I confess to being predisposed to review a car more negatively simply because it is a crossover, which is a segment I just do not understand. Adding height and weight to an otherwise good car – in this case, the Renault Clio – does not make any sense to me, not least because it is guaranteed to reduce its drivability. So being handed the keys to the Captur this weekend was a bit of a disappointment (‘keys’ being a figurative term – the Captur has a card that locks and unlocks the vehicle based on your proximity, and operates with a start/stop button).
I seem to hold a minority view, however, as crossovers sell by the boatload. But I suppose that if you’re in the market purely for practicality, the appeal of something like the Captur (and it’s sister car, the Nissan Juke), can make sense. Pitched as an ‘urban crossover’, you get small car underpinnings and efficiency with more usable interior space. It’s the sort of thing you would want to take kids to school and football practice and when you need to get some bigger things from IKEA, as it is a relatively comfortable and stylish way to get those tasks done.
Indeed, Renault plays up the range of customisable options in its marketing scheme, offering a large array of colour combinations, both inside and out, to increase the chance that yours will be unique to the one down the road. Clearly Enterprise, who I hired the car from, wasn’t concerned about style, however, as this one was optioned with one of the worst exterior colours I’ve ever seen on a car, and a fairly plain charcoal-coloured interior.
The cabin of the Captur is not an unpleasant place to be. Controls are well laid out, and the touchscreen infotainment unit is easy to use, though a bit laggy. Tachometer, speedometer, and fuel gauge are clear and easy to read, but could be positioned a bit better; if you’re over six feet tall, you will have a bit of trouble seeing them. Whilst the steering wheel is comfortable to hold on to and well-positioned, again, for a taller person, the gear stick feels a bit out of reach. The front seats are supportive and can be adjusted in a number of ways. For my height, however, I needed to put the seat all the way down to give myself enough headroom. Materials feel pretty good overall, and nothing rattles or sounds cheap when you’re bouncing around on bumpy roads. Kids will be comfortable in the back, although adults would be find it rather confining, especially if the front-seat passengers are tall.
Keeping with its practical focus, one of the neat features of the Captur is removable seat covers, fastened with zippers. So if your toddler decides to deposit his lunch on the back seat, simply remove the cover, wash, and refasten it. There is a good amount of space in the boot, and folding down the rear seats would provide quite a bit of extra room for those bigger purchases, just like buyers of these sorts of vehicles are looking for.
But if you care about driving, this is where the benefits of the Captur come to an end. Like most crossovers, it lacks any real feel – the steering is light and somewhat imprecise, the brakes are soft and don’t do much to inspire confidence, both clutch and gearbox feel mushy, and whilst the Captur delivers a relatively smooth ride on good surfaces, the soft suspension means you will be tossed around rather vigorously on rough roads, each bump sending you in new directions as the steering wheel jerks involuntarily in your hands. This is by all accounts one of the worst aspects of the Captur; stiffening the suspension up would go a long way in making the car more pleasant to drive.
In a successful bid to make the driving experience even less enjoyable is the Captur’s lazy and pathetically underpowered 1.5L diesel, making 90bhp and 162lb.-ft. Although it is quiet and smooth at low rpm, and delivers in the neighbourhood of 60mpg, it is simply not up to the task of moving a vehicle of this size. Low-speed, 2nd gear starts are impossible unless you’re rolling downhill, twisty A- and B-roads require constant gear changes to keep the engine in its small powerband, and on a moderate incline on the motorway at 65mph, the car simply would not accelerate in high gear. Downshifting to 4th helps a bit, but the little engine protests loudly when asked to push beyond 3000rpm. Renault offers a 1.2L 120bhp petrol engine, which would certainly be the better option, but if they have any intention of making the Captur more pleasing to drive, it would need at least 20bhp more than that.
When it’s all said and done, if you are in the market for practicality, the only reason I can think of that would entice someone to buy the Captur is its slightly quirky character. As it is, do yourself a favour and buy something like the Volkswagen Golf Estate instead, which will give you that extra practical space without sacrificing drivability.
Engine: 1.5L dCi diesel, 90bhp, 162lb.-ft.
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Mileage at pickup: 5472
Distance driven: 235 miles
Photo location: 55°40’32.4″N 1°48’02.9″W