Renault crossover can go a long way — so long as you remember to plug it in
All of a sudden there are plug-in hybrid models sprouting like the flowers of spring all over the place. I can hardly think of a manufacturer who hasn’t got at least one on sale or one due this year. Renault has several. In the case of this week’s review car, it’s the lug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) version of the Captur crossover — a car that, regardless of power source, is extremely well-liked.
That was the case even when it had a dowdy old interior. What a transformation they’ve wrought with this latest version. The Captur was always a sharp looker on the outside, and he test car certainly stood out. Looks, the market researchers will tell you, come top or nearly top of buyers’ reasons for choosing cars in this bracket. I can see why people would go for my test car, with its vibrant two-tone colour mix.
I’ll come to more practical matters — with criticisms) later — but for now, let me accentuate the positive.
The interior impressed from the minute I sat in. Sometimes a cabin can be more than the sum of its parts if the carmaker gets the proportions, colours and materials right.
As far as the Captur PHEV was concerned, my notes read as follows: “Classy; screen excellent, great idea to have big, tactile buttons for temperature and fan speed.”
Rather than try anything too smart lower down in what could have been a big, grey central slab, they instead conjured a ledge over a really useful open slot for keys, spectacle cases and so on.
Two screens, one in the centre and one behind the steering wheel, were clear and easy to read and adjust. I know I sound like I’m spoilt, but I really don’t have the patience for touchscreen gymnastics. I just want things to be simple and accurately responsive. And I want things where I expect them to be. Such as cup holders at a good height just in front of the arm rest.
I’m not into having to gyrate the left side of my body to secure or use a holding spot for a soft drink (I have been known to have a sup when stopped at a red light). Full marks to the Captur on those fronts.
There was good room for rear-seat passengers, but the boot is where we hit our first negative. It was just about reasonable, but that can so often be the case with larger-battery intrusions for plug-in hybrids (the 9.8kWh battery drives two electric motors). It’s a pity, but a necessary penalty (for now). As is the extra weight for fuel consumption — something we can often overlook.
But my big criticism was the workings of the gear shift. Despite changing myriad times, I still found it far too difficult to get instantly into D or R because of how the gear shift operated — it was too easy to put it in the wrong mode. That’s a big drawback, but not sufficient to put me off completely. Like everything, I suppose I’d get used to it, but it shouldn’t have to be that way.
While I’m whingeing, there was a bit of wind noise, and the 1.6-litre petrol engine, smooth at cruising speed, was noisy when I kicked down for more power.
These PHEVs are all about using electric power from the grid to cover up to 50km on their own (a petrol engine mixes with battery input as a hybrid thereafter).
I neglected the overnight electric power boost because I don’t have a charger and the wintry evenings put me off walking home from the public source up the road. That would have allowed me to activate ‘PURE’ mode (100pc electric drive) more often.
All of which means my 6.1 litres to the 100km return has to be taken in that unfilled context. It was also a huge lesson on how much PHEVs rely on regular charging for their official consumption figures. In the Captur’s case, they say it can get by on 1.5 litres/100km if constantly charged, while emitting just 33g/km of CO2. Not a hope in my case, anyway.
All said, though, I enjoyed this smart crossover plug-in with its one or two drawbacks. Of themselves, they are relatively minor, but in the competitive context of rivals — there are swathes of them — any blemish adds volume to the negative.
Would I buy it? Allowing for being deprived of the facility to charge regularly, I would look seriously at it if in the market for a smart small car. It was a lovely tidy drive, comfortable with a strong feel of quality and décor. But try out the gear shift for yourself — my experience may not be yours.
Renault Captur plug-in
S-Edition 160hp auto, 1.6 petrol-electric. Standard spec includes: cruise control, auto air con, electric windows. Easy Link 7in touchscreen; Apple CarPlay, Android Auto. Test car spec adds: parking sensors/rear-view camera, 17in alloys, 9.3in t/screen, 10in display, wireless phone charger. Captur from €22,595. Car tested €29,695; with options €30,261.