Motoring review: Renault Captur DCI 90

Renault's Captur is not quite what it seems, says John Simister

Price: from £13,895
Engine: 1,461cc, four cylinders, turbodiesel, 90bhp transmission five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 106mph, 0-62 in 13.1 seconds, 76.4mpg, CO2 95g/km

Renault's clio seems very corpulent for what is meant to be a small car. Renault, however, thinks that some people might want yet more corpulence, preferably upward and outwards with a garnish of added muscularity in the form of big wheels and much scuff protection. So, meet the "Clio 4x4", destined to be Renault's second-best-selling car in Britain if the sales forecasts are accurate.

Actually, though the Clio derivation is clear, the car's name is the Captur. And, despite appearances, it is not a 4x4, not even as an optional extra. In fact, it's an SUV in visuals only; functionally, it's more of an MPV.

So why make a car look like something it can never be? Because that is what people want, and think they need, for the urban jungle, as the worrying numbers of absurdly oxymoronic Mini Countrymen demonstrate.

All of which is useful for Renault, as the Captur can be built on a Clio platform that doesn't lend itself to all-wheel drive. And without the need to accommodate 4x4 mechanicals, the floor can be lower, the structure lighter, the production simpler, the boot and cabin roomier and the price more tempting. Remarkably, a Captur retails at between £4,000 and £8,000 less than the extremes of the Countryman range.

For your money, you get a high-riding car with complex convexities in its surfaces and a lot of "jewellery" in its detail design, with highlights here, outlines there, the possibility of eyeball-searing decals and graphics elsewhere. This is a car you personalise, as you might an iPhone with a fancy cover; the trim levels are Expression, Expression+, Dynamique and Dynamique S, but to these you can add one of three trim packages called – in a curious explosion of Americanism – Arizona, Manhattan and Miami.

All this, and a centre console resembling a giant smartphone, sums up the Captur in a world increasingly less interested in a car's dynamic properties as long it doesn't generate much CO2. However, an engine must be chosen, and the on-trend choice is an 898cc, three-cylinder turbo with 90bhp, a 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo with 120bhp, and a 1.5-litre turbodiesel with 90bhp. A six-speed, double-clutch automatic transmission is standard with the 1.2, optional with the diesel.

That tiny three-cylinder is the most interesting engine, but it might struggle to haul the hefty Captur. I began with the 1.2 automatic, which has a willing engine but unresponsive transmission in automatic, making it frustrating to drive on hilly terrain, because you feel you are getting nowhere. The five-speed manual diesel is better, its smooth, punchy delivery making for a lively drive despite an official CO2 count of just 95g/km.

When you sit high in a car, as you do in the Captur, you are more aware of the car leaning over in corners. Car engineers counter this either with stiff anti-roll bars, which can trigger a nasty lateral jerk when one wheel hits a bump, or – as here – by making the springs and dampers stiff in their action. This makes the Captur feel quite taut and agile on a twisting road, but it thuds violently over big bumps in a way French cars, historically noted for suppleness, never used to do. That was back when cars weren't forced to be something unnatural. Today, appearance is all. And the customer, of course, is always right.

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