THE largest growing automotive segment in Australia? Small SUVs.
A blend of city chic, higher ride height and the belief - sometimes misguided - of greater space all add to their appeal, aiding the demise of more traditional hatchbacks and sedans.
By happy coincidence, we had two Renault Captur TCe 120 Dynamique baby SUVs on test at the same time, so handed the keys to writers Vani Naidoo and Iain Curry to see if the Captur could capture their hearts.
They sat down over a couple of croissants, cafe au laits and two packs of Gauloises Blondes (which remained un-opened, both being responsible parents, you see) and nutted out their findings.
Iain: Okay, I'm sold on the looks. The Captur is a hugely popular thing in image-conscious Europe, and I can see the appeal to the young and young at heart. Chic and attractive, it's a lovely design to behold with its fluid, sculptured body and two-tone paint option: it certainly looks sporty, even if the reality may be a tad different.
Vani: I don't blame you, this Captur is definitely a neat little number and the fact it looks so different from most offerings out there is refreshing. It turns heads and who doesn't want to be seen in a car that does that?
The interior is more spacious than you would think for a car of this size. I like the dials and instrumentation which, as in the Clio, are eclectic and refreshingly different from the norm. There is the extra stalk on the steering wheel, so French, but that doesn't take long to get used to.
I expected the dash to be a tad more exciting though. Sure, you can personalise it in colours to match the exterior but that is obviously limited to aftermarket touches so perhaps the interior doesn't really match the promise of the outside.
I: It's a mixed bag inside in my opinion. I agree there's decent space for driver and front passenger, and controls - especially the touchscreen and centre console - are a doddle to navigate, as are the steering wheel functions once you get used to them.
Leather trim for the seats are a cost option ($1490) despite this being the range topper, and my experience with Renaults is they put an emphasis on seat comfort, and the Captur stays true to this; the chairs firm, supportive but nicely cosseting on longer journeys.
Touch points are also decent in this range-topping Captur with the steering wheel, gear shifter and heater controls all having an air of quality. The sweeping dash top and lovely circular air vents also impress.
However the door plastics feel overly cheap, while the dash-top storage compartment is a shocker. It is poorly lined up and takes a few presses to open or close, and its brittle feel doesn't bode well for its longevity. And while heated seats are a bonus, the on/off switch on the passenger seat has already disappeared into its plastic housing.
V: Well, it seems obvious that you enjoy a bit of French flair but what did you think about the Captur's on-road manners?
I liked that it was quite nifty and nimble around the confines of a city - easy to manoeuvre and easy to park. There was comfort over bumps, provided they weren't too large, poise and balance around corners and a generally comfortable ride.
The 1.2-litre with dual-clutch auto does a lot well, but isn't exceptional in that stand-out sort of way.
The Captur needed a bit of urging on the open road - especially up steeper inclines with kids in the back - and the six-speed gearbox wasn't always on song around the twisties. Overall though it was a fun uncomplicated drive, one that is likely to resonate with drivers looking for a small car with a bit of height.
I: Spot on. The Captur is a handy small SUV for city and town life, its ease of use being a standout.
I've been driving around in my auto Captur Dynamique for a couple of months now so it has tackled a variety of roads, but typically my routes involve highway slogs and family trips along the coast. Comfortable, well insulated and smooth, it goes about its business exactly as most buyers want, namely unfussed ease.
And do you know what; it's actually got a sweet little chassis thanks to its Clio DNA - a little hatch I'm a huge fan of. I'll admit that my penchant for back road playing sees me putting certain cars out of their comfort zone, but the Captur has surprised me with its balance, grip and lack of body roll through quick bends, unusual for a slightly top-heavy small SUV.
But the 1.2-litre turbo four needs a hell of a lot of persuasion to back up the sweet chassis. With 88kW and 190Nm I'm surprised it doesn't have more urge for such a lightweight thing. It's alright once revs are up and on boost, but from standstill especially I find myself stomping on the accelerator and waiting an age for any sort of forward momentum…throttle response ain't good.
V: Okay, so it won't satisfy your personal desire to turn everything with four wheels into a rally car, but without a doubt I'm a fan of the Captur's lengthy standard inclusions list.
I feel a little peeved with manufacturers thinking electric windows are a luxury especially when they are charging top dollar. Renault, though, has seldom shown a bare cupboard - in fact it is one of their strong selling points - and our Dynamique was equipped with everything from auto lights and wipers to a useful 7-inch touchscreen with excellent graphics, reverse camera, sat nav and Bluetooth connectivity - although the latter does not offer the clearest audio in the game.
The removable seat covers are a nice touch but the lack of curtain airbags in the rear is rather disappointing especially for those who want to carry kids in the back.
I: Ah, you are the safety guardian keeping watch, and it's a good point well made. The Captur may be aimed at cool couples but like us both, we do have kids to carry and their safety to remember. No curtain airbags out back is a big score down considering their ubiquitousness amongst rivals.
I agree with the decent inclusions, but I had the same Bluetooth streaming problems. I've spoken with Renault Australia; they've acknowledged its shortcomings and are working on a fix.
On a happier note, I've found the sliding rear seats a very good thing. There's 377-litres of boot space with rear seats pushed all the way back, and 455-litres with them forward. That's more than a VW Golf: excellent for a small SUV.
My young kids have short legs so we can travel with the rear seats fully forward, meaning ample space for all their imperative accoutrements: pram, bike, change bags, sun tent, spare clothes, food and drinks to cover any obscure request, etc.
V: Yes, I think the sliding seats make for a nifty option and small cars or SUVs like this need to be versatile to appeal to a varied audience. For us, the boot dealt well with schoolbags and the weekly shop, impressive actually, but I thought cabin storage options were a bit more limited.
The cup holders are on the smallish side - first world problems I know - but like so many Australians I need a coffee to function and you certainly notice when the cup holder struggles to hold the elixir. The ability to personalise with two-tone colours and trims is always a great seller too.
I: So true on the cup holders. Comically small. Means I've been buying espresso coffees a lot more...I'm feeling rather European, actually. Speaking of Euros, any Captur alternatives you'd go for with a Continental flavour?
V: I've tested and really liked the Peugeot 2008 ($23,990), and Oriental offerings in the Nissan Juke ($23,490) and Mazda CX-3 ($19,990): all three available at a lower price point.
I: That's some of the direct competition covered, but for your family can you think of a better or different way to spend $30,000 (the cost of our range topping Captur with its leather trim)?
For under $30k I'd look at a Skoda Octavia wagon ($23,040), a VW Golf Wagon ($27,990) or hop in a mid-size SUV like a Mazda CX-5 ($27,190) or Kia Sportage Premium ($29,990). Each could have a few options boxes ticked to bring them up to the Captur Dynamique's spec.
And it also seems the Captur is about to be out-French funkied. Citroen's Cactus soft roader will be a direct competitor when it arrives next February, and prices have just been announced starting at $26,990 for a petrol manual or $29,990 for a diesel automatic. Sharp.
I: There's a lot I do like about the Captur, mainly its curvy good looks, cabin versatility and the smooth, quiet and easy way it serves as daily transport.
I'd suggest buyers opt for bright two-tone colours on the outside and personalise the inside as they'll need the verve here to make up for the Captur's lack of driving thrills.
Perhaps I'm ten years too old - and too burdened with kids - for such a car to make sense, as I feel my $30k would be better spent on a larger car with a lower centre of gravity and more driver reward.
V: It's funny how priorities change when the munchkins arrive. But I am with you.
While I can see the Captur's definite appeal for the younger crowd and the young at heart who can truly make it their own, families can find better versatility and value for money in other segments.
If you're young, free and single though (or at least childless), the Captur is a fine and stylish example of why small SUVs have hit the popularity spot.
Model: Renault Captur TCe 120 Dynamique.
Details: Four-door front-wheel-drive small SUV.
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol generating maximum power of 88kW @ 4900rpm and peak torque of 190Nm @ 2000rpm.
Transmissions: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Consumption: 5.4-litres/100km (combined).
Bottom line: $30,280 (as tested) before on roads. $27,990 basic price with $1490 for leather interior and $800 for metallic two-tone paint.
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