Our final month with the Renault Captur Dynamique was easily the most enjoyable as we explored features unique to the French brand's baby SUV.
Those of you who read our second long-term report may remember its cliff-hanger ending, which no doubt left you all in suspense as to whether I would follow through with my initial promise of washing the Captur’s removable seat covers.
For me, this felt like the equivalent of being 16 again and telling my mum I’d clean my room… again and again. As then, I put off this chore until the last possible opportunity: the very last weekend before handing the Renault Captur back after our three-month loan.
Removing the fabric covers is easy: just unzip along the edges and tear off from the Velcro. The covers are in seven pieces: two front seat bases, two front seatbacks, two rear seatbacks, and the single rear bench base.
A quick check of the driver’s manual reveals a few care instructions. It recommends washing the covers separately from other materials – simple enough; spinning them at a maximum speed of 800rpm – this may require consulting my washing machine’s owner’s manual as well; and, perhaps most surprisingly, it recommends against washing the covers more than five times. While I’m not complaining in the slightest about being told I’m only allowed to clean something five times in its entire life, you’d hope they were a little more durable than that.
A quick search of some online forums reveals owners have washed theirs more than 10 times already and haven’t experienced any signs of wear, so I think this is just Renault being a conservative.
So after three months of procrastinating, into the wash they go on a gentle cycle with room temperature water and a scoop of powder. Once done they dry in the sun (Renault recommends against folding them or piling them on top of each other as they dry – washing 101, really).
Smelling clean and looking crisp, I reattach the covers to the naked-looking seats. They’re trickier to get back on than to take off, requiring you to line up the zips and Velcro strips, but the end result is an impressive one, with the covers looking good as new.
I really like the concept. It means you can enjoy the airy ambience created by light-coloured upholstery and not worry that if you get it dirty it’s always going to look used and abused.
It also allows you to easily change the look of your Captur’s interior. Renault Australia offers seven different seat cover colours and patterns, priced from $715 to $1045. If you’re really keen on a couple, we’d recommend asking your dealer to throw a set in for free. Having a spare set may also help in those times when you rip off the covers to wash them and would prefer not to sit on the 'naked', unupholstered seats in the meantime.
Both myself and CarAdvice's national sales director, Benn Sykes, who spent a few weeks with the Captur earlier in its time with us, were critical of the use of hard plastics throughout its cabin, though if you’re the sort of person who’s going to load it with wet or grubby sports equipment or other gear, having hardwearing panels that can be wiped down easily may be perfect for your lifestyle.
Another feature unique to the Renault Captur in the ultra-competitive small SUV segment is its R-Link infotainment system. A $990 option over the regular media system (which still gets a seven-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation), the R-Link unit adds a number of extra functions that aren’t even available in many luxury cars.
Some are more useful than others. Real-time traffic information is very helpful when using the sat-nav to direct you somewhere as it alerts you when roads are congested and gives you a much more accurate indication of your arrival time than conventional systems that live in a blissful world where traffic doesn’t exist.
Being able to access weather forecasts is nifty but probably information that’s easier to get from places other than your car’s infotainment system. Likewise Twitter and email – the latter of which I couldn’t get to connect because Gmail complained about security issues with logging on in the car, at which point it seemed much easier to just use email on my phone.
One particular highlight was the R-Sound Effect app, which I purchased from Renault’s R-Link Store. Downloading it required some computer smarts. You first have to remove the car’s SD card (positioned at the base of the centre stack), then insert it into your computer, download the R-Link application onto your computer from Renault’s website, and set up an online R-Link account. Once that’s done you can browse through the app store, select the ones you want to buy, then pay for them with a credit card.
R-Sound Effect set me back 4.99 euros ($7.83 once converted) but delivered plenty of laughs and thrills to justify the spend. For the uninitiated, R-Sound Effect is an interactive app that plays engine sounds through the speakers to make your car sound like one of six available vehicles.
I know, it sounds lame and nerdy, but before you give me a wedgy, flush my head in a toilet and steal my lunch money, take one for a test drive and try it out for yourself. The better ones – my favourite was ‘Clio V6’ – actually sound half decent, and fooled more than a couple of passengers into believing the Captur was hiding some serious hardware under its unassuming skin. I’ll admit that even when driving alone I sometimes turned the system on to hear a sporty little rumble as I accelerated.
And here I am again, suspending reality, just as I was in my first long-term report after initially taking ownership of the Captur.
So at the end of our extended loan, what have we learnt about Renault’s smallest SUV?
The general consensus at CarAdvice is that the Captur is one of the best looking cars in its class inside and out, with a design that continues to grow on you over time.
The optional R-Link infotainment system and the customisable, removable seat covers are the highlights of our car’s cabin, though it loses marks for its abundance of hard, thin plastics, a few ergonomic quirks and some storage limitations. Seat comfort and rear-seat space are better than average for the class, however.
The Dynamique’s 88kW/190Nm 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine and six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission don’t shine in urban conditions. The engine feels sluggish under 2000rpm, and will (and did) frustrate drivers who value immediate response to throttle inputs. It’s better on longer drives out of the city, where the drivetrain’s refinement and quietness come to the fore.
The Captur’s ride comfort disappointed us. Where the Clio city car on which the Captur is based is supple and controlled, the high-rider feels wooden and clumsy by comparison. It’s noisy as it thumps and frumps over bumps, and it rolls more through higher-speed bends, making it feel less planted around country corners.
Average fuel consumption throughout our loan worked out to be 8.7 litres per 100km, which didn’t seem unreasonable to us despite being about 60 per cent up on its official 5.4L/100km rating given it spent the majority of its time in the city.
Renault’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, matching roadside assistance and decent capped-price servicing program ($897 for the first three years/45,000km) should give peace of mind to buyers still wary of going French.
But you’ll have to be okay with the fact that there are no rear-protecting curtain airbags. New dad Benn wouldn’t put his son Archie in the back of the Captur, and I think I’d be similarly hesitant, despite its five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Would I buy one? Probably not.
While I mostly enjoyed my time with the Renault Captur and can see its appeal, there are small SUVs that better suit my wants and needs. For similar money you can get a Skoda Yeti that’s better to drive and bigger and more flexible inside. That’d be my pick.
If interior space is a priority, the Honda HR-V is another great option, while if you’re mostly going to be driving around town and not filling the boot, the Mazda CX-3 is an even better all-rounder, boasting (among other things) strong performance and excellent comfort.