The Renault Captur crossover has been a regular market leader across Europe since it launched a few years ago, but here in Australia this French Mazda CX-3 competitor has never risen above niche status.
Of course this scarcity is in many ways the Captur's biggest asset, building on Laurens van den Acker's standout and timeless design. If the Renault isn't the prettiest small crossover out there, I'll eat my hat.
In a bid to keep the Captur up to date against newer rivals such as the Toyota C-HR and Hyundai Kona – and fellow niche players like the Citroen C4 Cactus – Renault recently rolled out a series of MY18 product updates.
Marketing for the range has been simplified, with trim variants now conforming to the nomenclature used on Renault’s latest Clio, Megane and Koleos models introduced over the past 12 months.
This means there's a base Captur Zen (priced at a sharpened $21,990 before on-roads for the manual and $24,990 for auto) and the Captur Intens tested here, at $28,990 for the standard EDC auto model – or $30,990 drive-away.
As such the Zen sits alongside fellow front-wheel drive city car crossovers including the mid-range CX-3 sTouring ($26,990), Kona Elite ($28,500) and C-HR 2WD ($26,990). Not bad, really, though it's $6000 pricier than a Clio Zen hatch.
Tweaks include the addition of familiar Renault trademark C-shaped LED daytime running lights, complemented on the flagship with new LED Pure Vision headlights that are said to be 20 per cent more powerful than halogen globes.
The Captur Zen has features such as rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation, electric side mirrors with auto folding, washable and removable seat covers and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Renault's $4000 premium for the Intens over the equivalent Zen brings with it a substantially longer list of features such as hands-free parking assist, blind-spot monitoring, a panoramic glass roof, charcoal leather trim, enhanced R-Link 7.0-inch satellite navigation system, aforementioned LED headlights and fog lights, and front/side parking sensors.
There's also an Arkamys 3D sound system with digital radio (or a Bose 'premium' sound system as an option), 17-inch two-tone alloys, front and rear faux skid plates, a chrome front grille and boot lid strip, and privacy glass. Quite the little luxury car.
The little Captur's cabin is certainly nice to look at, and offers a high driving position despite a titchy 160m of ground clearance, with decent ergonomics – once you acclimatise to the two-stage cruise control activation and the odd placement of your audio controls on the steering column.
The R-Link system doesn't comprise Apple CarPlay (it gets Android Auto phone mirroring), but the TomTom sat-nav is excellent and gives you Waze-style traffic/speed camera warnings. The leather steering wheel adds something for the tactile and while the plastic grades used are a mixed bag – common contact points are soft, other parts are hard and cheap – the cabin is generally well-made.
Storage comprises a sunglasses holder above the driver's head, a cool dash-top closing cubby, and open area below the fascia, and good door pockets. The flip-down centre console and shallow cupholders are typically French, and frankly a bit crap.
At 4122mm long on a 2606mm wheelbase, the Captur is among the tiniest cars in its class, though the two-stage boot offers a great 377L/455L of storage, expanding to 1235L with the 40:60 seats folded down giving a maximum loading length/width of 1512mm/983mm.
But the rear seats are less than ideal for a few reasons. First, there's not much legroom (headroom is quite good). Secondly, Renault still insists that rear airbags aren't necessary, meaning we cannot recommend this car for anyone who carries more than two occupants at any time.
Meanwhile engines have been carried over, with the Zen manual powered by a tiny 66kW/135Nm 900cc turbo petrol, while the EDC-equipped Zen and Intens models feature an 88kW/190Nm 1.2-litre turbo petrol – about par with the Toyota C-HR's 1.2.
That doesn't sound like much, but peak torque is available at 2000rpm which makes the unit less stressed, and the kerb weight of about 1200kg is hardly scale-breaking. As such, the 0-100km/h dash can be done in 10.9sec, which will keep you up with traffic.
Matched as standard is a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox with a manual mode operated via the stick. It's more engaging than the CVTs fitted to many rivals, though typical of this design you need to moderate your throttle inputs in urban driving to avoid low-speed jerkiness. It's not terrible, though the Hyundai Kona's 7-DCT feels a generation newer, which it is.
Renault claims the Euro 5 drivetrain can uses as little as 5.8L/100km of 95 RON fuel on the combined cycle, though in the real world you'll use about 25 per cent more from the 45L tank. It also has a 900kg braked-trailer tow rating, though what buyer would seriously put this to the test?
Unlike many rivals the Captur only comes here with front-wheel drive, denoting its city clicker status. However there's a system called Extended Grip control fitted, billed as "an advanced traction control system designed to optimise grip in all conditions".
In short, a dial below the hydraulic handbrake lets you choose from three modes of assistance. They work thus:
- On-Road – the default mode, suitable for all paved roads. Automatically selected above 40km/h.
- Off-Road – for loose surfaces, ordering the vehicle to adjust engine torque delivery, and braking/ESC, to allow more front wheel spin.
- Expert – driver takes full control over the engine torque to accelerate how they like, while the system fettles the braking effect.
The Extended Grip system comes paired with special Khumo ‘Mud and Snow’ rated tyres (205/55R17 91V Solus KH25). Still, stick to tarmac guys...
The suspension comprises a 'pseudo' MacPherson strut setup at the front and a basic torsion beam at the rear, though body control/handling is actually relatively okay over undulations and against lateral inputs. The only dynamic issue is the slight hint of uneasiness, derived from the springs/dampers, over sharp edges.
The motor-driven steering has 2.7 turns lock-to-lock and gives the car a 10.4m radius. It's lacking resistance, but is pleasantly light and quick off centre around town, making the Captur feel nimble and easy to park at the same time. It's an engaging little thing in the city, its natural habitat.
Where Renault Australia really surprises many is its high level of aftersales care – no doubt a symptom of its small sales and oft-misconstrued brand image among Australians.
You get a five year/unlimited distance factory warranty and five years of roadside assistance, huge 12 month/30,000km service interval (hmmm, we're dubious about the 30k part) and cover from Renault’s Capped Price Servicing programme where the first three scheduled dealer visits are $299 each.
So that's a breezy look at the upgraded MY18 Renault Captur, a car that stands out from a long list of competitors thanks to its tres chic design, engaging driving character in town, decent value for money by class standards and excellent aftersales care.
If you only carry one passenger at the most, and want to stand out from everyone else in their Mazdas, it's not a bad option. Hard to love perhaps, but impossible to dislike.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.