Car reviews - Renault - Captur - Expression TCe90
Packaging, lively three-pot turbo, efficiency, ride, specification, value, design, connectivity
Room for improvement
No rear-seat curtain airbags, slightly notchy manual shifter, rear drum brakes, no auto or diesel option
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18 Sep 2015
Price and equipment
RENAULT is in the middle of a new-model renaissance driven by advanced downsized engine technology, lightweight engineering, and seductive styling.
Clio, Captur and soon Megane. The French are back.
Aussies may not (yet) see it fully, but the Captur compact SUV is a perfect example, selling strongly in most overseas markets, and even breaking segment sales in its homeland.
The downside of such popularity has been a long delay in the Spanish-built Renault getting here, meaning the wow factor it could have had last year has been somewhat diminished by newer rivals the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, and now the Suzuki Vitara. In 2014, this would have been our compact SUV of choice by far.
Still, the Captur is far from a faded star, especially if what you want is a sporty and strikingly styled Euro crossover, which the surprisingly affordable TCe 90 Expression manual base addresses admirably.
Starting from $22,990 plus on-road costs, the 88kW 0.9-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo includes satellite navigation, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, touchscreen connectivity with Bluetooth phone/audio streaming, climate control, auto headlights/wipers, keyless entry, and alloy wheels. Plus, there’s capped-price servicing and a five-year warranty with roadside-assist.
What the TCe 90 doesn’t offer is an auto option, sadly, meaning most buyers overlook it for the $25,990 TCe 120 Expression with a laggy dual-clutch transmission.
The J87 Captur is basically a 100mm higher-riding version of the Clio IV that donates most of its underpinnings, meaning entry and egress is about on a par with most compact SUVs.
Note, however, that the cabin might come across as a tad too monotone in base Expression guise, unless some of the personalisation trim has been fitted. Fat A-pillars also create blind-spot hazards.
Dominating proceedings is a large central tablet-style touchscreen with full Bluetooth phone and audio streaming functionality, while a very funky set of instrument dials could be out of a sportscar. Both define what is a clear and contemporary dash.
Solid and easy to navigate, all the functionality needed is right there, along with plenty of space, supportive front seats, a thoughtful driving position, and excellent ventilation.
The rear seat works well too, as it slides for the benefit of extra boot space.
The cushion and backrest themselves are soft and cushy, accommodating two adults easily. Cargo capacity varies from 377 litres to 455L with the backrests erect, or 1235L with them dropped down. The floor itself is adjustable, with wet or dry compartments.
Engine and transmission
In most driving situations, the TCe 90’s 898cc turbo triple will provide more than adequate performance, especially if the Renault is only carrying two people and their gear.
Aided by a smart set of gear ratios, the thrummy yet smooth and eager engine is surprisingly quick off the mark, and pulls away lustily all the way beyond the 5000rpm power max. If you find a quiet enough road, it is possible to extend the Captur out in each gear, making this a particularly spirited experience.
Let’s not get carried away though. It’s not as if the front tyres will burn with every prod of the go-faster pedal. Introduce inclines, or a full complement of passengers, however, and the extra burden will be felt.
Thankfully, and despite having quite a long throw, a driver handy with the five-speed gearbox can easily drive around the torque shortfall.
The benefit, of course, is exceptional fuel economy, especially if the driver elects to leave the pretty unintrusive idle-stop system on. Renault reckons a 4.9L/100km average is possible (on 95 RON-plus premium unleaded), though anything under a seven in this size of vehicle is a bonus.
Sadly, no triple auto option is currently in the pipeline.
Ride and handling
Balanced, controlled, and agile sum up the Captur’s handling, with responsive steering and a flat, surefooted roadholding attitude. This is the sort of runabout that you can revel throwing around bends.
The Expression is fitted with a 16-inch wheel and tyre package, which is the ideal combo if a supple ride is also a high priority. Backed up by a longish wheelbase and 163mm ground clearance, the Renault quietly and effortlessly soaks up bumps and road irregularities.
Unfortunately – and quite shockingly considering how much the French company values safety – drum rather than disc brakes are found out back. While the stoppers did their thing with sufficient reaction during our week behind the wheel, we fear that repeated use might eventually lead to fade.
Safety and servicing
Along with the current Clio, the Captur has been criticised for not providing rear-seat side head airbag protection. Before 2015, they would have been penalised in the ANCAP crash test regime, but changes to the latter means for this year, both score a five-star rating.
Renault admits freely that not fitting rear curtain airbags is a cost-saving measure, but only because it believes they are redundant, since the company uses stronger steels in the side pillars and panels, which it says is better in reducing impact trauma, particularly for children and smaller adults travelling there.
As with most Renault vehicles, the Captur has a five-year warrantee with roadside assistance during that time and no mileage limit. Service intervals are annual or 15,000km, with a capped-price program where the first three are $299.
Spunky, spacious, and quite speedy in most normal urban situations (as well as out on the open road once that terrific little triple is given its head), the entry-level Captur Expression TCe 90 has the comfort, features, and driver appeal to be on everybody’s sub-$25K shortlist.
And while newer rivals like the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V probably eclipse the Renault for dynamic capability and cabin packaging respectively, the French crossover happily straddles both, to be a pleasing and characterful all-rounder.
Better late than never, then. It’s not too late at all to enjoy the Captur’s charms.
Mazda CX-3 Neo manual from $19,990, plus on-road costs
Arguably the most pleasing new-gen Mazda this side of the brilliant MX-5, the stylish and beautifully made CX-3 aces almost every aspect of compact SUV life, with the exception of a noticeably vocal engine and limited side vision. A real winner.
Suzuki Vitara RT-S manual from $21,990 , plus on-road costs
Suzuki is back and how, with a good looking, nimble, comfortable, dynamic, roomy, versatile, and well-equipped compact SUV that (as with the Captur) seems to combine the best points of the CX-3 and (sadly auto-only) HR-V. More torque would not go astray, however.
Skoda Yeti 81TSI Active manual from $24,390, plus on-road costs
Anti-design styling has held up surprisingly well over the years, as has the very spacious interior, versatile seating, practical cargo area and smooth 1.2-turbo petrol engine. Do yourself a favour and Czech the Yeti out before signing any dotted line.
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