My one and only previous experience of a three-cylinder car was the rather obscure and curiously named Suzuki Mighty Boy back in the 1980s. And my abiding memory of that car – other than the fact it was incredibly impractical for a ute and incapable of carrying anything more than an attache case and a toothbrush – was that, while it sounded like a mighty flat-10 Porsche 917 hammering down the Mulsanne at Le Mans in 1970 as you snapped through the gears, it performed more like a strangled Beetle towing a horse float. It was certainly more boy than man, and not so mighty.
So it was with some trepidation that I approached my new long-termer, Renault’s frankly girl-friendly Captur mini-SUV with its 898cc triple, even though it does boast a turbocharger just like Porsche’s even mightier 917 Can-Am cars that revolutionised racing in the early 1970s.
Sure, I’d read and listened to the ravings of Ponch and Byron about their beloved turbo triples, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been out of step with some of my colleagues over trends in motoring. Could such a pipsqueak engine really be all about “thrummy goodness”?
First impressions were not all good. As I drove away from Renault’s collection centre there was a reassuring thrum from the engine alright, just like that yellow Mighty Boy of old, but there was also a disconcerting lack of forward motion. As I racked up the first hundred kays getting used to my new environment, a deepening dread took over. The lack of performance was chronic; this car simply struggled to get out of its own way.
But then, enlightenment. An examination of the owner’s manual revealed a switch – inconveniently located down between the front seats, obscured by the handbrake – labelled ‘Eco’.
As you might imagine, this dulls the throttle and power output. Exactly why you’d want to do that to such a small engine I dare not imagine, but to my delight turning it off transformed the little Renault Captur. Suddenly that thrummy goodness was unleashed, revealing a surprising level of torque and response, at least above 2500rpm. This could be a happy association after all.
Best of all, the Eco switch remains off – as it surely will for our six months together – whenever I drive the car, so I don’t have to worry about resetting it every time I get in.
With fears about the Captur’s performance set aside, I was able to embrace its other charms more willingly. Though surely designed to appeal to women, I can appreciate the modern lines of the body, that already iconic Renault nose design, the funky chrome-embellished scallop shape in the side, the ‘floating’ roof in contrasting black to the mainly metallic blue paintwork. Some think the chrome highlights are overdone, notably the scoop surrounds in the front bumper, but I think they cleverly ground the car, making it look less tall than it is.
Also impressive is the interior’s presentation, which is not only comfortable but comparatively normal for a French car.
I’m not sure how I’ll go with Renault’s usual but still awkward audio controls hidden behind the steering wheel, but the wheel itself is pleasing – I even like the sporty chequer pattern, which makes the car feel a bit more masculine – the centre information pod looks and works well, the carbonfibre-look dash doesn’t come across as cheap (as it might have), all the controls feel solid and well-weighted, the seats are comfortable, and there’s no shortage of space for my 1.8-metre frame.
It’s no Mighty Boy, but boy the Captur could turn out to be mighty.
A STYLE LANGUAGE THAT’S DOUBLE DUTCH
The Captur (pronounced cap-ter) first appeared as a concept at the 2011 Geneva motor show, and even in its clearly exaggerated lines you can see the final production version that made its debut at the same show two years later.
Captur is certainly an eye-catching car, a step up from the pretty Renault Clio on which it’s based and another feather in the cap of Renault styling chief Laurens van den Acker (pictured above with the concept). The 49-year-old is clearly in the prime of his career and putting his mark on one of the world’s oldest brands, which is consequently enjoying something of a renaissance.
It’s pleasing to see a French brand again as a style leader, even if it is guided by the hand of a Dutchman.