My love, the idiot
Renault Captur 1.5 dCi (2013)
When it comes to the Renault Captur it's obvious that it was not a guessing game: there is nothing extraordinary or revolutionary about this car, but it has more things making you happy than a typical small SUV. We don't usually talk about prices until the end of the review but in this case, MSRP is yet another cause for rejoice, with prices starting at around €16,670 in Hungary but it's similar for the rest of Europe, too.
That's about the same as any other car in this segment - except the Captur looks like a premium product and feels like one too. Just being pretty earns no points here - small SUV's just don't tend to grow repulsive. The Opel Mokka and its twin brother Chevy Trax look nice. Dacia could not ruin the looks of the Duster, try though they did. The Skoda Yeti is one hot car - I could go for one indefinitely, but the point is, small SUV's pack a pretty face.
Cramming a lot of space into a minute footprint is never going to give you sleek silhouettes but looking like a worn boot actually suits small SUV's just fine. The Renault Captur does the sheet metal thing well, with its beltline rising dynamically to take a sharp turn up at the C-pillar. Designers have also incorporated curves - so many and so fine in fact I was beginning to suspect Chris Bangle was secretly involved In this project. There are creases on the doors, waves on the hood and ripples on the bumper - Renault was walking on thin ice here but they got away with it just fine.
The third pivotal point of design is the choice of material; including the white roof. Contrasting roof tones are typically a premium feature reserved for cars like Minis or the DS3 - yet Captur gives you this fun feature for as much as the others but here it just doesn't look boring. White is the roof, so are the wing mirror caps, the plastic inserts by the grille and by the fog lights, and also the surround of the rear badge. The rocker panel is in fact an obtuse angled triangle with a flashy white insert - it's as if a highly talented rookie designer tried to demonstrate that SUV-style staple side mouldings can in fact look chic. And it worked out just fine.
And then there are the wheels. For a car that costs as much as any other vehicle in its segment (read: not expensive) you just don't expect colour-coded alloys with unique design. I am lost for words. It's as if Al Qaeda has kidnapped me and tortured me with Beck's for months, and then a Belgian swat team rescued me and offered a Duvel to unwind. Your head is suddenly brimming over with flavours and scents. And booze too: the Captur has made me jolly happy.
But that's not all. The interior of the Captur is full of inexpensive details, simple things really, nothing revolutionary, but these small things usually cost you a lot of money. Just take a look at the price list of the Opel Adam. Here, the Captur offers you two-tone seat upholstery with removable and washable seat cushion covers. The glove box is cavernous at 11 litres and instead of opening with a hinged door it slides out like a drawer and can hold a pair of basketball shoes. Instead of seat back pockets there are orange strands of shock cord - you may question their practicality but I for one am happy that it's different.
The 1.5 dCi is one of my favourite engines. 90 PS at 4000 rpm is not a lot but 220 Nm is just enough to move this 1.1-ton SUV about, even if it is carrying four male adults on a longer stretch. Fuel consumption is nothing to worry about: around 4.5 litres/100 km on country roads, 7 l/100km in the city and around 5.8-6 litres running at 140kph steady with full load on the highway. Although these are B/C-displayed results they are awfully close to the manufacturer's claim of 4.3/4.9/6.0. And considering its power and size, the Captur is pretty vehement - I have always had a soft spot for the 1.5 dCi but I have never met it in a car as loveable as this. The engine is really silent and after the shootout I can safely say it's one of the quietest diesels around; BMW's 2.0-litre engine was far noisier, both inside and outside.
Low engine noise levels are important because the Captur features Renault's newest gadgetry: R-Sound. This was originally installed in the Clio Grandtour but I would not be caught dead in that car, let alone start pushing buttons on board. R-Sound is another low-cost gimmick that works just about the same way the legendary Sound Racer did back in 2010. Costing some €20 the Sound Racer could only emulate a single engine (V8 or V10 sounds) but it could turn up the heat in a diesel VW Caddy. It was fed from the 12V socket and by registering minute alternations in amperage it could even detect changes in rpm, sending an ever varied engine sound to the on-board radio. This was really a simple and cheap toy but I have yet to see someone who does not enjoy tinkering with it for a few hours.
Now, as an afterthought, I have already seen similar gadgets at a BMW Innovation Day. Designed for the Mini they were the highlight of the day for weary journalists. This was back in 2009. The Renault system does not have a wide selection of sounds and most of them are fairly uninspiring. The Clio Cup engine sound is just indifferent, the Clio V6 sounds thrilling but gets boring after a while. The Laguna - what were they thinking? But the space ship (funnily the pattern is called Reinastella, harking back to Renault's luxury car from the 30's), now that's something... Driving to the shootout this feature gave everyone a healthy laugh, and our cameraman thanked me for what he called his greatest automotive experience in recent years, and he's seen the thin and thick of it.
There were four of us travelling in the Captur, and we bubbled with laughter every time we drove off. We only shut the simulation off on the highway because at steady engine speeds R-Sound loses its charm. Sure it's cheap and childish, but show me another car that is so full of fun.
The chassis is just about perfect. The Captur has a ride height of 20cm. This does not give you a commanding driving position but with a footprint this small it still qualifies as a tall car. I feared tooth-jitteringly firm suspension but the Captur was pleasantly agile rather than annoyingly hard. It feels good to drive this car with verve. But the concept beats me. The design, the ingenuity, the drivetrain and the chassis, as well as in terms of build quality, it seems like the Captur is some sort of a premium halo product for Renault. But it cannot be. You see, even though the closely related Nissan Juke, or the two-tier approach of the Opel Mokka and the Chevrolet Trax are selling in high numbers, these will not make this market segment any more significant.
Maybe that's the key. The Captur was a low risk undertaking for Renault. If engineers or designers screw up a Clio or a Laguna they are in big trouble. But this one, they could create with a light head and a wide smile - like someone who actually likes designing cars.