The Renault Captur claims to offer the driving fun of a small hatchback, the versatility of an MPV, and the high driving position and tough looks of the sub-compact SUV segment in which it nestles.
It seems like the most complete definition of ‘versatility’, but when the Renault Captur lands in Australia in the first half of 2014 it will face new rivals in the Holden Trax (here July), Peugeot 2008 (August) and Ford EcoSport (here late this year).
That is in addition to current contenders like the Mitsubishi ASX, Nissan Dualis and Skoda Yeti.
The Renault Captur is based on the Clio hatchback, but it is larger and raised slightly. A length of 4122mm puts it around 100mm shorter than the Yeti and Dualis, and 38mm shorter nose to tail than the forthcoming 2008. But the Captur is also 38mm wider than the Peugeot, and only a handful of millimetres skinnier than the Skoda and Nissan.
Its hip point is raised by 100mm compared with a Clio – Renault admits that most people want an SUV due to their raised driving position – and the Captur offers 200mm ground clearance (12mm more than Dualis, 20mm more than Yeti).
Most SUV models are engineered with all-wheel-drive hardware, which compromises interior efficiency because of the extra baulk required underneath the cabin. With the Captur (and 2008, and EcoSport) front-wheel drive is the only option, so the body doesn’t need to leave room for extra hardware.
The Renault Captur is quite roomy and cleverly packaged. Raising the hip point means that while rear passengers don’t get much legroom – and no rear air vents are a black mark – because the seat itself is mounted higher there’s more space vertically for legs to drop, aiding under-thigh support.
The rear seat itself slides forward and backward to increase boot space at the expense of legroom, or vice versa. Disappointingly, however, the bench itself is a single unit, not split and removeable like many MPV models.
Families with young children who don’t require maximum legroom can slide the bench forward to move boot capacity from 377 litres to 455L. The boot itself has a horizontal divider partition which when in place meets with the folded rear backrest to provide a completely flat floor and total 1235L volume.
Alternatively, the partition can be wedged at a 45 degree angle to separate the luggage space in two and, in the top half of the space, ‘harness’ shopping bags between the board and the rear backrest.
The boot is comparable with class rivals – in its lowest capacity the Captur offers 45L less than the 2008, 33L less than Dualis, but 67L more than Yeti.
It is worth noting, however, that most similarly priced (sub-$30,000) small wagons offer considerably more rear luggage space than all of the sub-compact SUV set, so it’s worth thinking how much that high hip point matters…
Although detailed specifications have not yet been announced, Australia will import three trim levels with two petrol drivetrains, both of which offer impressive figures.
The 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol entry engine produces 66kW of power at 5250rpm, and 135Nm at 2500rpm, mating exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission. Although not available to drive at the launch, experience with this engine in the Clio hatchback reveals it to be a sweet and smooth spinning device.
A kerb weight of 1101kg shows this sub-compact SUV to be lighter than many light hatchbacks, with a brilliant 4.9L/100km economy claimed. A 0-100km/h time of 12.9 seconds is slower than most small wagons, but the base Captur is expected to be priced from around $20,000 – or about $3000 more than the Clio with the same engine.
The single Renault Captur model driven at the international launch was the 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol. A six-speed dual-clutch automatic is the only transmission available – and probably the only one required since the overwhelming majority of buyers in this segment choose an auto.
With an 1180kg kerb weight, the Captur in this specification is 40kg heavier than the 2008 (with a comparable 1.6-litre four cylinder petrol engine) but is 230kg lighter than Yeti (also with a 1.2-litre turbo) and 275kg lighter than Dualis (which gets a 2.0-litre engine).
The 1.2-litre turbo produces 88kW at 4900rpm, and 190Nm at 2000rpm. Its 5.4L/100km claimed combined economy beats Yeti by 1.6L/100km and Dualis by 2.7L/km, while its 0-100km/h time of 10.9 seconds is 0.2 seconds slower than the 2008 and eclipses the Skoda by 1.1 seconds. (Nissan does not provide claimed performance figures.)
The 1.2 turbo/six-speed dual-clutch drivetrain struggles in some ways on the road, however.
The engine itself – which will debut locally in the 100kg-lighter Clio in August – is a gutsy and refined unit. But although the Captur is light for an SUV, weight still compromises this engine, which feels sluggish off the line and slow to rev out when pressed.
The Captur sorely needs either a 1.6-litre turbo engine from the Clio RS, which Renault says it has ruled out for now, or else the torquey 230Nm 1.5-litre turbo diesel should be imported (read more here).
More of an issue than the engine itself, however, is the calibration of the six-speed dual-clutch automatic. It is extremely hesitant when applying throttle pressure off the line, and in some cases the delay between a throttle-press and actual movement lasts long enough for the Captur to become a mobile road-block when leaving an intersection.
The transmission also needs a Sport mode to better suit the engine’s characteristics. In the urban cut and thrust in particular, the engine needs to keep in its mid-range closer to where power is produced (at 4900rpm), yet the transmission frequently upshifts to tall gears when the throttle is lifted, lowering revs and making the car feel more dull than it really is.
Slide the transmission shifter to manual mode – with the correct push forward to downshift, back to upshift – and the drivetrain comes alive, rev-matching when going back gears and shifting quickly when moving up the chain. Once on the move, and on flat ground, the drivetrain also works nicely and cohesively. At 110km/h, the engine is spinning at a relaxed 2500rpm in sixth gear, and there’s enough low-rev torque to maintain that speed on inclines.
With the same strut front and torsion beam rear suspension design as the Clio, the Captur inherits some of its smaller sibling’s superb dynamic ability. There’s decent front to rear balance, sweet damping that delivers a terrific blend of compliance and control on bumpy country roads, and reasonably impressive isolation from road and engine noise.
But the Captur also lacks the verve of the Clio. Its extremely quick rebound over speed humps is mildly uncomfortable, and over small irregularities the car can be unsettled. The car pushes into understeer earlier than expected, with a correspondingly early level of stability control intervention. At least on the grippy, 55-aspect 17-inch tyres of our test car, the Captur isn’t as throttle adjustable as it should be.
The electro-mechanical power steering set-up is excellent – just as it is in the Clio. It is disconcertingly light and vague on centre, but this is a rare system that then feels progressive and consistent in the first movements and when winding on increasing amounts of lock.
Although the interior design is funky – with two colours, multiple trims, and even removeable seat trim available – and offers a high-resolution touchscreen with an intuitive interface, the Captur dips with a few details.
The 11-litre storage ‘draw’ (below) in the Captur will be replaced by a 5L conventional glovebox in all right-hand-drive models. Renault cites wiring that can’t be moved as a reason for the downgrade. Our test car (and several others) also suffered a major satellite navigation shut down that was inexplicable and unexplained.
While the Captur gets a five-star Euro NCAP rating, only four airbags are standard (as in the Clio). The Skoda Yeti provides both curtain airbags and a driver’s knee airbag.
If Renault Australia can price the Captur competitively at around $20-27K, then it should do well to boost the sales performance of the brand in Australia.
Although there are some driveability issues, and the ride and handling blend isn’t quite as finessed as a Clio’s, the Captur is a funky-looking and reasonably space-efficient sub-compact SUV that's decent to drive.
It should still do well against an onslaught of new rivals.