- Max Speed
Bandwagon time. Already this year, a total of six all-new, small crossovers have been announced. Clearly, there’s a trend building here. The number of fresh saloons? Just three, and most of those were aimed at the Chinese. European tastes are shifting: little SUVs are in, and the current fad is the baby crossover. Think of them as jacked-up superminis, and you’re about there – mostly two-wheel drive only, raised seating positions, very much aimed at the young family. It’s a template taken from the Nissan Juke.
Renault’s attempt is called the Captur (pronounced ‘capture’), and the only strange thing about it is why it’s taken so long to arrive. The French firm has form with carving out successful family niches – you’ve only got to look at the Scenic or Espace for proof of that – so you’d have thought a family-friendly soft-roader was a given years ago. Especially as Renault’s partner, Nissan, had the Qashqai back in 2007, and the Juke from 2010, so the precedent was set a while back. Tooling up for a brand-new car isn’t the work of a moment, but still…
Let’s not moan too much, though. It’s here now, and Renault has big plans for it – it reckons the Captur will be the second-best-selling Renault in the UK, behind the Clio on which it’s based.
On paper, there’s no reason to doubt that. The Captur is available with three turbocharged engines to begin with – two petrols and one diesel – none of which are going to set the world on fire, but are all usefully environmentally friendly. The petrols are either an 898cc 3cyl with 89bhp or a 1.2 4cyl with 119bhp, the diesel is a 1.5 four pot with 89bhp, and they’ve all been nicked out of the Clio. Both the more powerful petrol and the diesel are also available with a dual-clutch gearbox.
None is exactly fast. No Captur can crack 0–62mph in less than 10 seconds, and the diesel doesn’t get there for 12.6secs. But, in reality, this doesn’t matter – the Captur is called a soft-roader for a reason, and it’s hard to imagine any owners swinging by the drag strip on their way between supermarket and school.
And besides, neither the diesel nor the 119bhp petrol feels as sluggish as the figures suggest. Both have useful levels of torque (162lb ft for the diesel, 140lb ft for the petrol), and both are more than capable of keeping up with motorway traffic – the impressively svelte 1,170kg kerbweight helps here. The Captur isn’t exciting to drive, but it does the job it needs to.
The more important thing for potential customers is that it’s green. The 1.5 dCi Captur returns an impressive 76.4mpg and emits just 96g/km of CO2, while even the more powerful petrol has fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 52.3mpg and 125g/km respectively. There’s also an Eco button behind the gearlever which restricts the amount of engine torque available, and also tweaks the climate control, to give a 10 per cent saving on the real-world fuel consumption. A useful bonus.
Given all this, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that it isn’t exactly exciting to drive. You sit a lot higher than you do in the Clio (it’s 118mm taller), and you really feel the extra body roll through corners. Plus, the electric power steering gives absolutely zero feedback. If you’re after safe rather than fun, the Captur is perfect.
But, again, none of this matters to potential customers. TopGear would prefer something with a bit more fizz, but the Captur is comfortable and refined. We’d go as far as to say it’s as quiet as any premium car: there’s barely any road noise, and the engine note is well suppressed too. You won’t have to raise your voice any more than normal to get the kids to behave.
To be fair, children are where the Captur’s priorities lie – blame the little ones for this car not having the Juke’s zippier handling. In the interests of space and cost – and to give maximum family friendliness – Renault also decided to base it on the FWD-only Clio IV platform. The French did look at the Juke’s 4wd underpinnings, but that ate into the vital cabin space too much. The Juke drives with more vigour, but the interior isn’t anywhere near as spacious as the Captur’s. You pays your money…
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And it is spacious in the back. The rear seats have got more than enough head- and legroom for four adults, and they also slide forward and backwards depending on whether you want to maximise space in the boot or cabin.
But it isn’t perfect. Despite having zip-off seat covers in case the child/dog/irresponsible husband makes a mess of the fabric, we can’t help but feel that Renault has missed a trick by not creating a cleverer interior. There are no underfloor storage areas, there’s no bin between the front seats and the five-litre glovebox is average at best. If you’re going to build a family-focused car and compromise the excitement levels, then you Renault pioneered the nifty cubby with the Scenic – it’s almost like it’s forgotten its MPV roots.
Instead, it seems, Renault is keen to offer as much personalisation as possible. There are four trim levels available (Expression, Expression+, Dynamique MediaNav and Dynamique S MediaNav), which are then broken down into three more ‘themed collections’: Arizona, Manhattan and Miami. Has somebody at Renault been at the marketing smelling salts?
Even more confusingly, these three collections are then broken down into four more packs: colour, exterior gloss, interior touch and style. It’s a myriad of combinations, running to nearly 500, and includes current fashion fads like contrasting roof colours and flashy alloy wheels. All of which means that ordering a car is going to take a while, but the flipside is that your Captur is unlikely to be the same as your neighbour’s.
The trouble is that this feels like window dressing. Admittedly, customers are demanding more personalisation these days, even in mass-market cars, so you can hardly blame Renault for offering it. But you get the sense that more time has been spent on this rather than on some of the engineering bits, like decent storage compartments or making the Captur more engaging to drive. Even the various brochures dedicate 11 pages to the ‘collections’ and just five to the engines.
If you’re in the market for this sort of car, then the Captur is as good as any other current offering. It’s handsome enough, comfortable, cheap to run and cheap to buy – prices start from just £12,495. That’s as budget-friendly as anything else out there, making it an entirely feasible alternative to a standard supermini or MPV.
Given the latter, it’s disappointing that it doesn’t have more MPV genes in it. There isn’t much substance behind the style and the Americana-esque collections, and this sector of the market is only going to get larger over the next couple of years.
As such, I worry that the Captur will struggle to keep up with fresher offerings as they flood the market. Bear in mind that in the next 12 months, you’ll have a total of eight of these things to choose from. At the moment, the Renault is one of the best, but it’s unlikely to remain that way.