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Diamond in the ‘Rough: Renault Arkana Launch and First Drive

Bonjour! You join me from the tarmac in Auckland, flying down to the Nelson-Marlborough region (wine country) of New Zealand for the launch of the new Renault Arkana. Granted, the destination is a serene one but there was still a suspiciously large number of people flying down there on a Tuesday morning! Anyway, the last time I flew this route, it wasn’t a very pleasant one and ended with the use of a sick bag so I was certainly hoping for a different outcome this time around. Surely enough, there was.

The day started off on a positive note with a pleasant flight down and it was just about to get even better once we were introduced to the new Renault Arkana.

Zoomed out front three quarters view of the Renault Arkana in the hills above Nelson, New Zealand
Arkana adds some much needed French flair to the compact/mid-size SUV segment

For the drive, I was quickly paired up with Fred, a friend and fellow journalist who had selected the base spec ‘Zen’ model in the alluring Zanzibar Blue colour. With the ride chosen, loaded up and the phone paired, it was time set off! Our first stop was the Pelorus Bridge Cafe in the Rai Valley, about an hour’s drive out of Nelson.

The road to the café was a twisty one which presented the opportunity to test the Arkana’s mettle around corners. That steeply raked rear is suggestive of an SUV with a sporty bend but with a 1.3L turbo, could it really be exciting? Actually, it wasn’t bad at all when going through the mountains. That engine delivers max torque at 2,200rpm which is where the rev counter sat for the duration of the climb, with the dual clutch gearbox making sure that we were using the low gears for the climb and vice versa. Though the Zen doesn’t have a manual mode so it will downshift on the downhill stretches, barring the short intervention of some paddle shifters.

Side view of the rear half of the new Renault Arkana in Zanzibar Blue
Coupe SUV styling has only been seen on premium European brands so far

Being a car launch, we couldn’t help but go trigger happy with our cameras during the drive. We stopped at a few locations along the way to capture what we could before the car got dirty. Which it did rather quickly thanks to the rain and mist all around. On a cold day like this, the Arkana’s air con system kept us warm with the heated steering particularly comfy for the driver. Yes, even the base model has a heated steering wheel! The list of features on the Zen was quite simply astonishing. A wide array of colours, 5 star ANCAP safety rating, 17 inch wheels, 7 inch infotainment screen and a 4.2 inch display screen for the driver. Fully loaded then.

The driver’s display screen had an option to show the radar calculated distance to the car in front in seconds, i.e: your following distance. For drivers who don’t know what keeping a ‘4 second gap’ means, this is a great help. Additionally, the car you are following on screen is a Renault Megane RS which means you’ll be hard pressed to close said gap! Speaking of gaps, build quality was generally quite good. Soft plastics where they should be, textured material on the dash and some faux leather seats add a premium feel to the interior.

Rear three quarters view of the Renault Arkana with Picton, New Zealand in the background
No doubt, the Arkana is a pretty car

Thanks to the extensive picture taking, Fred and I were a little late for coffee but not last, thankfully! By this time, the Arkanas had got some dirt to them but the colours stood out. Flame Red and Zanzibar Blue were still my picks of the bunch. The standard choices of black, white and grey are also available.

In the courtyard of the cafe, we could recharge for a coffee, gather our thoughts and swap seats for the second leg of the trip! Our next destination was Picton Marina where we would board a ferry for a tour around the Marlborough Sounds along with some lunch. For this trip, we were joined by Sam Waller, GM of Renault NZ who was at the mercy of Fred tackling some meaty corners with zest.

Four Renault Arkanas in a row at Pelorus Bridge Cafe in the Marlborough region of New Zealand
Zanzibar Blue is a standout colour

Confined in a car with motoring journalists would mean a flurry of questions for Sam who very kindly answered us as honestly as he could. The lowdown is that the car industry is a tough place at the moment with supply chain issues continuing to make shipping difficult. However, NZ market Arkanas are made in South Korea so they will be both well built and much easier to import into our country. As Sam informed us, e-tech hybrid & R.S Line Arkana models are also on the cards for added variety.

Ferry docked at Picton Marina
Our mode of transport for the cruise to come

With the probing question over, we arrived at Picton Marina to board our lunch ferry. This being my first time in the Marlborough region, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Sounds other than natural beauty. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. They are a mesmerizing sight! Seeing the mountains converging with water and the sheer variety of the landscape was breathtaking. Every now and then, a crisp wind would swing by to remind us that we were in the wilderness. Luckily, we had the comfort of the boat and the warmth of the cabin crew for company.

There was a bit of a wait for lunch but the captain’s informative tour kept us engaged during the time. We also spotted some seals in the wild which was rather special, they were lounging around a Salmon farm for obvious reasons and joined by a big party of seagulls for good measure. Lunch was a similar medley of cuisines (no seal or seagulls though) with chorizo sausages being my highlight but there was something to be said about that gargantuan piece of salmon as well!

View out of the rear of the ferry on the Marlborough Sounds
Had Renault organized a fly-by for us?!

With the boat cruise concluded and our feet back on the shore, it was time to race the sunset to our hotel. The last destination for the day would be the Chateau Marlborough in the quaint town of Blenheim. Once at the hotel and following a quick freshen up, it was time for the Arkana presentation. Sam, Matt and Lance from the Renault NZ team talked us through the brand’s future vision as well as marketing and specs about the Arkana.

Rated as fee neutral as part of the government’s clean car scheme, Renault expect the Arkana to be a big seller for them as it is proving to be already. The car’s driving experience is courtesy of a punchy 1.3L turbo petrol delivering 115kW of power and 262Nm of torque from 91 octane petrol! Normally, turbocharged engines and 91 petrol don’t mix that well but Renault have made it possible thanks to some very clever engine management tech. The compact engine means the car will do 6.7L/100km in fuel efficiency but can also deliver the 0-100 spring in 9.1 seconds, wow!

Interior of the Zen model on the new Renault Arkana
Differences between Zen and Intens models are especially prominent inside

What was even more surprising about the Arkana for me was that it only needs to be serviced once every 30,000 kilometres! Size wise, the new Renault also boasts the largest dimensions in the segment making it very roomy on the inside. A 5.7 litre glovebox is the crown jewel of the interior which has the equivalent of 26+ litres of storage space! Considering all of that, the Arkana Zen offers incredible value for $40,000 NZD with the Intens model priced at a $5,000 NZD premium. I will get into more detail about the vehicle during the actual car review in a few weeks time so stay tuned for that!

A suite at the Chateau Marlborough
My accommodation at the Chateau Marlborough in Blenheim

With the technicalities over with, we had some time to refresh ourselves before dinner. Our last meal of the day was a set menu at the hotel’s restaurant. My cuisine of choice was a medium rare steak and a pineapple cheesecake, delicious! I especially liked the audio system in my room, it’s not something you see in many hotels and a music lover like me had it going the whole evening.

View of Marlborough and Blenheim, New Zealand from the window of a plane
It’s not called wine country for no reason!

After a much needed sleep, it was time to wake and pack up but the trip wasn’t at its end just yet. I joined my fellow journalists for breakfast in the lounge and chatted about the previous day and our first drive of the Arkana. Following a tooth achingly sweet breakfast of Belgian waffles, hazelnuts, Nutella and ice cream (yes, for breakfast), we set off for Blenheim airport. After saying our goodbyes to the Renault team, it was time to board the plane and head for the hills of Auckland. A pleasant flight home was a great way to conclude the action packed launch of the new Renault Arkana.

A big thank you to the Renault New Zealand team for the event, drives and the food!

Thanks for reading! For more Renault News and Reviews, click here.

Words and pictures by Matthew D’Souza, experience courtesy of Renault New Zealand.

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