Updated: April 13, 2016
I apologize for being cheesy. Now, a question. What do you get when you stretch a Renault Clio vertically? You get a mini SUV called Captur, which is the object of our scrutiny today. As it happens, during one of my visits to the British Empire, I got to drive a Renault Captur 1.5 dCI, a car designed to stimulate youthful and fun spirit in the modern urban driver, someone looking for the snug comfort of a small vehicle and the driving position slash status of an SUV/CUV owner.
While you will have to suffer as much as I did for the mere fact the steering column is located on the wrong side of the car, we can still try to make this a fun and engaging review. Let's see if this little thing can be a cool and exciting purchase. Follow me.
Yes, it's my faux French language time. The same way I do it with Linux distro reviews any time we handle a French made product, we're going to do the same thing here. Vehicles are no exception. And so, let's begin with what the car offers. the Captur range does not have too many features and options, which can be both a blessing and a curse. That said, despite only having three engines, two of which are petrol plus a single diesel, and four levels of trim, you don't feel like you're being sold a second-hand idea.
Captur's 1.5-liter diesel is turbo-charged, and it develops 90 HP at 4,000 rpm plus 220 Nm starting at 1,750 rpm. Mated to a manual five-speed box, the little Renault is capable of reaching the top speed of about 171 km/h, while the sprint to 100 km/h takes 13.1 seconds. On paper, this feels a little slow.
Then, you notice the funky, cheerful line, which has all of Clio's charm and then some, the two-tone body color, including the copper-red roof and mirrors, chrome lining, alloys, and you begin to realize this might not be such a bad bargain after all. Indeed, the test car had the Dynamique Media Nav level, which is the second highest of the four, and it comes with cruise control, speed limiter, Start/Stop, key card, Hill Start Assist, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and MP3 codec support, sliding rear seats, automatic-and-cornering lights plus wipers, front fog lights, aforementioned body color mirrors and two-tone body contrast, and 17-inch alloys.
But that's not all. You also get navigation, touchscreen, removable zipped seat covers, elastic band straps on the backs of the front seats both as a decoration and a functional open-pocket thingie, and tinted rear windows.
The best part is, the difference between Media Nav and the top-range Dynamique S is only in the electric folding mirrors and parking sensors, whereas the lower-end Expression+ is downgraded in terms of navigation, body color and wheel diameter. All the rest is pretty much standard across the range, give or take an odd item or two. Pretty impressive for a vertically stretched Clio.
I found the car to be well made, well equipped and pretty enough. Not a killer, but cute and robust and feisty in a Parisian sort of way. Omelette with a bit of red pepper. If this isn't enough for you, you can choose a set of optional gear, designed to infuse your car with personalization. This seems to be an important thing with many small cars, and we've seen this in action with Opel Adam. Perhaps when the car lacks in raw power, the next best thing is to make it unique to its driver.
This little Renault isn't the prettiest vehicle in the world. The tall, somewhat squat and stubby appearance may not be to everyone's taste, but it is far from being ugly. Clio is a fine specimen, and the vertical stretch still keeps it within the comely range. It looks bigger than it is, and the size deception is accentuated by the the aggressive two-tone body coloring and the plentitude of chrome details, especially at the front end.
The rear end does look a little reserved, maybe even conservative, but again, it's sane and handsome if not all too flamboyant. The car exudes an aura of serenity and modernity without looking cheap and flashy. The 17-inch wheels are perfectly sized for it.
Captur's cabin is a fun place to be, although if you're used to German designs, you will be surprised and maybe put off by the multitude of quirky lines, rounded angles and non-OCD approach to aesthetics. The driving position is very good. You sit high, your legs are fully supported, and you operate the three pedals in a van-like fashion, which is quite useful for longer journeys. The seats are typically French-comfy. You can adjust the steering without any big problems. All in all, one of the easier cars to set, and that's quite an achievement for someone like me. Then again, I remember driving Citroen AX, and it was one of the comfier cars ever made.
The dashboard is made for younger crowds, with a digital streak. The media system works well, although touch can be tricky while driving, as you get no feedback, and you can't really memorize or feel where things ought to be. Plus, finger grease and sun glare. The central dash is dominated by the touch screen, but unlike Clio or even Peugeot 208, it does not feel like an afterthought. There aren't too many buttons to get confused, and you still have manual controls for the aircon and a proper hand brake. There's also ample room for bottles, phones, and other gadgetry.
Le driving, or as the French say, cavalier melee
You may think, or rather I was thinking, being used to much more powerful cars, and after the BMW 330d review, that I would find the Captur unengaging or boring to drive. Not so by a long shot. Perhaps the straight line physics aren't that good, but it's still quite punchy and fun. The little Renault is all about mid-range joy, and because it's small and modestly endowed with horses, you can actually push it to its limit.
Bigger, posher cars need you to floor into the illegal zone, whereas the smaller, less speedy models can be utterly pleasant without breaking the law. This is the case with the Captur, and it's really nice to drive. The five-speed gearbox is quite decent, it has a short throw, the pedals are responsive, and 220 Nm of torque is good enough to give you a sense of haste even without being actually fast. The number is similar to what Audi A1 1.4 TFSI had, and that's more than enough for funky, dynamic driving. The steering is precise, the cornering sharp and without body rolls. Surprisingly refined. Oh, btw, the ECO button does nothing at all.
You only notice the dieselness when you floor it, and then Captur picks up speed without urgency or haste, across a humble, narrow band, but you don't feel like it's straining, screaming or protesting. The perception is all that counts. It does not have much, but you get it all the time. Rev, and it responds eagerly, loyally. Road stability is good, lengthwise and crosswise, and bumps and dips don't make much difference. The ride is very settled, on the motorway and in town. Sitting higher up helps visibility and spatial awareness, and modest dimensions are excellent for Britain's prehistoric traffic network. The road noise is also low. Rad.
Captur also delivers a very good fuel economy. It averaged at about 5.5 liters/100 km, including long drives on the motorway at 110 km/h, some city driving, and a generous use of the aircon. This means that gentle-footed folks can probably manage 5 liters/100 km without any big problems. Remember, I'm never too gentle, and I never use Start/Stop, because it's the most annoying thing in the world.
You might assume the small engine would be a detriment here, and we saw this shortcoming with Ford C-Max in our Italian episode of the Eurotrip series, but it wasn't the case here. Captur is a smaller car, and the 1.5-liter dCI is more than adequate for its size and expected driving regime. Up to 110 km/h, the car is very steady and refined, and above that number, I can't really comment, because Britain is no fun to drive. Plus cameras.
None really. True, I only had the car for a brief while, just three days and 670 km, but there were no issues during that period. Again, the expectations and emotions are different when you compare it to some other, expensive cars. Even so, it delivered a stellar performance, and there were no rattles or squeaks or anything alike. My friend's Captur is still relatively new. It's clocked only 1,000 km when he lent it to me, so it's all good.
Renault Captur 1.5 dCI is a phenomenally good little SUV. It surprises on all levels, starting with a youthful, colorful image, decent looks, an impressive set of equipment, high build quality, and continuing with a very composed, friendly, comfortable driving experience. It's French, so you can expect quirkiness, flair and ergonomics. The German-like attitude to the road performance and handling is not something you'd hope for from a non-RS Renault.
In a way, Captur reminds me of Skoda Yeti. It's a Jack o' All Trades, and it works well no matter what you throw at it. The only thing that could stop you are the car's dimensions, which might be a tight squeeze for a large family or very tall people or those in need for handsome quantities of baggage. Other than that, unless you absolutely need total performance, it can work majestically as your city car, urban car, motorway cruiser, work and holiday vehicle, a hobbyist offroader, and anything else you may think. 9.5/10. Jolly good.