Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Sorry Renault, I can't quite capture the point of the Captur

A MATE of mine has taken leave of his senses. He’s about to blow five thousand of his carefully-earned pounds on a Triumph Stag.

Followers of automotive folklore will happily bore you rigid with stories about why this Seventies convertible has a home-brewed V8 with a habit of overheating, a body with a penchant for rot in places you wouldn’t imagine possible and a reputation for raiding your bank balance if you buy a bad ‘un. However, I understand said mate’s obsession with the Stag completely because it ticks all three boxes of what I look for in a car. It looks fantastic, makes a great noise and it's a pleasure to drive.

In an idealist, bedroom-wall-poster sort of way all cars would satisfy this holy trinity of petrolhead perfection. However, I’m a grown up so I’ve developed an alternative checklist for cars that aren’t Triumph Stags – normal cars on normal roads need to look passably nice, but more importantly drive in a sensibly pleasing way and have an interior that’s bearable on long journeys.

That’s why a weekend with one of Renault’s latest offerings left me with more questions than it answered, because it didn't really tick any of the boxes.

I was actually quietly excited when a Captur arrived on the driveway, particularly because my dad – for reasons I’m still not sure – insisted on calling it the much more menacing-sounding “Raptor”. It’s an important car for the French firm because it’s a crossover – a sort-of hatchback-meets-off-roader, once you translate the word from Marketing back into English. Given Renault’s links with Nissan, who conquered the crossover kingdom with the Qashqai and Juke, I was keen to see if some of the Japanese cars’ sparkle had rubbed off on their Gallic cousin.

Yet after 300 miles on just about every type of road imaginable, I couldn’t quite capture the essence of the Captur.

What Renault appears to have done is taken the Clio, a car which is great because it’s small, pretty and quite nice to drive, and made it bigger, uglier and not very nice to drive. There’s plenty of room for you and four passengers in the cabin, but the boot space, at 455 litres, just isn’t enough to carry all their clobber. The 90bhp 1.5 DCi engine in the version I tested was smooth and quick enough on paper, with the dash to 60mph being dealt with in 12.6 seconds, but in the real world it just didn’t feel lively enough.

All of that, however, pales into insignificance with the biggest question the Captur asks. Why would you spend the best part of £12,000 on a car which has – and I choose my words carefully – a truly nasty interior? It’s well equipped and festooned with airbags, which is great, but the last time I saw plastics that cheap was in a branch of Woolworth’s. The steering wheel, in particular, has a scratchy texture which makes sliding it through your palms an unpleasant experience.

Don’t get me wrong; Renault makes some great cars, including a hatchback that’s usefully bigger than the Clio. It’s called the Megane.  

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