Renault Captur Review 19

Not known to many here, the Renault Captur is the best selling B-segment SUV in Europe, where it competes with the likes of early bird Nissan Juke, the Peugeot 2008 and Opel’s Mokka.

Meanwhile, Asia is dominated by Asians, and the Honda HR-V is all-conquering in our part of the world. In Malaysia, it brought attention to the class without even being first to market (the 2008 and Ford’s EcoSport predate it). The HR-V will soon be joined by Mazda’s sharp-looking CX-3, and judging from pre-launch interest, it’s set to create waves.

There are smaller C-segment SUVs priced in the vicinity, too. Mitsubishi’s recently facelifted ASX now starts from just RM105k, while the Kia Sportage 2WD can be yours for RM119k (with insurance). The more desirable Mazda CX-5 starts from not much higher at RM126k. Both segments overlap in price.

Previewed in July, the Captur will be launched before 2015 ends. Three months ago, a competitive estimated price of RM118k-RM123k was quoted for this Spanish-made Renault, but the Malaysian ringgit has lost further ground since then. Here’s hoping that the Captur won’t be handicapped by something out of TC Euro Cars’ control. That will be a shame, as it’s an interesting addition to our market.

Parking the Renault Captur in the porch for the first time, I realised that the compact SUV is larger in size than expected – its girth and pronounced ground clearance stood out.

The spec sheet reads 4,122 mm long and 1,778 mm wide, which makes the Captur 60 mm longer and 46 mm wider than the Clio IV it shares Alliance B underpinnings with. The fourth-generation five-door hatchback (available here as the Clio RS 200 EDC hot hatch) is one of the largest cars in its class.

At 1,567 mm, the Captur is also a significant 119 mm taller than the Clio; height emphasised by the generous ground clearance of 200 mm. Still, my eyes are playing tricks because the petite-looking HR-V is actually 38 mm taller still. Sleight of hand from the designers, it must be.

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A compact SUV is the perfect canvas for car designers to be bold. Raised hatchbacks like the Captur fight for the same buyer as conventional ones in Europe – where the small hatchback is the default car – so there has to be enough differentiation on offer. Those who want a plain ol’ supermini are already very well catered for.

Renault seized the opportunity with both hands, creating an urban machine that only the blind won’t notice. The wide-stretched insect-like face is dominated by a large lozenge flanked by bulging eyes (in slimmer casing, unlike the Clio’s oversized headlamps). Below that, the LED daytime running lights and foglamps are fenced by a ring of chrome, and the license plate is attached to the lip, a lower than usual location.

The customary raw black plastic lower body panels are rather prominent on the Captur, accented by Renault’s signature upward curve between the wheels (also seen on the larger Kadjar crossover and the Clio, slimmer on the latter). The black portion at the rear is also relatively substantial.

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All of the above contribute to the bold styling, but the Captur won’t be so eye-catching without the dual-tone paint scheme – signature Arizona Orange and Diamond Black in our tester’s case, as per official photos. There’s also white/black, blue/white and beige/black, but this is the combo to have.

The A- and C-pillars plus rear spoiler are also painted black for the “floating roof” effect that’s now in vogue. The duel between gloss black and shiny chrome continues on the 17-inch alloys, funkily styled and the largest available for the model. Clearly, this is not merely a Clio on stilts, and the Captur is not a car to go about unnoticed. Bold, for those with a similar outlook on life, we’d imagine.

Those with the active lifestyles Renault is trying to capture (sorry, I really tried holding it back!) would have no shortage of gear and friends to ferry around, and the Captur tries hard to please.

The rather flat rear bench has a 160 mm fore/aft sliding range, which varies the boot volume from 377 to 455 litres. Pretty useful for the occasional trip to Ikea or even when you want the the kids to be nearer to you/within range.

The boot floor is removable (on for partition, off for max height) and reversible (carpeted on one side, washable hard plastic on the other), and the cargo area is nicely square with no wheel well intrusion. The rear seat backrests fold flat 60:40, of course.

For human cargo, rear passengers get decent knee room with the seats in the rearmost position (215 mm, 75 mm more than the Clio) and feet can slot in under the front seats. More apparent is the higher seating position – 100 mm loftier than the Clio for the driver – that provides a better view out for all. The Captur is spacious in the Euro hatch context but if your B-segment reference point is Asian (eg. City, Vios), it’s adequate. For ultimate space utilisation, turn to the Honda Jazz.

In terms of storage, there’s a lidded bin on the dash top, which compensates somewhat for the deep but narrow glovebox, with half its width taken up by the fuse box. Quite a stretch, though. The front door bins can hold 1.5 litre drink bottles and there’s a removable 1.6 litre open tub between the front seats in lieu of a centre console box. The latter is inserted into a (small) cupholder and isn’t the easiest to access.

Overall, there aren’t enough hidden/covered cubbies for this user. You might have also noticed from the pics above that instead of conventional map pockets, Renault employs a couple of tensioned strings for you to strap in stuff. Another case of nakedness that I’m not entirely comfortable with. Not hipster enough, I know.

Another unique feature is the removable and washable Zip Collection seat covers, which are secured like a wetsuit by a combination of zippers and velcro. Our orange test car had matching orange/black seat covers in a robust fabric for a sporty vibe. Part of Renault’s personalisation programme for the Captur, there are different designs and colours for owners to experiment with.

The centre stack, air con vents and speaker grilles can have orange rings as well, but whoever specced this unit didn’t go overboard, choosing to contrast piano black trim with chrome instead. The combo is everywhere, but Renault may have gone a step too far in lining half of the steering wheel’s face with the less than smooth, fingerprint-baiting plastic. It’s a unique touch that some might like, perhaps.

Taking a step back, the dashboard is actually unique to the Captur, even if elements like the AC controls and instrument panel are shared with the Clio. The latter’s binnacle is unique, and this car’s central air vents are like elephant ears to the touchscreen, instead of sitting below the head unit.

Perhaps the funky design is to distract one from the lack of soft dash plastics we’re accustomed to in European cars, but at least the dimpled texture is pleasant to the touch. For many, that would be less of an issue than the key card system Renault has doggedly stuck to – sticking the card in a slot before pressing a button isn’t the fastest way to get going.

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Our Captur will get a seven-inch MediaNav system with AUX, USB, Bluetooth, reverse camera and navigation. We didn’t get to try it though – this demonstrator is a Japan-spec unit which is yet to be fitted with the factory MediaNav, and what you see here is just the shell. With no music to distract, I could solely focus on the drivetrain refinement and noise levels. The result is a mixed bag.

Our Captur is powered by Renault’s TCe 120 engine, a downsized 1.2 litre four-cylinder turbo unit. With 120 hp and 190 Nm at 2,000 rpm going to the front wheels, it does the 0-100 km/h benchmark sprint in 10.9 seconds and a top speed of 192 km/h. Performance is akin to a 1.8 litre naturally aspirated engine, Renault says. An ECO mode manipulates torque, shift pattern and climate control to reduce consumption by up to 10% – we didn’t try it.

Acceleration is stronger than the figures suggest, and the Captur gets up to highway speeds with relative ease – any doubts on whether a 1.2 litre engine is enough for an SUV should be cast away. The TCe doesn’t sound anywhere near sporty though, unless you find the noise made by home appliances sexy.

Renault Captur Review 2

If the engine-gearbox duo was singing Smooth Operator, it would be out of tune. The drivetrain occasionally emits a noticeable whine in the urban crawl below 50 km/h, as if in reverse. The issue is compounded by the Efficient Dual Clutch automatic’s tendency to hold on to a gear too low, resulting in unwanted engine braking and noise. Smooth progress in start-stop conditions is hard to achieve.

The six-speed dual-clutch ‘box also suffers from apparent lag from standstill, which could prove hairy in cut and thrust urban driving. I probably wouldn’t have heard the clutches engage with the radio on, but everything else was hard to miss. Reputation aside, Volkswagen’s DSG is still the benchmark in response and wit, and the EDC falls short in this application.

Personally, I see Ford U-turning to a regular slushbox for the Focus facelift and Peugeot turning to Japan’s Aisin for autos as a good sign. Their efficiency is well-documented, but if dual-clutch transmissions can’t be made to feel “normal” enough, and work with high reliability across the globe, then a rethink is needed. Of course, some do it very well.

Things get much better with speed. The previously recalcitrant EDC is now doing smooth overlaps, and the engine’s strong mid-range comes to the fore. With the drivetrain in sync and settled, the Captur’s decent motorway refinement and good high speed stability can be enjoyed.

Speaking of high speeds, this tall Renault is surprisingly flat cornering. Body control is tight and grip levels are good. There’s a price to pay for the agility though, and ride comfort is not a Captur strong point. The firm suspension is rather unforgiving on roads scarred by endless digging and patching (such as the loop around Petaling Jaya), and is something that doesn’t quite fit the Captur’s mini SUV brief, in my humble opinion.

The Captur’s suspension and drivetrain seem to prefer the open road to the urban crawl, and that raises some questions. More than any other genre, the compact SUV was designed for the city, where the upwardly mobile desire a lofty seating position and a more robust image/size, without sacrificing a regular car’s ease of use. The ladies love it.

The Renault fulfils the above and boasts five-star Euro NCAP safety (four airbags, ESC, Hill Start Assist) and a five-year unlimited mileage factory warranty. It’s likeable and unique, and for some, that will be all they need. It doesn’t navigate the rough and tumble of Klang Valley life as slick as some though – as things stand, the Captur stands out but is not outstanding.

TC Euro Cars will launch the Renault Captur before the end of 2015. The estimated price range quoted in late-July is RM118,000 to RM123,000. Units are already in showrooms for preview.