First Drive: 2013 Renault Captur [Review]

Join us as we find out if Renault\'s latest crossover has what it takes to dethrone the Nissan Juke.

Despite Europe's tough economic situation, the car landscape is changing drastically and quickly. 2012 marked the first year that car shoppers bought more crossovers than small people movers, and the trend is expected to continue over the coming years. As a result, automakers are rushing to fill their lineup with crossovers of all sizes.

Shown to the public for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show last March, Renault's first car-based crossover is called Captur. The automaker is not scared of internal competition, openly admitting that one of the Captur's main rivals is the popular Nissan Juke, a vehicle that has fueled the crossover craze on the Old Continent. Another one of the Captur's rivals is the Peugeot 2008, which retails for roughly the same price, and Renault is ambitiously gunning for entry-level versions of MINI's Countryman.

From all angles, the Captur is a clear demonstration of the new Renault design language that was masterminded by Laurens van den Acker several years ago. LED daytime running lamps, large alloy wheels, sculpted flanks and available two-tone paint job help give it the premium appearance that many shoppers in the market for a crossover seek.

Buyers can personalize the crossover to give it a look of its own. The trim around the LEDs, below the grille and above the rocker panels can be ordered in chrome, black, ivory or orange, several different wheel designs are on offer and stickers that span the full length of the roof are available, creating hundreds of possible combinations.

Specifications sheet

The Captur stretches 162 inches long, 69 inches wide and 61 inches tall, dimensions that make slightly bigger all around than the fourth-generation Clio hatchback with which it shares its platform. It boasts 7.8 inches of ground clearance but front-wheel drive-only drivetrains limit its off-road prowess.

With room for five passengers, the Captur offers 13.3 cubic feet of trunk space but the rear bench can slide forward by 6.2 inches in order to free up an extra 2.7 cubic feet. Alternatively, 43.6 cubic feet are available with the rear bench folded flat.

Most Captur buyers will opt for the time-tested 1.5-liter four-cylinder dCi turbodiesel, a mil that is also found under the hood of numerous Dacia, Renault and Nissan products as well as, surprisingly, the third-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Available with either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic, the dCi mill makes 90 horsepower and 162 lb-ft. of torque, enough to send the 2,579-pound Captur from zero to 62 mph in 13.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 106 mph.

Renault is mulling adding a 110-horsepower version of the 1.5-liter to the lineup.

Buyers who prefer gasoline-burning engines can opt for Renault's new 0.9-liter three-cylinder Energy mill, which makes 90 horsepower and 99 lb-ft. of torque, or a 1.2-liter four-cylinder Energy engine that is rated at 120 ponies and 140 lb-ft. of twist. The three-cylinder is exclusively offered with a five-speed manual transmission, while the larger four-banger can only be bolted to a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

Life aboard

Like the exterior, the interior of the Captur is highly customizable. Renault offers a wide array of miscellaneous option packs and trim bits that add color and a touch of flair to the dashboard. The list of options includes black, ivory, blue or orange bezels around the touch screen, the speakers and the air vents, a piece of plastic trim on the steering wheel and a myriad of upholstery colors and designs.

Practicality is the order of the day inside the crossover. In addition to loads of storage bins scattered throughout the cabin, the Captur features innovative tidbits such as a large drawer that takes the place of the glove box (not available in right-hand drive markets) and seat covers that can be removed with a zipper, making them easy to wash and giving owners the possibility to change the upholstery color.

Offered as an option, the entry level infotainment system is a LG-designed unit called MediaNav that made its global debut last year. Controlled by a seven-inch touch screen, it functions as a GPS, a MP3-compatible stereo and it can connect with Bluetooth-equipped smartphones to allow the driver to make hands-free calls or stream music.

A more advanced infotainment system called R-Link is available at a higher cost. It packs all of the features found in MediaNav and adds about 50 applications, internet connectivity and a voice recognition function.

Keyless entry, keyless start, power windows front and back, power mirrors, and an adjustable steering wheel all come standard. The driving aids include electronic stability control with hill start assist and emergency brake assist.

At the wheel

Smooth to drive in spite of a stiff suspension, the Captur is more nimble around town than its size might suggest. The 1.5-liter turbodiesel reaches peak torque at just 2000 rpms so it is peppy enough to briskly accelerate, but it lacks punch at high rpms. The tradeoff is that it returns 65 mpg in a mixed European cycle when driven conservatively, although we averaged about 58 in a rather hilly region of southern France.

We also sampled the direct-injected 1.2-liter four-cylinder with the EDC gearbox and walked away impressed. The transmission shifts smoothly and with no hesitation even under hard acceleration, and throttle response is near instantaneous. Unfortunately, the EDC does not come with a sport mode likes some of Volkswagen's DSG unit and shift paddles are not available, but the gears can be changed manually by sliding the shifter to the left and moving it forward for upshifts and backward for downshifts. The 1.2-liter mill returns 43 mpg in a mixed European cycle.

The fully-adjustable seats are firm and supportive and the climate control knobs on the center console are thoughtfully laid out. Both of our test cars were equipped with the optional plastic trim on the steering wheel which looks and feels tacky.

Leftlane's bottom line

As Renault works hard to turn a profit in Europe's depressed new car market, it is trying to give its image a boost by making more desirable cars that are positioned a little higher up than its previous models.

With a base price that lurks in the vicinity of €15,000, the Captur perfectly demonstrates the firm's new marketing direction and it is a competitive entry into the crowded - and highly lucrative - crossover segment. However, a more powerful diesel with a six-speed gearbox would make the crossover more competitive by creating a well-balanced all-around driving experience.

Words and photos by Ronan Glon.

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