Baby SUV arrives too late
The Renault Captur looks great but will struggle against sharper rivals
Too little and too late.
That’s the story of the Renault Captur, the most charismatic of the new-age baby SUVs.
It’s a very good looker with a refined feel that would have done well a year ago, when the Subaru XV was the only youthful city-car opponent for small SUVs such as the Nissan Dualis (now the Qashqai) and Mitsubishi ASX.
But the delay from its original launch date and a lacklustre 900cc starter engine — as well as pricing from $22,990 — has given open space for the classy Mazda CX-3 and well-priced Honda HR-V, which have hit the mark with buyers.
Mazda delivered 814 copies of its CX-3 in March and Honda sold 1081 HR-Vs, while Renault managed just 91 Captur sales. The Nissan Qashqai is the segment leader, ahead of the larger Hyundai ix35, but the newcomers are on a charge and it’s only a question of time before the CX-3 takes class leadership. But what about the Captur? It’s closely tied to the baby Clio, both mechanically and visually, and it shares lots of parts right down to the well- shaped handles used to close the rear hatch.
It’s a car I drove and liked — a lot — at a European preview, and I’m still a fan of the shape and the comfort of the seats and the headlamps and the way it drives. It’s not huge inside, but one of the trendy new doubledecker boots with a lift-out false floor means reasonable load space and the back seats are set a little higher than the fronts to improve the view.
Equipment is what I expect for the size and price, including that essential rear-view camera, and the infotainment screen is well-sized and easy to use. A space-saver spare would normally earn a cross, but weight and space are a premium in all the small SUVs.
If that was the end of the story it could be “happily ever after”, but it’s not. The base price for the Captur is $22,990 and that means a wheezy threecylinder petrol engine and a fivespeed manual gearbox. Australia is an automatic landscape, which means you have to pay at least $25,990, although the upsell brings the benefit of an 88kW four-cylinder engine.
The starter motor only has 66kW and, even in a car weighing only 1135 kilograms,
it’s not enough. It takes all of 13 seconds to accelerate to 100km/h, which might be fine on crowded European roads but means the Captur really struggles against the Australian traffic. Even pulling safely onto an 80km/h byway is a challenge.
It’s not that I’m against small-capacity three-cylinder engines, as I’ve driven one in the classy new Peugeot 308 and really liked it.
A six-speed manual might improve things in the Captur, but there is no plan. Still, the shift is light and the fuel economy and range is good.
It’s impossible to write about the Captur without talking about safety, since it would have been only a four-star ANCAP car in 2014 because — as with the Clio — there are no rear curtain airbags. Rule changes mean it’s controversially classified as a five-star performer in 2015.
I have seen the actual NCAP side-impact crash car in Paris, complete with a baby capsule and booster in the back seat, and I’m convinced the child protection is fine without the airbags thanks to good design and high-strength steel in the body. And Renault has lots of numbers to show the risk in a side impact for a rear-seated child is tiny.
Bottom line? I’m happy to put my five-year old in the back of the Captur.
I’m less happy about recommending the Captur after driving the CX-3 and HR-V.
It looks good and the country-road ride and compliance is great, there is enough space in the boot and it’s fine for a modern family with one or two youngsters.
But I cannot get past the engine and the five-speeder, and the price.
A lethargic engine means the Captur really struggles to gett up tto speed with a load onboard