The French have this kind of effortless cool thing going on. Stereotypes aside, if you look you’ll see it in French cinema, French music, French fashion, French cuisine… Oddly, though, French cars tend to be somewhat hit or miss when it comes to the cool factor.
There’s no doubt Renault was onto something when it introduced the Captur compact SUV to take the place of the Modus MPV overseas in 2013, followed up by an Australian introduction in 2014 – but is it effortlessly cool?
The friendly and curvy styling gives the Captur an approachable and urban-ready look, while bright colours and bold interiors push the fashion aspect. Though, as trendy as it is right now, the bright and bubbly compact SUV aesthetic may not become a timeless classic.
For the 2019 model year, Renault has gone beneath the skin, however, and replaced the Captur’s previous 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with an all-new 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol unit instead. A small change in terms of engine size, but one that delivers a decent performance improvement. The new engine is rated at 110kW at 5250rpm and 250Nm from 1600rpm, which puts it a sizeable 22kW and 60Nm ahead of the previous engine.
It also sees the claimed fuel consumption drop from 5.8L/100km previously to a slightly improved 5.4L/100km, while acceleration cuts down from 10.9 seconds to 100km/h to a more motivated 9.2 seconds.
Renault hasn’t made a big deal of its new engine (for a little background, however, it’s been co-developed with Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, Daimler, and is related to the engine in the new A-Class) in the traditional midlife-update sense.
There are no styling changes to announce the refreshed model. It's sticking with the mildly revised looks that first hit Aussie shores in mid-2017 as part of the Captur’s scheduled mid-cycle update.
With a more boastful set of outputs from the new engine, the Captur feels like a much more substantial vehicle. Whereas earlier versions could feel timid attempting to zing through urban traffic, the extra punch from the new engine is welcomed.
Moving off from a standstill sees the Captur keep its nose alongside other traffic without falling behind like before. Better still, as road speeds rise, the stronger pull of the new engine means shorter, safer overtaking times with more potential in reserve should you need it.
As shiny and new as the 1.3-litre engine may be, though, it’s still linked to a six-speed ‘Efficient Dual Clutch’ automatic, as before. The theory behind a dual-clutch auto is that it can increase efficiency while delivering quick, unobtrusive gear changes. Or at least that’s the theory. In practice, Renault’s automatic struggles to live up to its claims. Hesitation seems to be the guiding principle for this auto’s operations.
Trying to reverse out of a slightly downward facing nose-to-kerb park will see the car shudder as the transmission struggles to balance its clutch with the demands of low-speed, high-load movement. Once out of your park, the car will move from stationary with a minor stumble into gear, rather than a fluid movement, too.
Average driving without being too demanding sees the automatic behave the way you’d expect, though each gear seems to run a little longer than it should before shifting up – until you get used to the way it holds onto revs. More obvious and annoying is the way the car will hold a lower gear high into the rev range, and stubbornly refuse to change up to the next gear after you call for a kickdown or accelerate with any kind of enthusiasm before lifting off the accelerator.
Improved though the engine may be, the transmission remains a long way off class-leading. The wishy-washy transmission logic also seems to be one of the pointers to the 8.0L/100km fuel consumption recorded during our time with the Captur.
That’s a real shame too, as most other aspects of the Captur Intens package are quite convincing. At $29,990, the Intens isn’t exactly playing at the budget end of the small-SUV market, though nor is it the most expensive, but the standard features list is rather comprehensive. Single-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, leather steering wheel, sliding rear seats and a contrasting roof are standard across the Captur range, but the Intens also adds in a fixed glass roof, leather seat trim, semi-autonomous parking assist, blind-spot warning, LED headlights and off-road ‘grip control’.
That latter system only tweaks traction-control settings to enhance grip in slippery conditions, though, as the Captur comes with front-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive. So, it’s best not to venture beyond gravel roads or grassy market car parks when testing the system’s mettle.
Unfortunately, the Captur also misses out on a few crucial safety features: curtain airbags aren’t available, nor is lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning or autonomous emergency braking. You do get front and front-seat-side airbags (with a head-protecting section) plus stability control and cruise control with a speed limiter, which is handy around town.
As a result, the Captur still carries a five-star ANCAP rating, as assessed against 2013 criteria. Were the Captur to be re-evaluated against more stringent 2019 ANCAP standards, it would be ineligible for a maximum rating.
Practicality is better looked after with a two-level boot floor giving a minimum of 377L of boot space up to 455L maximum. The rear seats can also be slid forward to prioritise boot room, or reclined to mix-and-match load and comfort requirements – something that’s still rare in SUVs of this size.
The rear seat itself provides a surprisingly generous amount of space given the compact dimensions. A lofty roof means generous head room, while the high seat base makes the most of available leg room.
The driver and front passenger get a similarly roomy environment and a lofty seating position, though in either row width is at a premium. Finishes up front fall short of expectations too, with a wide mix of plastic finishes.
A soft-finish dash is surrounded by a sea of hard plastics, which is no bad thing in itself, but there’s no feeling of quality or tactility to the majority of interior trims. A flimsy storage bin lid at the top of the dash and creaking, cracking sounds from the indicator and wiper stalks don’t impart any impression of quality.
Similarly lacking in polish, Renault’s R-Link infotainment system deploys a bewildering user interface, which means something as simple as switching audio sources can take three to four on-screen button presses. Animations between screens mask slow loading times, and bafflingly the cheaper Zen model features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the more expensive Intens ignores Apple users and comes with Android screen mirroring only.
There are a few ergonomic quirks found within as well, like seats with hard to reach inboard backrest adjustment, cruise-control switches split between the steering wheel and the centre console, audio controls hidden from view behind the steering wheel, and a centre armrest that blocks cup holder access and makes it difficult to operate the manual handbrake.
Thankfully, ride quality is a decent match to the trials of suburban city streets, but the steering is massively over-assisted with little in the way of feel or feedback. However, if you’re mostly slogging through snarling low-speed traffic, tight side streets and busy urban car parks, that could be seen as a positive.
Renault’s capped-price servicing covers the first three dealership visits at 12-month/30,000km intervals at a fixed price of $349 per service, plus an extra $52 to replace the air filter and $66 for the pollen filter every 24 months/30,000km (whichever comes first). Warranty coverage spans five years with no kilometre limit.
With space-efficient packaging, city-friendly compact dimensions, and a decent swathe of standard equipment, the Captur Intens looks like a respectably decent compact SUV.
Unfortunately, an underwhelming cabin presentation and an uncooperative automatic transmission erode any of those advantages, and a safety package that’s fallen off the pace of fast-evolving current expectations puts the Captur on the back foot.