IAIN ROBERTSON 

To a world besotted by SUV, writes Iain Robertson, Renault’s evergreen little Captur in its most recent revised form, seems to have captivated the zeitgeist, proving that ‘crossover’ is more ‘nouveau familiale’ than go-anywhere-great.

Transition is one of the most popular throwaway words of the moment. It applies to our political status. It has relevance to our economy. It appears that social structures, for what they are, with their insouciant tell-tale influences and relative uncertainties, are also in that period of flux epitomised by the word ‘transition’.

Like few other periods in modern history, as we attempt to discover boundaries, or limits, we appear to have very few, real defining moments at present. Those of us old enough to recall will remember the development of the modern music scene, from the jazz and skiffle of the 1950s, through the radical Stones’ and Beatles’ era, 1967’s ‘Summer of Love’, punk rock and subsequent new romanticism. They were marker-points.

For the past 35 years, we have actually had very few scribbles in the sand, a factor that is bound to lead to both insurrection and a lack of direction. Take the motorcar scene, for example. Kickstarted by cars like the Toyota RAV4 in the mid-1990s, nobody would have put money on the lengthy transition of that initial niche, into the SUV frenzy that exists today. It has even subsumed the MPV sector and is causing major carmakers enormous pain, as they attempt to revise their model line-ups to accommodate a fashionable fuss. While I hate to admit it, because I cannot fully comprehend its popularity, or unceasing consumer demand, we are in the height of the SUV era and I am not comfortable with it.

Renault is a proud Gallic brand possessing innumerable friendly ties with the UK new car market, aspects that link back to its ‘doctor’s cars’ of the 1950s to 1970s. If you were unaware, Renault was the make of choice of the nation’s medical professionals. The company endured a tempestuous ride until the arrival of the current Clio outline but, when the first generation Captur arrived, a Clio-on-stilts, it felt as though all its troubles were over.

Captur heralded a fresh design direction for the company in 2013 and, fortunately, Renault has not squandered the opportunity, as the influences introduced by it have been scaled-up across every other model in its line-up. The only reason that Clio remains in the range is because, as Renault’s Fiesta, it still sells in decent enough quantities not to warrant its disposal.

From a purely personal standpoint, as much as I admire the Clio, it is cramped for a two-metres tall driver, something that the Captur addresses to perfection by providing copious amounts of cabin space, within a frame that is only marginally greater than that of its progenitor. As such, if the Clio can be described as a near-ideal student’s car, Captur is what the rest of the family can live with.

One of its core benefits is its relative simplicity. It avoids complexity in both design and interior accoutrements. Externally, it is as clean as a whistle; stylish, without being ‘in yer face’, classless, timeless and effortlessly French, which I applaud. To achieve those strengths, which is what they are, in such a graceful manner, is the sign of assuredly great design.

Internally, the theme continues. Okay, the instrument panel is perhaps a little fussy but the lack of extraneous switchgear is extremely satisfying, even though, by comparison with some of its rivals, you can feel as though something might be missing…it is not the case but the relative calm in the cockpit harks back to the days before autonomy became a transitional automotive word.

The centre stack is about as elementary as they get…heating and ventilation controls, with a multi-functional touch-screen located above it. While the ‘stop-start’ button is placed incongruously below it, when it might be better located adjacent to the right-hand dashboard air-vent, it is the only ‘sin’ of afterthought that I can spot within the cabin. Storage is also well-considered, with useful little slots, bins and pockets and even a lidded compartment atop the dashboard moulding.

Improvements in tactility have not gone unnoticed and most of the immediate touch-points are either in soft, or textured, plastics, or, in the case of the gearknob, handbrake lever and steering wheel-rim, clad in good quality leather. Entry to the cabin is facilitated by four wide-opening doors and no need for me to practice my Swiss Army Knife body-folding tactics. It is most accommodating and, clad in two-tone patterned cloth, the seats are supportive, multi-adjustable and comfortable fore and aft.

Cracking open the hatchback rear door reveals a practical false-floor that is level with the rear bumper height and allows loads to be slid easily across its carpeted lift-out cover, beneath which is more useful and secure oddments space, perfect for concealing the camera and other personal possessions that prying eyes should never see. Mind you, the darker tint ‘security’ glazing to the rear of the car also serves purpose in that respect.

Powering the Captur, in this model, is the 898cc, three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that is a mainstay for the brand. Despite its small capacity, it punches somewhat above its weight, delivering a healthy 90bhp and 104lbs ft of torque in the right numerical balance to ensure surprisingly relaxed motoring. Fortunately, the Captur is not a heavyweight, which means, allied to a deliciously slippery profile, that it can reach almost 110mph (indicated) and despatch the 0-60mph benchmark in a modest 12.9 seconds. It is not the fastest kid on the block and loading-up with family, or friends, can make its responses verge on lethargy but, as a practical family runabout, while not exactly without peers, it serves purpose.

There is a slight downside, which might lead you to ordering a Captur powered by the 120bhp four-cylinder 1.2TCe unit instead (there are both 90 and 110bhp diesels, if you feel so parsimoniously inclined), as it might be more realistically economical than the smaller engine in regular use, even though its 50.4mpg on the Official Combined fuel cycle is 10% worse than that of the three-pot unit. The issues arise from a need to push the smaller engine much harder to achieve its maximum performance. Loading up the car accentuates it. The bigger unit obviates that need and it is only slightly ‘grubbier’ (127g/km CO2) than the test car’s 114g/km, which means that the first year’s road tax rate is still £160 (£140 annually thereafter). If being used for business, its BIK rate is 21%.

Mated to a five-speed manual transmission, the shift quality of which is slick, you might feel inclined to depress the ‘ECO’ button located behind the gearlever. In some respects, I can perceive the frugality elements intended but the car’s driveability is hindered by the electronic retardation of the engine’s timing and the stifling effect it transfers to the car’s throttle responses. Mind you, as the default alternative does have a tendency towards ‘advanced’ urgency, there is no happy balance. Yet, it is that electronic enhancement of the drive-by-wire throttle that makes the Captur feel eager and willing.

Before I venture into the on-road capabilities of the Captur, I want to tackle the thorny subject of list pricing. When you factor in the glistening red paint finish (+£650), the premium pack that adds aluminium-clad foot-pedals, an electrochromatic rear-view mirror and sunglasses storage slot (+£100), the spacesaver spare wheel (+£110), a black tinted, panoramic glazed roof (+£400) and a whopping £1,200 for the optional BOSE Premium stereo system that incorporates enhanced Tom-Tom sat-nav, parking sensors, rear-view camera, side rubbing-strips, self-parking facility and blind-spot warning as aspects of the Techno Pack, the price is hiked from a costly £18,455 to a heftier £20,915, which I feel is a lot of money for a car in this class. Yet, no pricing strategies can be called ‘fair’ these days, when manufacturers operate under near-cartel parameters.

The car’s standard specification is generous and includes, in Dynamique S trim, the attractive 17-inch diameter alloy wheels, auto-folding door mirrors, LED headlamps and front foglamps that feature a cornering function and cruise control. A more regular sat-nav system is still standard.

Stretching the rear wheels out to the back of the car is what gifts the Captur its excellent cabin space but it also implies greater straight-line stability, while a moderately wide footprint aids cornering accuracy and agility. The steering’s turn-in quality is excellent, the car responding instantly but not suddenly to driver reactions. Grip levels are superb. The car’s stance is helped by mid-weight dampers that absorb bumps well (another benefit of the longer wheelbase) and enable a loping and relaxed gait to its progress. As mentioned earlier, the throttle response is initially unsettling, although familiarity plays its part. Overall, the Captur’s handling potential is safe and sound. It is possible to play with the car on twisty back-doubles, although it does feel happier on open main roads.

Conclusion:   In many respects, the Renault Captur is proof that a carmaker, working within carefully prescribed parameters, can produce a car that is so straightforward it makes its rivals both look and feel over-wrought. I would venture to suggest that Renault epitomises normalcy to perfection with the Captur. Not everybody wants to confront a raft of confusing buttons in their cars. The sheer functionality of the Captur is what makes its market sensitivity so right. It is a cost-effective machine to live with and has a wealth of fans that Renault dares not upset.

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).