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The SUV segment has grown three times in the past five years – it’s a statistic that illustrates just how much Indians love their SUVs. And you know which SUV kick started this craze? The Duster! Sure we had Safaris and Scorpios for long before that but the Duster showed us that an SUV needn’t have any of the compromises of an SUV; that it can be as easy, as comfortable and as refined to drive as any regular car. It opened the floodgates and paved the way for every other manufacturer to barrel down the SUV road – compact, premium, pseudo, whatever – everybody wanted a slice of the (very profitable) SUV pie. Heck, Renault tapped so deeply into the craze that they even went and slapped SUV cues on their hatchback to create the Kwid.
Yet in the SUV race Renault has been left behind. Forget the compact SUVs like the Vitara Brezza, and surely the Tata Nexon after those crazy prices, even the Creta still does close to 10,000 units a month and that’s after being around for two years. The Duster does 15 per cent of that. There’s obviously a market and this is Renault’s stab at getting back into the game that it once owned.
Captur with a C
Now this is so confusing even I made a boo-boo. Renault will proudly tell you that over one million Captur’s are on the road in 75 countries. But what needs to be kept in mind is that there are two distinct Captur’s. The European Captur is based on the Clio platform while the Asian, or rather BRICS Kaptur is based on the Duster. It’s the latter that we get in India, but spelt Captur.
Visually the Captur and Kaptur look almost identical and are in step with Renault’s new design language with a bold and expressive grille, the Renault lozenge taking pride of place, and an overarching sense of the French design aesthetic. The full LED lighting and DRLs on the lower half of the bumper look striking and the overall effect is to mask its size despite it being bigger than the SUV it is based on. A masterstroke are Audi-style sweeping indicators (Renault calls them floating indicators) that does wonders to the cool factor. So if you scratch your head wondering why the Captur you’ve rented in France is so much smaller than the one we have here, well, now you know.
Duster with a D
Under the skin the Captur is a Duster. You could interpret this in one of two ways: that the Duster has been around for ages, which in turn is the Logan platform that has been around for even longer, or you go back to the comments we made when we compared the Creta to the Duster.
The Duster might be long in the tooth but even today it is nicer (than the Creta) to drive on the highway – more stable, more planted, a better ride and feeling more solid on our roads. What we didn’t like about the Duster is the obviousness of its age. What Renault has done is take all of the Duster’s inherent and still benchmark-setting strengths and clothed it in a beautiful French gown. They’ve also stretched it a bit, not between the wheels but at the back to liberate a nice big 392 litre boot expandable to 1352 litres.
The Captur doesn’t get all-wheel drive and is unlikely to get it considering the very limited traction the AWD Duster has got (and the fact that the lack of AWD hasn’t slowed sales of the Creta). As a consequence it gets the torsion beam rear suspension of the 2WD Duster, not the independent rear of the AWD Duster, but truth be told the ride is still very good. That said the Creta is still easier to drive within the city with lighter controls – steering, gearbox, everything.
The Captur’s handling is quite acceptable for an SUV of this class. The meaty 215-section 17-inch Apollo tyres offer good grip in corners though the handling is not very enthusiastic. What it does do with great enthusiasm is effortless cruising at three digit speeds. And just check out the ride height! The ground clearance of 210mm is the same as the AWD Duster and sets a new benchmark in this class, though I really wonder if we our roads are that bad to require this much clearance.
Diesel with a K
Under the hood is another tried and tested friend, the K9K diesel engine. Underpinning everything in the Renault-Nissan family the motor makes 108.5bhp and 240Nm, respectable figures that deliver respectable performance. Don’t expect to spin up the tyres in first, but neither will you struggle to keep up with fast moving traffic. What I’d have liked is less peaky power delivery and especially less turbo lag which is quite noticeable. The Captur also gets better sound insulation than the Duster and it makes for a refined cabin at cruising speeds.
The motor is mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox. No automatic transmission will be offered at launch though Renault are mindful of the growing demand for automatics (30 per cent of all diesel Cretas sold have an auto) and will eventually launch that. And, no, there are no plans for the AMT as the shift characteristics, the inherent lag and head toss, will just not do for what is being positioned as a premium SUV.
The Captur will not get the 84bhp version of the diesel but it will get the 104.5bhp petrol engine. The latter weren’t available to drive on the media launch but experience with the Duster will have us nudging you in the direction of the diesel.
Personalisation with a C
Chrome, lots and lots and lots of chrome. The one thing Renault has learnt from the options packs on the Kwid is that Indians love chrome. And so you can deck your Captur with chrome from nose to tail. Not that it is needed but you can plaster even more chrome on the grille, under the headlamps, around the bumpers, on the sides, around the tail lamps, it’s a chrome fest. There are also two accessory packs, different decals for the two-tone roof and a whole host of accessories to bling up the Captur.
Interiors with a P
The Platine edition of our test SUV is the highest spec of the Kaptur sold anywhere in the world. The new dash that looks chunky and considerably more modern than the Duster’s. what’s retained in the familiar touch screen infotainment with the addition of a rear view camera to the standard navigation though there’s still no sign of Apple CarPlay or Andriod Auto. And a quirk that is retained is the audio controls on a stalk behind the steering wheel rather than on the steering wheel itself – those buttons on the ’wheel are for cruise control.
The Platine also gets leather seats though I suspect that does eat into cabin space because I remember the Duster being slightly more spacious. With the driver’s seats adjusted to my driving position (I’m five foot nine inches) the passenger behind me doesn’t knock his knees against my seat. There’s also good under thigh support though the shoulder width is narrow and three abreast will be a squeeze.
What I did not like was the seat height. Even at its lowest setting the driver’s seat is just too high, you sit on top of the car, you look down at the instrument cluster and it feels rather too lofty. You even have to duck your head when alighting else you’ll knock against the downward curve of the roof edge. This is surprising because the Duster doesn’t have this problem. Speaking of problems, the Duster’s heavy clutch pedal problem is sorted as is the occasional tendency of the steering to snap at you.
Rivals with a C
It’s the Creta, not the Compass that the Captur has in sights. Obviously the Captur will be more expensive than the Duster but with only the skin being new I don’t see why it should be carry a premium of more than a lakh of rupees. And with the Duster and Captur having very clear positioning (the former with lower spec engines, AMT transmission, even AWD) I don’t see a problem of cannibalisation either.
Priced properly the Captur will be 4 lakh rupees cheaper than the Compass, and in any case the Compass is more premium, more powerful and feels more upmarket. The Vitara Brezza, on the other hand, is much too small to compete against the Captur. No, this segment is dominated by the Creta and its volumes of 10,000 units a month is Renault’s clear target. Achievable? I’m not too sure about five-digit volumes but doubling, even tripling current Duster numbers should be a breeze.