Back in happier times, Renault made groundbreaking cars. Historians may quibble, but the company ultimately created the supermini (Renault 5), the people carrier (Espace) and then the small MPV (Scenic). How times have changed: you can’t even buy an Espace in the UK any more, since Renault trimmed its range last year.
But the company is on the up again. Design boss Laurens van den Acker has created a series of impressive and appealing concept cars over the last two years – based around the ideas of a ‘lifecycle’ flower petal. Each car was themed around life stages – starting with falling in love, moving through exploring the world, family, work, play and wisdom. And there’s a production car scheduled for each life stage, too. The new Clio is designed to help you "fall in love" - with Renault - again.
Next up comes Captur, which is pronounced “capture” - a small, B-segment (think Clio-sized) SUV. And it’s this car that’s the focus of our attention here.
The segment the Captur joins is the growth one in the industry right now. No longer leading the pack, Renault’s joining an already busy party. Nissan started it with Juke, and has since been joined on the dance floor by Mini, Vauxhall, Peugeot et al.
So what’s here that should have you running for the local Renault dealer’s number? For a start, there are the looks. Renault wants you to see this as a cross between an SUV, an MPV and a hatchback. Which sounds a bit confused to us. So let’s just say instead that it’s not going to ever be mistaken for something of Land Rover-like abilities off road, but that it’s not got the "I’ve overloaded on nappies" looks of an MPV either.
What Renault’s done is to create quite a smart car. It has taken most of the things people like about SUVs and most of the things they like about MPVs and tried to create a mix where none of the negatives bits has got into the recipe.
So you get a slightly chunky, pumped up, cladding-on-the-lower-body SUV look, in a hatchback body. The seating position is high, so it’s easy to get in and out and your view is commanding. But they’ve not even bothered with the pretence of offering four-wheel drive. No one who buys a Captur will want to go off-roading. Got some snow to deal with? Can we point you in the direction of winter tyres.
Yet inside, it’s chock full of smart ideas. Like seat covers, which zip on and off so you can wash them; a boot floor which is reversible – on one side it’s got a rubber-like material rather than carpet, so you don’t get mud on the carpet if you put wellies in there; and a sliding rear bench to make the boot bigger/give you more legroom. Then there are playful bits like the bungee-chord seat-back pockets – one of those rare occasions when an idea from the concept car has made it into production.
Apparently, no one wants to be seen dead in a MPV anymore, but given Renault’s been building the best of the breed for the past 30 years, it’s giving you the benefits of its experience in that area in this car. Just in a more fashion-orientated way. We like that.
We like the dashboard too – a sort of "urban tough" version of the Clio’s aesthetic - with nice dials and interesting plastic textures, and the tablet interface which contains a touchscreen multimedia interface.
And unlike many crossovers - which is ultimately what this car is, whatever Renault calls it - the Captur actually drives in a way which doesn’t make you want to give up. No, its steering and handling isn’t hot-hatch sharp like a Ford’s, but that approach wouldn’t really suit this car. What does is the pliancy of the ride - even when the Captur’s wearing socking great 17 or 18-inch alloys. It flows down a bumpy British road like a French car of old, lolling about a bit but ultimately isolating you from the worst of the potholes.
We drove the 1.2 turbo petrol model, with the dual clutch automatic gearbox (EDC). Which propelled the Captur along okay but felt at odds with the car’s character. Our advice would be to save your cash and go for the 0.9 turbo petrol – a tuneful little three cylinder which you’ll enjoy thrashing the nuts off. Or go the way most people seem likely to, which is Renault’s torque-rich, smooth and linear 1.5 dCi diesel.
Throw in half-way sensible pricing - the Captur starts at £12,495 - and the personalisation options afforded in the Captur’s three "collection" guises - Manhattan is monotone, Arizona is orangey and Miami is blue and white - and you’ve got an all-round capable and practical car with a good bit of the Mini/DS3 personalisation and fashion world thrown in.
It might not polarise opinion the same way the Nissan Juke or Mini Countryman do. And this isn’t the truly innovative, groundbreaking Renault of old. But if you’re in the market for a small crossover, the Captur’s more than worth a look.