6 Mar 2015, 14:44 UTC ·
by Mihnea Radu · photos Catalin Garmacea
OUR TEST CAR: 2015 Renault Captur 1.5 dCi 90HP EDC XMOD
Small crossovers represent the fastest growing segment of the moment. They offer most of the benefits of a supermini around town, like being maneuverable and easy to park, while their slightly bigger bodies and raised suspension give them extra curb appeal, cargo space and room to stretch your legs. We tested the 2015 Renault Captur and discovered it's well worth spending the extra cash on it over the Clio, especially if you have a family. To find out why and if it's any better than the Juke or C4 Cactus, read on.
The Captur is a brand new nameplate for Renault, who took cues from the Nissan Juke in order to target this very lucrative segment of the market. It was previewed by a very sexy orange concept with butterfly doors in 2011, after which full production commenced in 2013. Since then, this model has been almost constantly upgraded with new engines, paint options and special editions. Out test car was a loaded Captur XMOD with a 1.5-liter diesel engine, Renault's new twin-clutch EDC gearbox and a special traction control system for rough terrain.
Renault describes its baby crossover model as an "urban car" and that's because it measures a bit over 4.1 meters, making it a tad larger than the Clio, but visibly smaller than a Nissan Qashqai. On the inside, this car has enough space for four people to sit reasonably comfortably, but it's the outside that draws everybody's attention. There are already lots of Capturs on the road, but they still look classy and unique, especially in bright colors.
That is because the French have taken a long, hard look at the MINI business model and designed plenty of customization options into the Captur. You want a white roof with orange paint? It is no problem for them, and neither is having all the chrome trim in orange or stripes on the roof. The same level of customization is achieved by the interior, but we will talk about that a little later.
For now, let's just say that we are completely taken with the exterior of our XMOD, which is a sharper dresser than all its rivals. Compared to it, the Juke looks awkward and out of place, though the Nissan is widely considered ugly. The only car in this class that matches Renault in the looks department is the Citroen C4 Cactus. The buying decision will come down to personal preference, but for this editor the build quality and classic lines of the Renault make Citroen's car look like a try-hard gimmick.
The Captur should never be called a 4x4 because all-wheel drive isn't even available as an option.
Getting comfortable behind the wheel is easy and once you do, the higher driving position and tall windshield greet you. They persuade you that this really is a baby SUV, even though MPVs were originally designed with these features as well.
The interior suffers from the same build issues as the Clio 4, with which the Captur shares its parts. Even though the XMOD comes with all the bells and whistles, the quality is behind that of the new Skoda Fabia or the VW Polo facelift. However, both these companies are conspicuously missing from the urban crossover market at the moment. The most annoying problem is the trim piece for the bottom of the steering wheel – yes, you can have it in many colors and it looks good, but the edges make us wish they'd have used a simpler leather "donut". The plastic insert is not sharp to the touch, like some people say, but it's definitely unpleasant.
Another niggle we had is that the weighting of the buttons around the cabin is inconsistent. For example, the buttons for the indicator stalk feel much heavier than the ones for the radio, hidden behind the steering wheel. Another problem with the abundance of glossy plastic trim everywhere is that the constant appearance of oily fingerprints may trigger your obsessive compulsive disorder.
Like we mentioned earlier, the test car came with an EDC twin-clutch gearbox. While the technology is similar to the DSG offered by the Germans, the gear shifter lever feels badly made. The components used try to imitate metal, but they do so very badly and feel almost like plastic toys parts. The button you have to press when going from Park to Drive is flimsy as well.
But the Captur feels cheap because it really is cheap. Most of the money goes towards the powertrain and offering the maximum amount of space from such a small platform. There are lots of things we loved about the interior, like the gigantic 11-liter glovebox that looks like the bottom drawer of a refrigerator. On most models, you also have special seat covers that can be unzipped and popped into the washing machine, which is great after a muddy weekend adventure.
At 377 liters, the boot is large for this class of car, being one of the biggest advantages over a regular supermini. You can also slide (not fold) the rear bench forward and increase the capacity to 455 liters, as much as a Honda Civic or even some D-segment cars. The floor has two sides, the reverse one being rubbery for ease of cleaning.
Other things we liked about the interior include the instrument binnacle, which is very futuristic and has a big LED at the bottom that goes from green to yellow orange and red, depending on how ecologically you are driving. Why the Japanese automakers bother with green leaves and weird eco graphs… we will never understand.
Even though we tested it on many other cars, the R-Link infotainment system still manages to impress us. The navigation is fast and intuitive, the resolution is great and there are even some apps to play with. One of them allows the car to play the artificial exhaust notes though the speaker, including that of a motorcycle and various RenaultSport models. Pretending to pilot a spaceship while driving through slow traffic will make even grown men giggle.
Right, let's talk about the driving experience of the Renault Captur. The first thing you will need to know is that it doesn't feel in any way like an SUV, and trust us, we've driven all of them. Instead, the Captur is more like a mini MPV, a replacement for the Modus. In fact, it's built on the same assembly line in Valladolid, Spain, where the Modus and Grand Modus were made before being canceled in 2012.
It's a charade that has worked out really well for the French company, since the Captur was even named "2014 SUV of the Year" in Korea. We understand why marketing people want us to think it's a crossover, though. MPVs are associated with boring people that have dedicated their lives to changing diapers, while crossovers are for people who go on adventures and live life to the fullest.
There are a few areas where the Captur is let down by its Clio underpinnings. For example, it has torsion beam rear suspension, so when you go over speed bumps at about 30 km/h (19 mph), it feels like the whole rear end will come out of the car, which never happens on a Touareg or even a Koleos.
Other than that, the Captur is a decent road companion with a neutral balance between the front and the rear. The damping is great, especially at highway speeds, but the suspension can feel a little hard around town, where hitting potholes sometimes results in bumping sounds coming from that rear beam we mentioned. The front tires have a lot of grip, however, we found that understeer appears surprisingly early. Still, most drivers will never push it as hard as we did.
Depending on the model, the Captur is about 100 kilograms (220 lbs) heavier than the equivalent Clio.
That, combined with the taller body and increases suspension result in an increase in body roll. However, it's very manageable and predictable. It feels like a hatchback, not necessarily a French hatchback, but a French hatchback, a Citroen maybe.
The Captur is inherently easy to drive, from the light pedals to the simple gearbox and feathery steering wheel, everything is designed so that female customers will feel at home. We wish there was a lot less electrical assistance for the steering, since Renault's system can make town maneuvers feel imprecise but everything weights up nicely on the highway, after you go past about 90 km/h (55 mph).
There are four different engines available on the Captur in 2015. The cheapest one is the 0.9-liter 3-cylinder turbo that made its debut with the Clio 4. It produces 90 hp and 135 Nm of torque (100 lb-ft). The other petrol engine is a 1.2-liter TCe turbo that is only available with the EDC automatic, making a respectable 120 hp and 190 Nm of torque (140 lb-ft). Two 1.5-liter dCi diesels complete the range, the 90 hp version we tested and a 110 hp model that is being launched this spring.
Even though the 120 hp turbo model shares its powertrain with the Clio GT warm hatch, performance is best described as a steady surge and going from 0 to 100 km/h takes 10.9 seconds. You also pay the price when it comes to fuel consumption. That and the fact that the 0.9 TCe feels underpowered even on the Clio is why we'd definitely suggest buying the base 1.5-liter turbodiesel with 90 hp, like the one we had on our tester. Renault has been making it for a really long time, over a decade in fact, which means the chances of something going wrong are much smaller than with the fresh units. The turbocharger is very small, so there's very little lag, but in Eco mode, it can feel dead in your hands.
Captur is the second Renault model available with an EDC twin-clutch gearbox, after the Clio. The unit has six forward gears and two concentric but separate clutches, one for the odd cogs and the other for the even ones. So while you drive, the next speed you need is ready to go. There are no paddles behind the steering wheel, but you don't really need them because the shifts in auto mode are good. One niggle we had is that you don't know which gear you're in unless you put it in manual model. Just like the basic DSG on the VW Polo, the upshifts are seamless, but there can be some juddering off the line if the acceleration pedal is pressed too early. Downshifts are more noticeable, especially if the car is under hard breaking, in which case changes can be a bit violent.
Compared to a normal automatic, the advantages are huge. A few years ago, Renault used a 4-speed with torque converter in small cars like this and compared to that, the EDC is up to 17% more efficient. You should not confuse this for a racing car, as dry-clutch setups like this can develop reliability problems if you depress the brakes and accelerate at the same time or generally abuse it.
The fuel consumption of the 1.5 dCi engine was the biggest surprise of our review. Some of the cars we tested recently drank twice as much fuel as officially claimed, but the pocket-sized diesel almost matched its manufacture claims. Around town, we got 5.5 l/100km without even trying too hard. It's also a very pleasant motorway companion, ticking away comfortably at a little over 2,000rpm while cruising at 110 km/h. In this case, the fuel consumption indicated is 5 l/100km. We honestly believe that a 7th speed, like the one offered by the German DSG, would have worked well on the motorway.
The French transmission also needs a Sport mode to better suit the power of the 1.2-liter turbo. In the urban environment where you want to take advantage of every gap, you need to be on the power, yet the car constantly engages taller gears for the sake of economy, dulling the whole experience.
The XMOD package on our Captur essentially brings a different paint color, some minor cosmetic changes and an all-new Extended Grip traction control system with two extra settings. In “Expert” mode, the car manages the braking system, while leaving the driver in full control of the engine torque. The “Loose Ground” mode optimizes braking control and engine torque control as a function of available grip. Do not expect any miracles though.
With only two driving wheels, you are unlikely to grip ice or climb a mountain with the agility of a snow leopard.
While the Captur gets a 5-star Euro NCAP rating, some features like a passenger knee airbag are missing, as is the case with the Clio 4. The tests were also carried out in 2013, when cars were subjected to less severe impact tests than in 2015. Still, we must stop short of calling the Renault crossover unsafe, especially compared to Dacia models which usually have 3 stars and the C4 Cactus, which received only four stars.
Renault offers Electronic Stability Control as a standard feature and our car was even equipped with an optional speed limiter. However, the Captur is not available with Automatic Emergency Braking or Lane Assist, something even a Ford Fiesta or Skoda Fabia has. The small crossover has also been designed with young moms in mind, so Isofix is available both in the front seat and at the back, while getting a baby seat through those wide-opening doors should be easy.
Renault Captur prices range from €15,390 for the base Expression model with a 90-hp 3-cylinder engine and can go as high as €24,000 if all the boxes are ticked and you opt for the diesel with a twin-clutch automatic. Ours came in at €19,850, but we'd avoid the XMOD package and save €700.
By now, you understand that several niggling flaws are hidden under the curvaceous body of the Captur, mainly due to the Clio underpinnings. However, if you view the Captur as the jacked up MPV that it actually is, all is forgiven. The benefits in terms of cargo space, ride comfort and curb appeal make this SUV-pretender a far more attractive ownership proposition than an average supermini.