Renault's little Captur Crossover model shows the French company getting back to their imaginative best with a Clio-based design offering super-economical engines, some genuinely clever interior touches and no small dose of style. It'll appeal to supermini buyers wanting extra versatility as well as family hatchback customers in search of something more interesting and affordable. And it's the kind of car that'll certainly drive sales in this segment.
You can't fault the thinking behind the modern Crossover, a class of car that aims to blend the versatility of a people carrying MPV, the attitude of a high-riding SUV and the sharp driving dynamics of a family hatchback. It's a segment that's now divided into a couple of sectors, the larger one typified by cars like Nissan's Qashqai and Peugeot's 3008 and based on Focus-sized models. The real sales growth though, is coming from smaller-sized supermini-based Crossovers, cars that have built on the original success of Nissan's pioneering Juke and are now a hot ticket for almost every mainstream brand. Here's one of the most tempting '' Renault's Captur.
It's based on the Clio supermini and priced to sell at the affordable end of this segment. Renault might be late to this particular party but as usual, the company has taken a clever concept and refined it to better suit the needs of modern buyers. In this case, that means extra versatility and buyer personalisation along with class-leading running costs and a decently responsive driving experience. The result is good enough to make this Renault's second best seller. Let's put it to the test.
So what's it like? Set off on your first drive and if you're used to a supermini, the more commanding driving position will be welcome '' unless you're the kind of enthusiastic owner who realises that with extra ride height, you usually also get extra body roll through the bends. Renault appreciates this too, which is why the Captur features a '¿Roll Movement Intervention' system, supposed to stop the body pitching about through sharp corners.
Under the bonnet, almost all Captur owners will find 90bhp beneath their right foot '' unless they're amongst the tiny minority who've opted for the 120bhp 1.2-litre TCe petrol model that's offered only with a twin clutch 6-speed EDC automatic gearbox. Not prepared to pay the premium for that? No, I didn't think you would be, which is why we chose to try the engine that most buyers will want, the 1.5-litre dCi diesel. In a comparable Nissan Juke, this same unit puts out another 20bhp, but most buyers won't really notice the lack of those extra braked horses, given perfectly adequate performance figures here of rest to 62mph in around 13s on the way to a top speed of 106mph. On paper, that's the same kind of pace you can expect from the mainstream petrol option, the three cylinder 0.9-litre TCe 90 unit: in practice, because that TCe engine gives you over 50% less pulling power than this dCi diesel, it is as usual the black pump option that'll feel the quicker day-to-day tool.
Don't get any designs on off-roading though. There's no 4WD option and there won't be for the platform this car rides upon hasn't been designed to take it. In compensation, there's a decent 200mm of ground clearance.
'Passionate, practical and innovative'. Is that what this is? The answer depends, as usual, upon your point of view. The Captur's certainly an eye-catching thing, especially when specified in contrasting colours and finished with the exterior trim Gloss Pack around the foglights and grille.
Inside, there's a dashboard lifted almost entirely from the Clio, yet another of those apparently sculpted in the shape of an aircraft wing and designed, so Renault says, to be '¿modern, welcoming and occupant-friendly'. But this is a family car and it needs to be practical. Is it? In lots of ways yes. At the back, the stretching that's taken place on the Clio supermini platform has released enough space to make the back seat pretty much as roomy as it would be in a Focus-sized family hatch. And all variants get a pretty unique feature in this class, a sliding rear bench that moves backwards or forwards by up to 160mm (though only as one unit), enabling you to prioritise either legroom or bootspace.
Position the seats to maximise luggage space and cargo capacity rises from 377-litres to 455-litres. And you get a false boot floor that can be repositioned to suit the height of the load you need to carry and has a wipe-clean reversible flip side. Push forward the 60/40 split-folding rear seat and you'll find that it doesn't quite lie fully flat but in this position, you do get access to 1,234-litres of total fresh air.
If you're attracted by the look of this small, trendily-styled little five-door Crossover model, then you'll be pleased to learn that it's one of the most affordable cars of its kind on the market. Prices range mainly in the £13,000 to £17,000 bracket, representing a premium of between £800 and £1,100 over equivalently powered and specified versions of the five-door Clio supermini upon which Renault has based this car. The Captur range offers just two mainstream engines, both offering 90bhp, and there's a £1,400 premium to move from the 0.9-litre TCe petrol unit to the 1.5-litre dCi diesel. There's no 4WD option.
Equipment-wise, virtually all models get air conditioning and front foglights. And absolutely all of them get alloy wheels, daytime running lights, cruise control with a speed limiter, a trip computer, a height-adjustable driver's seat, power front windows and mirrors, Bluetooth '¿phone compatibility, a decent quality USB and AUX-in-compatible CD stereo with fingertip control, plus Hill Start Assist to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions. Popular options include the ''Link infotainment system with its downloadable apps. And removable, zip-fastened seat covers.
The Captur delivers a set of impressively economical running cost figures. Perhaps the most interesting powerplant option is the TCe 90 unit, a three-cylinder 899cc petrol engine that manages to return 56.5mpg on the combined cycle and emits just 115g/km. The more powerful TCe 120 EDC automatic version does pretty well too, getting 52.3mpg and 125g/km. Go diesel and you'll be looking at 76.4mpg and 95g/km from the dCi 90 engine. Unless you order it in automatic form, in which case the figures fall to 72.4mpg and 103g/km. Either way, diesel-powered Captur models offer an improvement of about 10% over the figures returned by rival Nissan Juke or Peugeot 2008 competitors.
The returns I've quoted for this car assume that you've activated the '¿ECO' mode, accessible via this button on the centre console. This delivers fuel savings of up to 10% by slightly restricting the engine's pulling power, adopting a more efficient control programme for the air conditioning and heating systems and, in the case of EDC automatic models, switching to more efficient gearchange software mapping.
I should also tell you about residual values, not traditionally a Renault strongpoint. Independent experts CAP reckon that after three years or 60,000 miles, a Captur will still be worth between 41 to 43% of what you paid for it, better even than the previous class-leader in this respect, MINI's Countryman.
Passionate and practical, the Captur is an endearing thing. Of course, there's always a danger with this class of car that in its mix of SUV, MPV and family hatch, you end up with a confection lacking the core strengths inherent in any of these three genres.
Broadly speaking, this is a trap Renault has avoided here '' provided your expectations in each of these areas aren't too great. It doesn't have 4WD, you can only just carry five people and you won't want to drive it on its door handles. None of which will bother most buyers at the smaller end of the Crossover segment one jot.
They'll love the buying personalisation '' and trendy touches like the removable seat covers and the clever apps you can download through the R-Link infotainment system. At which point, class-leading running costs and versatile features like the sliding rear bench and the double-sided boot floor will come as a welcome bonus.
True, this Captur faces increasing competition from a growing band of very talented rivals. But it's a model you must consider before buying any one of them. A cleverer Crossover. If you really want a car of this kind, then you'll really want to try it.
Basil : I'm a huge fan of Renault car's and own a Renault Megane myself. If you are in the UK and looking to buy a Renault i would recommend http://www.autotrader.co.uk/used-cars/renault and if you are looking to sell a Renault http://www.sell-my-renault.co.uk