Renault Rafale: plug-in hybrid coupé with 40-mile EV range

The flagship from the French automakers features a E-Tech petrol-hybrid powertrain with 200bhp, and a 4x4 with 300bhp version also coming soon

Renault’s Renaulution (their name, not ours) is in full battery ahead, and the French car manufacturer’s latest offering takes it further.

After Megane E-Tech 100% electric, Arkana E-Tech full hybrid and Austral E-Tech full hybrid, it’s time for Renault to move to the D-segment with a completely new model — the Rafale, an SUV coupé based on the Austral and being built on the same platform.

The Rafale takes its name from the Caudron-Renault Rafale, the aeroplane which flew at a record-breaking 277 mph in 1934. The French word for a gust of wind, the all-new flagship has a 200 hp E-Tech full hybrid powertrain with a “series-parallel” architecture. It encompasses a three-cylinder 1.2 litre turbocharged 130 hp (96 kW) petrol internal combustion engine delivering 205 Nm of torque, and two electric motors.

> All-new Renault Austral E-Tech full hybrid revealed

The main electric motor delivers 50 kW (70 hp) and 205 Nm. It is powered by a 2 kWh/400V lithium-ion battery for full-electric driving. The secondary electric motor is a 25 kW and 50 Nm High-voltage Starter Generator (HSG) that starts the engine and powers gear changes in the clutchless dog box.

The result? You can drive in electric mode 80% of the time in cities and use 40% less fuel than with an equivalent internal-combustion engine with this E-Tech full hybrid powertrain. So you get the whole electric driving experience, but none of the charging constraints.

It even has a multimode automatic dog box derived from Formula 1 technology which combines the main electric motor’s two ratios and the internal combustion engine’s four ratios. The 15 possible ways of combining the motors and engine will optimise driving pleasure, consumption or CO2 emissions depending on which you choose.

“Our new 200 hp E-Tech full hybrid powertrain uses the electric motors as much as possible, whatever the circumstances, to optimise consumption. The fact that you can use the electric motor up to 80% of the time in cities ranks the car among the best in its category,” said Gwenaël Le Merrer, Head Engineer for Rafale.

The charging is managed automatically by the smart gearbox, which taps into the engine and motors to top up the battery. You can, however, override the smart gearbox with a choice of four regenerative braking levels, using the paddles on the steering wheel.

> Review: Renault Megane E-Tech

Speaking of the steering wheel, it is derived from the Megane E-Tech electrics and Australs. Renault has used a TEP-like material, with 34% of recycled material on the reverse side, that it claims feels even better than leather as it aims to eliminate the usage of leather by 2024 and move to new, exciting materials.

Rafale is the first production vehicle entirely designed according to the new visual language of the Head of Design at Renault, Gilles Vidal. And it shows — being a coupé, it already has the benefit of having a sporty look with the slightly raised fastback-style body. But it looks vibrant and stylish too.

Under five meters long and almost two metres wide, its silhouette with chiselled shapes is eye-catching. Vidal said: “The all-new Rafale is a powerful illustration of the Renault brand’s new design language.

“It is in keeping with its DNA through generous curves, treated with great precision, combined with lines of tension and technical details that bring character and sophistication to the whole. With its unprecedented style, quality craftsmanship and proportions, the all-new Renault Rafale asserts its power and personality on the road.”

The radiator grille is built around the brand’s hallmark diamond. It is made up of a constellation of small diamonds that arrange space in three dimensions around the emblem in the middle. It stands out against the iron blue or shadow grey hues (depending on the version) that appear and disappear in the background depending on where you look at it from – like works of optical art in the 1970s.

Rafale will be available in five body colours including two previously unreleased ones: a new satin White Pearl and a new Alpine Blue tone — the first Renault brand model to feature the iconic hue.

> Alpine shows off A290_β electric hatch

Inside, it will feature Renault’s OpenR digital cockpit – which was introduced in the Megane and then tweaked for the Austral. In Rafale, it is made up of two adjacent tiles arranged into an L shape: a horizontal 12.3-inch diagonal display on the dashboard and a vertical 12-inch diagonal touchscreen in the middle of the console.

Romain Mottier, Head of Experience Design for Renault Group said: “On the all-new Rafale, we adjusted the style and soundscape to match the car’s compelling personality. The subtle colour shading is not something you see often in human-machine interaction. The experience in this car is bigger than the journey!”

But if you thought that Renault was done with its Renaulution (again, their name, not ours), think again. The company has a 4×4 drive version of the Rafale in its pipeline, featuring a substantially upgraded hybrid powertrain and an additional electric motor at the rear axle to unleash 300hp.

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