single button located above the front seats. There is also a fancy antenna for the radio at the back of the solar bay, which when viewed from inside the car resembles the Caudron-Rafale aircraft.

The boot is also large at 627 liters, so you can fit all the luggage you might need on a vacation.

The seats, which incorporate around 60% recycled materials, are very comfortable and so is the alcantara steering wheel, which packs 34% recycled plastic.

How does it feel to drive the Renault Rafale

The Rafale is the kind of car that loves winding roads, lots of curves and corners to go around, which for an SUV you might think is exactly the environment you would least want to drive through. This is possibly Rafale's biggest strong suit, as it packs the 4Control system, which turns the rear wheels into additional steering. At low speeds of around 10 km/h, the wheels turn in the opposite direction from the front, making this otherwise large car very agile in the city. The turning radius of the Rafale is 10.4 meters, exactly the same as for the Clio.

At high speeds, however, the magic begins, because the system will steer all wheels in the same direction, offering much greater control and stability and it makes for a huge difference. Tight corners can be taken with higher speeds and the sharper the corner, the more fun is the experience.

It's truly something you have to experience in order to understand and the better part is that you can let the car do the adjustments for you or you can take control, pun intended, and manually adjust the amount of counter steering.

Driving the car on comfort with the 4Control automatically adjusting itself was great and still felt nimble, but turning to sport mode with a manual override to maximum steering on the rear wheels turned this into almost a sports car. I know it might sound hard to believe, but it's true and I truly encourage you to try this yourself.

You can also completely disable the 4Control system in the settings, but then half of Rafale's magic is gone.

As I said, the system is also great at lower speeds and while this is no city car by any means, the Rafale can manage quite well. Parking or driving around tight streets, which we saw a lot in Spain, is more than manageable with the Rafale and the car's well-calibrated cameras and sensors help, also. Yes, it's very large and if you mostly drive in the city, this probably isn't for you, but if you want a car that's fun to drive, while also being a great family vehicle, then you're in for a treat.

Other than that, highway driving is no problem, the car is smooth and comfortable and noise reduction is exceptional. Even at speeds exceeding 160 km/h you hear almost no noise from the outside, except for the tires and the stability when passing a truck for example is just great.

Engine and technologies

Here comes the least fun part. The Rafale is not a slow car by any means, at least the Esprit alpine version I had for testing. It's a 200 horse power powertrain with two electric motors and one 1.2 turbocharged 3 cylinder engine. You might think it's not enough, but it is. Once you go beyond 130-140 km/h, the car starts to feel a little tired, but that's to be expected for a 1.6+ ton car. From a stop to 100 km/h, the Rafale only needs 8.9 seconds to accelerate, which again, for this configuration, is decent. The Atelier Alpine version, coming later with 300 horse power, will be even quicker, as it will have an additional electric motor in the back, as well as a larger turbo.

The slight issue with the Rafale is that the Multimode transmission is sluggish and perhaps confused sometimes.

Normally, automatic gearboxes should be fast at shifting and efficient at selecting a gear for maximum power or efficiency, but the Multimode gearbox is often times slow to respond, while also thinking twice about the selected gear and sometimes, it can forget you are trying to get to speed as quickly as possible.

If you're driving the car normally, you shouldn't feel a problem, but let's say if you need to overtake someone and you push the pedal to the metal, the electric motors give you a nice initial boost and then... nothing. For a few seconds, there's nothing and only then the 1.2 engine starts to take over. Now this is normal for all hybrids, but here, the delay is just too much and an overtake for which you have plenty of space to complete can turn into risky business if the system fails to adapt.

Let's give you another situation. You drive normally with the pedal pushed half way, nothing unusual and all of the sudden, the engine starts to pull with a lot more force than required once you go up a slight hill. This forces you to release the accelerator almost entirely, so that you don't pick up more speed than you need to.

Finally, when doing a 0-130 km/h, the car interrupted the acceleration at around 120-125 for a second or so, before kicking in again. This might be dangerous in some scenarios where you would count on overtaking for example, only to find yourself literally out of gas midway through.

There are three good pieces of news here. Number one, the sound insulation is superb and the engine is barely audible even when roaring its lungs out (and the noise it makes is pretty pleasantly aggressive, too). Number two, this can be fixed via software, since we're talking about a Multimode transmission and finally, the Atelier Alpine version with 300 HP will have a slightly different gearbox, which should be sportier.

Renault officials told us that the Rafale behaves the way it does because the car was set for economy and efficiency before speed and power, which makes sense, given the emissions regulations. Admittedly, if you put it in sport mode, the situation is definitely better, but I think the system can be optimized a bit more.

Speaking of efficiency, here are some numbers after our trip with the Rafale. In the first day, me and another colleague drove the car for 160 km and the consumption was 7.2 liters on average, but keep in mind that the car was turned on and stationary for b-roll shots and a photoshoot. 62 out of the 160 kilometers were done in full EV mode, however, which is quite impressive.

For the second day, 6.1 liters for 146 kilometers and 44 driven in EV mode and neither of us was conservative with the accelerator.

Regarding the technology on board, I will not elaborate here, as the Rafale is nearly one on one with the recently tested Megane E-Tech. You can check that test drive here.

Overall, the Renault Rafale E-Tech 200 made a long-lasting impression, thanks to its very generous space, as well as the futuristic design, intelligent and well implemented technologies, but especially the 4Control system which is absolutely stunning! Hopefully, Renault engineers will be able to make some adjustments to the gearbox and perhaps the Atelier Alpine version will be even faster and more fun to drive than the already great Rafale Esprit Alpine.

We'll make sure to come back with the full test drive of this vehicle, once it will be available and we'll keep you posted with the prices, also.