2019 Renault Captur- The French CUV Connection

Maybe it’s my simpleton taste buds, but I’ve never appreciated French cuisine.  Bouillabaisse, moules mariníères, and escargot may please the most demanding pallets, but are much too complicated, and let’s face it, strange, for my asinine taste buds.  The amount of work and presentation that goes into preparing these dishes is admired, but the flavours go by the wayside.  Nope, give me an unappreciated crepe or chocolate mousse any day.  Much like their delicacies, French cars have had a similar destiny.  For decades, their cars have always been perplexing, intricate, and once again, strange.  Some are so bizarre, like the infamous Citroen 2CV (that in itself is a symbol of France) or super futuristic Renault Avantime van, that the only word to describe them is “waouh!”  But the car, highlighted in this article, is the approachable Nutella crepe on the French menu; the Renault Captur.

If you’ve never heard of the Renault Captur, don’t feel bad.  Neither had I.  Well, not until I was handed the keys to one by the Hertz rep in Glasgow and even then still didn’t know if I had heard of it.  The Scots have a way with English language linguistics, and he had to repeat himself several times, in a thick accent, that the car outside was a “Kaaaptor”.  Let’s just say, once I stepped outside with the sly, flat key that was reminiscent of a 1990’s floppy desk, I had no idea what to scan for in the lot.

What we have here is something uniquely French, but mainstream enough to appeal to the masses across Europe and beyond.  True to its name, the Captur has captured the compact CUV segment since its introduction in 2013.  It’s the best-selling Renault in the UK, and the most popular small crossover in Europe.  Cute-utes haven’t yet gained the cult-like following in Europe that they have in North America and Australia, but they’re quickly gathering steam.  Based on the subcompact Clio, and sharing its platform with the former Nissan Juke, this is a true lovechild from the Nissan-Renault alliance. The Captur, like the aforementioned Nutella crepe, is a simple idea that is straightforward, not gimmicky, yet still exclaims “I’m from France!”.

For visual purposes, at 162.3 inches in length, 61.7 inches in height, and with a 102.6 inch wheelbase, the Captur is almost dimensionally identical to a second generation Kia Soul.  It’s footprint is slightly larger than its paternal donor, the Clio. 

But to differentiate itself from that dainty parent, the Captur appears ready to tackle any terrain with chunky body cladding, a front Renault badge that’s the size of a dinner plate, and muscular 17” alloy wheels complete with black, brawny insets.  Despite having the upright, dorky dimensions of many other generic small four-door crossovers, Renault went to great pains to differentiate this car.  All Capturs boast contrasting roof and mirrors. Ours exhibited the attractive and eye-catching desert orange paint with diamond black roof and mirror combination that is proudly the default choice in all of Renault’s marketing.  The blacked out roof creates the illusion of a giant sunroof (before you ask, our car didn’t have one).  It also extends down all of the roof pillars, blending in with the tinted glass and pushing the latest “floating roof” styling trick.  Large C-shaped LED front lamps and touches of chrome along the side cladding and Renault signature grille create an upscale flair.  The curvature of the flared, pronounced wheelarches form the bulbous shape of the headlights and taillights.  Tidy overhangs add a purposeful demeanor.  There’s a lot of conflicting design language on such a small car, but it somehow comes together to create an attractive style that isn’t too busy or gaudy.  From some angles, it’s downright cute!

The interior presentation is more mainstream.  Unlike a modern Citroen, the overall design wouldn’t be out of place in anything wearing a Japanese or Korean badge. In other words, it’s purposeful, familiar, attractive, but on the dull side. The Captur went through a midlife refresh in 2017, and apparently interior materials improved. Despite that, the dash surfaces still felt hard to the touch and the graining was etched by 200-bit sandpaper. The glossy piano black finish around the centre pod did look more opulent and broke the monotony. Speaking of black; aside from the swanky two-toned seats and the headliner, everything inside (the doors, the dash, the carpets) was as dark as Gotham City. Luckily, the extensive glass area helped add an airy feeling. Despite the emo vibe, what was assembled inside seemed robust and solid.

In front of the driver is a nicely sculpted three-spoke steering wheel with meaty grips. The leather-wrapped rim is artfully stitched and the wheel felt sporting in hand. The instrument pod with a centre digital speedometer flanked by a pair of analog gauges for the tachometer and fuel gauge is a love-it-or-hate-it touch. Personally, I love it and it reminds me of the first generation Chevrolet Sonic’s (which I own) motorcycle-inspired pod. It’s funky, and doesn’t forsake readability while driving. Many manufacturers try to reinvent the wheel, or instrument cluster, at the expense of ergonomics (….ahem….Mini). But I found the Captur’s unique instruments easy to read at glance without being cheesy. It just may not be to everyone’s taste.

Other primary controls make sense for the most part. The multimedia touchscreen had crisp graphics and was responsive. Programing the radio and personal settings was intuitive. A physical power button and volume button (not knob) like the Ford radios of the 90’s helped avoid any fussiness for simple adjustments. Browsing through the radio menus on the screen was straightforward enough. We did find that the navigation system was finnicky when trying to adjust the view. Zooming out the map, even slightly, eliminated almost any detail and the system hated having the map readjusted to a different location. Like an irritated cat being forced to do….well….anything, the map would stubbornly ignore any finger swiping and then would grudgingly oblige to change the view after a few attempts. It made driving while pinpointing a new destination almost impossible. The visuals were clear, logical, and the verbal instructions had an incredible choice of languages and accents. One other snaffu is that the USB cable is above the screen. Any phone charging or connecting would result in a cable swinging in front of the radio’s interface.

Ventilation controls were mounted low and the air flow buttons were squished together. The primary operations that are used, temperature and fan speed, were graciously two knobs; one strangely much larger than the other. Within the console was a small storage area and a thin slot that houses the “floppy disk” key fob.

This being a French car, there’s no escaping some ergonomic madness. Some comical. Others maddening for the uninitiated. It took me 50 miles of motorway driving and a YouTube video to locate the cruise control switch; typically on the steering wheel or dash of most cars. Nope, the Captur’s cruise control switch is located in the console between the front seats. Why? Because French. Not that I’m bitter. It only took an entire afternoon of pondering where it could be. The switch also activates a speed limiter; an interesting feature that acts as a speed governor that can be set as low as 20mph. Not a bad idea with Europe’s strict road rule enforcement.

The driver info screen on most cars, with helpful info like mpg and distance to empty, is usually toggled and reset by a steering wheel button or a knob protruding from the adjacent gauges. Nope, Renault decided that a button at the tip of the windscreen wiper stalk made more sense. Even the Hertz lot attendant couldn’t find it, and I stumbled across the switch by accident while just pressing random buttons and asking myself “what does this do?” followed by a satisfied “Ahhh!!!!”. Speaking of windscreen wipers, the conversion to right-hand-drive for the United Kingdom didn’t translate to the steering wheel stalks and they remain in the same rightful place as they would in France, causing some disorientation while activating the blinkers. The inside bonnet release was also on the passenger side. Cost-cutting, perhaps? Laziness? Renault’s way of sticking it to England? We may never know……. Either way, overcoming these odd control placements was a one-time task and Captur owners would adjust. They became second nature after a few days.

The Captur’s feature content must’ve been a battle of visionaries versus bean counters. Good versus evil. Although built upon economy car bones, the Captur boasts such upscale, thoughtful features as automatic wipers and headlights, gas-strut bonnet supports, push-button start, and that navigation system. But it lacks some simple gear including a centre armrest and rear seat pockets. It’d be easy to assume that, with the prominent multimedia screen, the Captur would have a reverse camera. But nope. Ours had the optional backup sensors, and a camera is only available on the highest trims.

Driver and front passenger comfort was excellent. The seats are nicely contoured and proved to be supportive on long drives. There were no complaints of pains and aches after multiple days on the road. The sole gripe was the seatback adjuster that was a twist knob on the sides of each seat, in the traditional European placement. It’s an awkward reach behind and to the side, and the turning the knob requires enough effort to create sore wrists. The amount of front space is reminiscent of a minivan, with loads of headroom and generous legroom to stretch out. The view from the driver’s seat was also vanlike, with a seating position that was in-between a regular car and SUV accompanied by an expansive glass area. The thick A-pillars did have a habit of blocking cars, especially when approaching a roundabout, but otherwise, the Captur was easy to see out of. Getting in and out of the front was a cinch thanks to the elevated step-in height and wide opening doors. Given that it’s so easy to slide in, it’s obvious why these are so popular with pensioners across the globe. Once settled, the driver has a plethora of adjustments for the steering column and height adjustable seat.

Although the Captur claims to be an SUV, there’s no escaping its diminutive footprint in the back seat. Legroom is tight in a subcompact sense, and the front seatbacks are hard plastic with no give for knees. Some negotiating would be required with front passengers to scoot forward. Surprisingly, the headliner also dips down into airspace that taller heads encompass. The seats are cloaked in the same durable, attractive two-tone fabric as the front. Entering and exit can be tricky due to the narrow door openings that won’t accept large feet . Two full size adults can ride in the back of a Captur, but won’t be happy on longer trips. Three would be unhappy before leaving the driveway.

Where the Captur shines is cargo flexibility. With the seats in their upright position, there’s 14.9 cubic feet of volume. Those numbers are paltry compared to the competition but don’t tell the whole story. The trunk itself is squared off and has a purposeful shape that’ll easily gobble a suitcase and several large bags. The rear seats also have a nifty trick and, utilizing an industrial-grade handle, can roll forward on a track by about six inches. The eliminates any legroom in the back seat, but adds an additional 4 cubic feet. Or the rear seats can fold in the traditional manner 60/40 split, revealing a more impressive total of 43.6 cubic feet. The seats do fold completely flush with the cargo floor and loading is easy thanks to a wide opening and minimal liftover. That cargo floor can also be removed, revealing additional space, or double as a cover for the secret compartment below. Underneath that compartment is a wheelwell for the spare tyre, but it’s optional. Our Captur only came with the reticent inflator kit.

On the road is when the Captur reveals its savory French flavours. To suit any taste, there’s three petrol engines to choose from, ranging from a tiny 3-cylinder 0.9 litre unit up to a 1.3 litre quad-cylinder on the top-of-the-line GT line. None of these exude excitement, so we were fortunate to inherit the sole diesel version; a turbo-charged 1.5 litre four cylinder. Diesels are a forbidden fruit in the U.S. and the VW scandal, that was covered in my Jetta Sportwagen review, didn’t help matters. So it was exciting to test out this oh-so-European version of the Captur. Unlike the diesel engines of yore, this particular unit operates smoothly and hums quietly at idle. The 1.5 diesel (codenamed K9K) in the Captur has been used in a variety of Renault and Nissan models across the globe, and even in the Mercedes A and B Class. Like most modern diesels, the horsepower ratings aren’t impressive, radiating 90 thoroughbreds, or less than a Chevy Spark. But, as was the case with the Jetta, the torque is impressive with a rating of 183lb feet of it, more than a top-spec turbo Hyundai Sonata.

All these numbers translate to perky performance around town and the powertrain rarely felt strained doing monotonous daily tasks at lower speeds. From a stoplight, the Captur takes off with some authority and power delivery is smooth. Engine noise remains hushed under acceleration. It’s perfectly sufficient and refined in the urban environment that the Captur is intended for. Even on leisurely two-lane country roads, the engine comes across as refined. But take it out on the motorway and the Captur suddenly feels out-of-its realm. There’s no replacement for displacement, and the little diesel can only do so much with 1,461cc’s. Freeway acceleration is leisurely and official numbers clock the Captur diesel getting to 60mph in about 13.1 seconds, or about two seconds slower than the econobox Versa I tested a few months ago. It’s believable and the little Renault would be simply outclassed on American highways. Slight uphill grades are noticeable and the Captur’s little engine requires a downshift and some momentum to keep up with traffic. It wasn’t dangerously slow, but did require some planning and the Renault is much happier in the city.

Linked to our diesel was a five-speed manual transmission. The shifter had long throws, but it was precise and merrily slotted into each gear. The ratios were nicely spaced and made the most of the Captur’s power band. The clutch proved to be among the most merciful I’d ever driven. Although the pedal’s resistance was heavier than most economy cars, the catch point was obvious and was almost impossible to stall from a standstill. After a few days of driving, I began to believe the Captur couldn’t stall and had a built-in safeguard. After testing that theory and purposely stalling, it would require a novice and popping the clutch with no finesse to do so. This is an excellent car to learn to drive manual in and is extremely forgiving.

The Captur does come equipped with auto stop-start. It’s always a love/hate relationship with these systems and the Captur’s highlights why. The vast majority of the time, it was seamless and would activate as soon as the clutch pedal was pressed at a standstill. But on the odd occasion, it was “asleep at the wheel”. The system would not restart the car when the light turned green with the clutch engaged. It would take a few critical seconds to wake up and boot up the engine. The situation was amplified and became scary on steep hills when the car would begin to roll backwards before the engine arose from its slumber. Luckily, the AutoStart, which I nicknamed “Sleepy Joe”, can be overridden.

The Captur lived up to its European roots with its overall refinement and finesse on the road. The ride control was on the firm side, but the front MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam setup did an admirable job of soaking up road imperfections. It was perfectly calibrated without feeling overly soft or harsh on the kidneys. Engine noise was suppressed except under harsh acceleration, and Renault has done a fantastic job at keeping wind and road noise from breaching the cabin.

Steering was nicely weighted too. There was plenty of communication as to what the front wheels were doing and the Captur proved to be maneuverable in the tight quarters of British cities. Parking was a breeze with the tidy 34.2 foot turning circle and the steering effort was nicely weighted in all driving situations. The Captur had some handling prowess that belied its CUV tag. The car felt predictable and safe around the corners when driven at a normal pace. There was no sense of tipsiness that often defines a taller car. But the Captur didn’t beg for more either. When pushed around the corner, the Renault had no little body lean yet didn’t have the eagerness of many small European cars to go faster. It always seemed surprised at enthusiastic driving, and despite always getting safely through the corners, never felt rewarding. But to be fair, the same can be said for most of its competitors. It’s a reminder that the Captur’s main purpose is to be an urban runabout and it does that job perfectly.

Over the course of 1,100 miles, we recorded an average of 57 mpg (Imperial), or about 47mpg US. That was with a mix of freeway, city, and hilly driving. Not bad at all, given the Captur’s taller stance. The diesel itself has been proven to be relatively clean, emitting 90 grams of carbon for every kilometer (less than half the average car). Like my mother-in-law back seat driver, the Captur was unshakable with critiquing in my driving. Unlike her, it came back with an interactive Eco Score that rated the efficiency of my driving style. I scored only 70/100 as the Captur didn’t appreciate how long I held onto lower gears. Your results may vary depending on how you drive, and your mother-in-law.

Our tester had about 8,000 miles at the time, and despite the shaky reputation of Renaults, felt solid and robust. All of the notorious electronics worked despite the quirkiness and the mechanicals operated without complaint. Nothing was loose and broke off. There was a rattle near the passenger side B-pillar that made an occasional appearance, albeit less frequently than “Sleepy Joe”. Overall, the Captur came across as a quality product.

Price for the Captur start at £15,730 (USD$20,222) for the base Play trim. That model still comes with the rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights, air conditioning, keyless entry, power windows, satellite radio, and foglights. The 0.9 litre three-cylinder is also part of the package. Our Iconic trim was the next step up, and starts at £16,930 (USD$21,765). The Iconic adds such niceties as Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, Navigation, rear parking sensors, automatic climate control, and a cargo cover, but still comes with the three-cylinder. Adding the diesel increased the price by £1,560 and the Desert Orange/Black Pearl paint combo was an additional £660 for a total of £19,150 (USD$24,619). At that price, and like many compact CUV’s, the Captur loses some value once the options are added. Many small CUV’s stateside, such as the Ford Ecosport, Chevrolet Trax, Mazda CX-3, and Hyundai Kona, face the same dilemma.

Is there room for the Captur in the U.S.? In two words; no way! It has the right recipe for success today; a small, urban friendly, and stylish crossover with personality. But in its current form, and particularly with the diesel/manual transmission combination, it’s just too French for American tastes. Like a simple dessert, it’s likeable and satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was sad to hand back the funky, flat key after a week of life in the Captur. But I’m an oddball, and to be sold Stateside to the masses, the Frenchness would have to be toned down and the power beefed up By then, it would be just another bland, store-brand croissant. No, the Captur needs to be savoured in its native continent, and in its natural form. It’s not perfect with a few glaring issues, yet was still a delicious, forbidden delicacy. I wanted to score it higher, and it earns a middling 2.5/5.0 boomerangs

Tidy but tall dimensions give the Captur a cute, toylike appearance
With an oversized Renault badge, serious grilles, and LED lighting, the front fascia is all business.
Ready to rough it? Renault’s marketing would like you to think so
The C-shaped LED’s are a classy touch
The Renault’s subcompact origins are more obvious from behind.
Blacked-out roof, chrome strips, and body cladding all equal to a lot going on. But it works
There’s no denying that it has the classic CUV profile, but the Renault’s details stand out
The rear seats fold completely flat to reveal a useful 43.6 cu. ft. of space
The lower dash has an assortment of adjustments for dashboard illumination, headlight aiming, and automatic stop/start override. No bonnet release can be found.
The centre stack was attractive with a piano black finish and clear, concise navigation screen.
The front passenger airbag can be switched off, much like many late-90’s pickups.
A pleasing blend of shapes and storage areas make up the door
The steering wheel didn’t have spoke mounted radio adjustments, but this pod on the column, mimicking the first generation Ford Focus, was handy
Visibility was excellent thanks to a generous window area.
The speed limiter was a handy tool with Britain’s strict enforcement. 20mph would’ve taken any fun out of driving
The dash mounted storage area was convenient and was a welcome addition with the Captur’s last refresh.
No spare tyre! Just an inflator kit that was stored in a tacky plastic bag
Renault’s had this design for years, but the flat key is unique, easy to carry, and just plain cool.
Everything has its place. The key slot in the Captur’s dash brought me back to the days of inserting floppy disks into a Macintosh.

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