Renault Captur – High riding fun wagon

Renault Captur has finally arrived in Australia. On sale in its home market since May 2013, you might say the Captur is fashionably late to the local market – though it certainly won’t be the last to arrive, with at least two more competitors expected before the middle of the year.

Already it has racked up impressive sales in Europe – approaching 200,000 units – but its arrival has not been without some controversy. New European NCAP crash testing rules and the Captur’s absence of curtain airbags have cast some shadows over the car’s introduction, but to dismiss Captur from your shortlist on this account would be foolhardy. Make no mistake, the new Renault compact SUV brings with it unexpected practicality and impressive value.

In terms of its physical size, the front-drive only Captur sits at the bottom end of the Small SUV segment locally, competing with such rivals as the Ford EcoSport, Holden Trax and Peugeot 2008. Renault says its latest high-riding hero combines all the best bits of an SUV with the practicality of a people-mover and the footprint of a hatch, and considering it shares its underpinnings with the Light segment Clio, it’s that last point that is arguably most pertinent.

What Renault has done to maximise the available space of the Clio platform with the Captur is most impressive. Sure the mechanical package is largely unchanged with engine and transmission choices, and suspension, steering and braking components, all common to the Australian-spec hatch. But the rear seat room and cargo area is remarkably generous, and when viewed against its nearest competitors appear gigantic.

Sat behind a 180cm-tall adult, I found rear seat head, leg, knee and toe space to be more than adequate and the high-set bench also provides a good view out of the windows. The bench is, however, just that, and is quite formless and rather firm. Meantime, the Captur’s stiffer suspension set-up does little to foster a comfortable ride.

But this is one small downside in a long, l-o-n-g list of upsides.

Not only is the Captur spacious inside the cabin – easily accommodating four adults – it’s also very practical. The cargo bay offers a split-level floor which is not only double-sided (the removable panel is carpeted on one side and vinyl on the other), but can be set at a 45-degree angle to save your shopping from self-destruction on its trip home.

The rear bench can slide longitudinally through 160mm which, in conjunction with lowering the cargo floor, expands cargo space from 377 to 455 litres. On top of that, the rear seat splits 60:40 and the parcel shelf, of course, is removable. All up, Renault says the Captur delivers up to 1235 litres of cargo space, which places it in the enviable position of being up there with next-segment (larger) SUVs like the Mazda CX-5 and Nissan QASHQAI.

Equipment levels are equally generous with even the base model Captur Expression (from $22,990 plus ORCs) offering more standard kit than even some of its high-grade rivals. Headlining the list are cruise control, sat-nav, auto headlights and wipers. You can also expect 16-inch alloys, idle stop-start, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and push-button start, LED daytime running lights, single-zone climate control and front and rear foglights as standard.

The base audio system includes Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, AM/FM tuner and MP3/AUX/USB connectivity, all accessed via a full-colour 7.0-inch tablet-style touchscreen.

The up-spec Captur Dynamique adds a static cornering function to the foglights, washable and removable seat covers, two-tone paintwork, chrome trim garnishes, additional window tinting and 17-inch alloy wheels. It also features Renault’s premium R-Link audio system with Arkamys 3D sound at no extra cost.

A long list of personalisation options is also available.

abin storage is also admirable with seatback straps to hold tablets, maps and folders, door bins for loose items and bottles, a trio of cupholders in the centre console and a removable bin between the rear footwells. The slide-out drawer that replaces the glovebox on left-hand drive models is not available in Australia, with right-hand drive models scoring a regular ‘lidded’ glove compartment.

The pragmatic interior is also rather quiet compared to segment rivals, and though some additional road noise is transferred on 17-inch wheeled variants, is otherwise disturbed only by a slight amount of wind rustle off the wing mirrors.

This makes the experience at the wheel rather pleasant, as does the good driving position ergonomics and clear sight lines, excepting the upswept rear quarters (fortunately the standard rear-view camera eliminates any blind-spots when reversing).

Depending on variant, the Captur is offered with a choice of drivetrains, including a 0.9-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol in base model Expression and 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol optionally in Expression and standard on Dynamique.

The smaller TCe90 (90hp) engine provides 66kW and 135Nm and is available only with a five-speed manual transmission. It returns 4.9L/100km on the ADR Combined cycle and expels 113g/km of CO2. While the larger TCe120 makes 88kW and 190Nm and is available exclusively with a six-speed Getrag-sourced dual-clutch transmission, which adds $3000 to the base model’s price.

The latter engine and transmission combination is also offered exclusively in the high-grade Captur Dynamique, which tops the range at $27,990 (plus on-road costs).

Renault says the figures are enough to provide the TCe90 with a 0-100km/h time of 13.0sec en route to a v-max of 171km/h. The TCe120 will hit triple figures in 10.9sec and max-out at 192km/h.

The Captur tips the scale between 1134-1215kg, depending on grade, and can tow up to 900kg (braked), should you be so inclined.

Both grades of Captur are of front-wheel drive configuration with a strut (front) and torsion beam (rear) suspension arrangement. Both trim grades are halted by disc (front) /drum (rear) brakes, a combination common in this vehicle segment.

The set-up endows the Captur with tenacious levels of road-holding, though the ride may prove too stiff for some.

On the plus side, the lack of pitch and roll provides the Captur with exemplary cornering grip, and in combination with appropriately weighted and accurate steering, adds a lot of confidence to the drive. The braking performance is adequate, but not outstanding, though the pedal weight and feel, much like the steering, cooperates well with driver input.

We also found the manual model’s shift a little notchy and the throw a little long. The good clutch feel helps, but it’s not the sort of car where gear changes can be rushed.

This is a little bit of an issue when trying to maintain pace, with maximum power delivered (and best maximised) through a rather narrow rev band. Keeping the Captur here, and accessing this ‘band’ for overtaking, is an exercise in concentration if you’re trying to keep ahead of traffic, and also eats into fuel economy (we averaged 8.6L/100km on test).

If you’re content to plod along at the back of the pack, however, the three-cylinder engine’s thrum is a great companion with which to enjoy the passing scenery.

It’s obvious, then, that the four-cylinder variants are the pick of the bunch. The pace of the engine, and its delivery via the six-speed dual-clutch transmission, are more in keeping with the orientation of the car; and are likewise better suited to open-road driving.

The TCe120 engine feels at home both in and out of the city whereas the TCe90 is a better metropolitan companion. Sure, the ‘auto’ can be a little slow from the get-go, but once on the move is quite enthusiastic, managing winding roads and inclines capably.

The Captur’s 45-litre tank should cost just over $40 to fill, based on present petrol prices, and with the average fuel economy of both models on test close to 8.6L/100km, we reckon you should be able to comfortably travel more than 500km between fills.

As an agile and tenacious mover with enough space for young families to make the most of – not to mention that five-year warranty and roadside assist, decent capped-price servicing program and strong equipment list – the Captur seems to have been worth the wait.