Last year was all about zombies, but that’s all undead now. This year’s all about the … um, sub-compact SUV? Baby crossovers? Light-car cross-dressers? Whatever.
The new-breed of vehicles invading Australia are hip, hot, and happening, with (uniformly daft) names like Nissan Juke, Opel Mokka, Holden Trax, Peugeot 2008, Ford EcoSport, and – from mid-2014 – the Renault Captur.
Based on the new Clio, this supermini in stilettos is expected to lead Renault into the hearts and minds of young couples and empty nesters wishing to downsize into something dinky yet dishy. Mission accomplished, judging by ex-Mazda man Laurens van den Acker’s fine proportions and chic detailing.
It may be controversial, but the two-tone paint job does give the Renault razzmatazz. It’s what punters seek, along with sitting SUV-high while maintaining media-connectivity.
In Europe, Captur ousts the Modus – a clever, mini-wagonoid nobody bought. This time Renault sought crossover-chic with the spaciousness of the Modus. So Laurens’ team pushed the windscreen well forward, without making the FWD-only Captur look, well, crapola, and fitted a sliding rear seat for maximum practicality.
Buyers can personalise the cabin every which way, although the basic architecture remains light-car functional and hardy. While Aussies may see the wash-’n’-wear seat covers and R-Link connectivity (with excellent audio streaming but infuriating Tom-Tom sat-nav, all controllable via a tablet-like touchscreen set-up), the brilliant drawer/glovebox is a left-hand-drive-only deal, sadly.
The driving position is good, on cushy seats, with smart digital/analogue instrumentation, ample ventilation, and storage aplenty. For handy three-way versatility there’s a floating cargo floor-cum-boot-divider. With backrest folded, you could kip down for the night.
‘Dozy’, frustratingly, also defines the acceleration of the expected volume-selling 1.2-litre TCe four-cylinder turbo/six-speed EDC dual-clutch combo. Under light throttle, the Captur pulls away briskly, and with the turbo rapidly kicking in, speed continues to rise quickly. In fact, on the open road, performance feels downright sparkling. But attempts to zoom off the mark quickly by mashing the accelerator result in numbingly slow responses. Same if you attempt sudden overtaking. Tugging the Tiptronic-style lever into first doesn’t help.
The solution, the chief engineer said, is to press moderately rather than stomp insanely. The EDC has preservation software to limit stresses, cutting torque in the process just when you most need it. A rethink is required, Renault.
Unfortunately no entry-level 1.0-litre TCe turbo three-pot petrol/five-speed manuals were available, while the promising 1.5-litre turbo-diesel will be denied Down Under altogether. Both shine in the Clio, which weighs 100kg less.
The 1.2 TCe’s torpid torque response is a shame considering how composed and reactive the chassis is when pushed. Around town the electric power steering is too light and remote, but once speed builds, so does the weight and feel. Riding (too firmly at times) on grippy 205/55 R17 tyres, bodyroll is minimal, allowing the Captur to flow through corners. But unlike the featherweight 2008 we drove in France a fortnight earlier, the Renault doesn’t goad the driver on. It doesn’t put the fun in functional.
That, disappointingly, sums up the Captur. But the basic ingredients work, so there’s time for Renault to fine-tune the engine. As it stands, zombie-like acceleration and low-speed steering feel undermine what could be next year’s cracking whatever-segment contender.