The new Renault crossover is a visual delight and utility champ
Captivating Captur The new Captur comes with cosmetic finery such as chrome-lined foglamp housing. -- ST PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER TAN

In the not-too-distant past, there were a few things that steered people away from Renault cars. Among them: patchy reliability, crusty build quality, unexciting styling and irrelevant transmissions.

Today, 15 years after Renault merged with Nissan, most, if not all, of these have become non- issues.

The stunning Clio is proof of that. And the new Captur is further proof.

The compact crossover is quite simply a stunner in the looks department. With its rakish silhouette and two-tone paintwork, it comes across like a cross between a Range Rover Evoque and a Mini Cooper.

It is based on the Clio, but with a stretched wheelbase and raised chassis - which tells the world that it is not averse to rutted roads and the occasional grassy knoll. Its 17-inch wheels, larger than the 15- or 16-inchers usually worn by the Clio, further establishes its "rugged" outlook.

Cosmetic finery such as chrome-lined foglamp housing, chrome-lined grille and daytime-running lamps add a touch of sophistication to what is essentially a genre with rustic origins.

The Captur is clearly a more successful execution of the crossover theme than the Renault Koleos and Renault Scenic RX4. Neither made an impact here.

Inside, it is equally easy on the eye. The dash is clean and ergonomic, which is a refreshing change from the busy and overly clever designs you often encounter these days.

Taking centre stage is a tablet-like touchscreen centre console, where bright, colourful and intuitive icons form a user-friendly interface with the driver.

It is easy to toggle between functions such as navigation, fuel efficiency tracker, hi-fi and an air purity monitor that tells you how clean the outside air is and determines when the air-con recirculation should be on. The last item is a nice addition, if a bit gimmicky.

As is usual with modern-day Renaults, steering-mounted switches for the cruise control make it almost possible to drive the Captur with just your thumb. Also common with latter-day Renaults, the Captur's keyless access-and- ignition system is a joy to experience - you simply walk away after alighting and the car will lock up on its own.

Colourful fabric upholstery brightens up what would otherwise have been a contemporary but sombre interior.

The only complaint here is the sharp edges on many of the plastic parts. If you are the tactile sort (like me), this will be a slightly sore point, even if the less-than-perfect finishings are not visible.

And the lower portion of the windscreen also fogs up on a still night.

But it is not difficult to look past these niggles because far costlier cars suffer from them. And none of them look half as interesting as the Captur.

It is form backed with function, too. The car comes with stylish fabric seat covers that can be removed for washing. Unlike after-market seat covers that tend to be ill-fitting, these conform to every contour of the seats and appear no different than un-removable upholstery.

Its best party trick lies at the back. The boot floor is removable and offers two surfaces - a felt-lined one that you find in most trunks and a hard washable surface on the flipside.

The floor can be lowered by several centimetres to expand the stowage capacity. And if that is not enough, you can slide the entire row of rear seats forward with a single spring-lever located at the bottom-centre of the middle seat back.

This frees up extra space without compromising the seating capacity of the car.

The Captur will accommodate five persons fairly comfortably, thanks to its relatively flat floor in the second row and raised front seats.

Surprisingly, it feels fairly lively with five onboard despite its modest engine. Its 1.5-litre turbodiesel may sound as industrial as a Renault Kangoo van's power plant and has only 88bhp to its name, but it produces a decent amount of usable torque that is sent to the front wheels via a dual-clutch gearbox.

Renault says the car takes 13.5 seconds to reach 100kmh from zero, which is leisurely in today's context. But at the wheel, you would never have guessed.

The Captur feels spunky, even if starting off is a tad tentative and starchy. Once it gets up to cruising speeds, it is as breezy as a Volkswagen TSI.

It is not a car you would want to throw around a corner in haste, even if it does not lean as much as you expect of something its height.

Ride quality is a little disappointing. You get the impression that it is sprung firmly for better handling, but the result is below-par ride comfort. Which is all the more startling because French cars tend to excel in this area.

Of course, with a 1.5-litre turbodiesel, a kerb weight of just over 1.2 tonnes and front-wheel-drive instead of 4x4, the Captur is exceedingly economical. Even if you do not activate the Eco mode button and drive with no particular regard for efficiency, the fuel gauge takes a long time to register a dip.

But if you drive with economy in mind, the Captur is said to be capable of covering 100km on just 3.9 litres of diesel.

Now that is not something you expect of a crossover.

CAR INFORMATION

Renault Captur Diesel 1.5T dCi (A)

Price

:$120,999

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1,461 cc

Horsepower

:

89 bhp / 4,000 rpm

Torque

:

220 Nm / 1,750 rpm

Transmission

:

6-speed (A) EDC

Acceleration

:

13.5 sec (0-100 km/h)

Top Speed

:

170 km/h