Baby SUV ar­rives too late

The Re­nault Cap­tur looks great but will strug­gle against sharper ri­vals

Herald Sun - Motoring - - The Tick - CHIEF RE­PORTER

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.

No Tick.

A lethar­gic en­gine means the Cap­tur re­ally strug­gles to gett up tto speed with a load on­board

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