Renault Group

All-new Austral: a meaningful touch

7 February 2023
Innovation & technology

Experiencing the interior of the All-new Renault Austral is unique thanks to the carefully chosen textures and materials that have been tested at the Renault Technocentre secret laboratories in Guyancourt (greater Paris area). This is where Carla, trained chemist and head of the sensory panel at Renault, works with a team of testers to ensure that materials used on the car interiors are just as they should be. When it comes to covering everything a customer may want, be it a steering wheel and armrests that are pleasant to touch, comfortable seats, or a dashboard with just the right level of foaming, testers employ an unusual measuring device that is as original as it is reliable: humans. From senses to science, meet the person in charge of the unique measurement system.


In the ‘Laboratories’’ building located at the Guyancourt Technocentre, a small room is home to the future interiors of Renault vehicles. In this room, dozens of fabric and parts samples are placed on the table, waiting for assessment. From hard to soft, sticky to dry, soft or rough, materials are classified according to twelve criteria using a device created by Renault in 2004, the Sensotact. It was a factor in choosing the material to replace the leather on All-new Austral steering wheel, as well as the those used for the seats, dashboard, and armrests.


What I particularly like about this job is the scientific approach to measuring. What is original and unusual, is that we use real people as a measuring tool.

Sensory materials specialist, head of the touch panel at Renault

Sensotact: senses and scientific precision

Working on how a car feels is an essential part of its perceived quality. The driver-vehicle relationship is very tactile by nature. Everything is controlled mainly with one’s hands and fingers. Physical contact must therefore remain pleasant to enhance the perfect driving experience. Each part that the driver touches, such as the steering wheel, dashboard, gear stick, armrest, or door rim, is assessed by testers using Renault's Sensotact sensory tool to ensure that they are up to specifications. Sensotact was designed to assess the parts for which tactile criteria feature in the vehicle’s technical specs. Since its inception, customer surveys have been used to constantly improve and refine the tool kit.

The Sensotact sensory tool has been constantly improved and refined since its inception in 2004

It combines human senses and scientific precision to obtain the most accurate results. Presented in the form of a briefcase, the Sensotact contains 12 ‘descriptors’ that correspond to a simple feeling, such as hardness, memory effect, slippery, and so on. Each descriptor is composed of control samples graded from 0 to 100, in 25-point increments. By comparing materials that will be used in future vehicles to the Sensotact control samples, testers can evaluate specific criteria for each part in an unbiased and precise manner.

Each descriptor is composed of control samples graded from 0 to 100, in 25-point increments

“When defining criteria for part specifications, we used customer surveys to determine a hedonic value: “I like” or “I don’t like”. As such, we can then use the Sensotact and panellists in the lab to assess whether parts are in line with the specifications,” explains Carla.

While some simple descriptors have objective criteria, such as hardness and the memory effect, other descriptors such as the hand-slip on the steering wheel require testing by a panel of people to assess what it will feel like for the end customer when driving.

The way something feels can be altered by an array of factors, like whether the person's hands are freshly washed or a hormonal change, yet the test results will remain reliable as they are compared against the Sensotact reference set. Values are always identical, meaning that it is possible to calculate an average, standard deviation, and final statistics to determine a value for the part's intrinsic tactile value.

A panel of 12 touch experts

Carla trains 12 testers (a.k.a 'panellists') to use the Sensotact, teaching them the specific protocol and manipulations to perform in order to obtain reliable and reproducible test results. The panellists are all volunteers from throughout the company, here to discover a new skill outside their usual field of expertise. Being given the opportunity to work on Renault's upcoming models, such as the All-new Austral, is a point of pride. Their special mission was to assess the new steering-wheel material: a plastic coated fabric to replace the previously used leather.

"The touch test results when comparing the old leather and new plastic covered steering wheels were objectively identical and the customers reported being perfectly happy with the feel. It was reassuring to know we succeeded in finding an environmentally friendly to replace the previously used leather while still procuring the same sensations," adds Carla.

Other parts on the Austral were also put through tactile testing with 18 sessions held in the lab. Each session lasts between 15 to 20 minutes for each panellist.

With the lab test results, we can determine well in advance if a specific material is rough or not compliant with the specifications, so we can inform the teams as soon as possible to find a better solution.

Sensory tools materials engineer and Sensotact panellist

I was involved in creating Sensotact. We have continued to improve the quality of our vehicles. I'm proud of my involvement, but it has become one of my foibles: now when I get in car, I can't help but test the quality of the materials used on board.

Battery electrochemical engineer and Sensotact panellist

COVID-19 affecting the assessment protocol

The assessment protocol was completely redesigned after COVID-19. Before the pandemic, all panelists would receive the same sample and descriptor at the same time, but that process had to be changed. Carla adapted the protocol, allotting a unique time slot to each tester, depending on their availability. The new system garnered approval from all panelists, and it still guarantees reliable measurements so customers continue to get the best tactile experience inside their vehicles.