Monday 18 November 2019

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Motors

Captur could spell end of conventional hatchback

Thursday, 7th November, 2019 8:44am

Could the family hatchback market be about to go the same away as the family saloon market? It certainly looks that way.

There’s a big split in the five-door hatchback market in Ireland right now. Essentially, there’s the Toyota Corolla (sitting on top as the best-selling car in the country right now) and then there’s everyone else. Even big name family hatchbacks, such as the VW Golf, and Ford Focus, are seeing their sales fall dramatically — the Golf and Focus are both down, in sales terms, by about a quarter compared to last year.

Those buyers are instead heading for small crossovers and SUVs. The Golf is being out-sold by the much bigger Tiguan, while the similarly-sized T-Roc is gaining sales traction. The Focus is losing custom to the Kuga and the smaller EcoSport.

That could be about to happen to Renault, with this new Captur. With the previous generation, we’d have scoffed at the idea of the Captur out-selling the mighty Renault Megane, but with this one, we’re on much less solid scoffing ground. The new Captur is very, very good indeed.

Renault has played a very, very safe game indeed with the new Captur. It looks very much like the old one, in a manner that is clearly intended to create some customer loyalty. At the front, you can tell them apart only by arcane knowledge of Renault headlights — the new Captur has full LED lighting at the front, and the c-shaped daytime running lights are now incorporated into the main units, rather than dispatched down to the bottom of the bumper, as used to be the case.

In profile, the two cars are almost indistinguishable, aside from the fact that this new Captur is some 110mm longer than before. At the back you’ll find the clearest distinction — the new Captur has ultra-slim, wraparound, c-shaped brake lights that are very distinctive, and which give the rear end of the car a touch more class than once it had.

If it’s class you’re looking for, though, you’d best look inside. Until very recently, we had become rather wearily used to Renault interiors looking a little dark, and more than a little cheap, and that was most definitely a shortcoming (one that Renault now acknowledges) of the old Captur. The new Captur’s cabin could not be more different.

It’s lifted more or less directly from the new Clio and that is no bad thing — quality levels are exceptionally high, arguably up to direct comparison with the likes of Volkswagen and Seat, and that is simply not a thing you could have said of the old Captur. In fact, I’d say this new Captur’s cabin actually steps ahead of that of the Volkswagen T-Cross, so slick is its interior.

Okay, so it’s worth pointing out that our test car was a top-spec S-Edition Captur, so it came with all of the shiny bits included. That means it had a the biggest 9.3 inch, portrait-style, touchscreen in the centre of the dash, as well as the biggest ten inch digital instrument pack, plus leather everything. So clearly, this is the Captur’s cabin putting its best foot forward.

Mind you, we had a chance to poke around in a basic-spec version too, and while it makes do with old-fashioned analogue dials and a much smaller seven-inch touchscreen, it’s still a pretty decent cabin, and still feels well-made.

It’s roomy, too. Renault has scraped out an extra 17mm of rear legroom, which upgrades the Captur’s rear seat accommodation from adequate to decent. There’s better news in the boot.

The minimum boot space on offer is a decent 422 litres, but if you slide that back seat forward (it’s on a 160mm runner) you can expand that to a very healthy 536 litre boot, bigger than what you’d find in the backs of cars from two classes up.

The thing is, that does indeed make the Captur large enough on the inside to potentially be able to poach sales from the Megane hatchback. While there will always be those who would prefer the more conventional charms of the Megane, many motor industry insiders are now admitting that the market for family hatchbacks is collapsing, as buyers increasingly rush to small crossovers such as these.

Will the Captur out-sell the Megane in 2020? It is now looking entirely likely, and that is as much down to the Captur’s excellence as it is the mere fashionability of the small crossover segment.

If this had happened before, we’d have wailed about buyers deserting the solid, sensible Megane for a car that simply wasn’t as good. We won’t be making that complaint this time around — that’s how good the new Captur is.

Engine-wise, so far we’ve only been able to test the 130hp version of the 1.3 TCe petrol engine, and while it’s a decent unit, we can see why it won’t be the best-selling version of the Captur (mostly because it’ll be pricey to buy).

The big seller will actually be the 95hp 1.5 dCi diesel (yes, diesel!) but we reckon that the 100hp version of the peppy 1.0 litre, three-cylinder TCe petrol engine will actually be the best version of the Captur, and well suited to the car’s languid, agreeable handling balance.

It’s not what you’d call fun to drive, but it’s solid and secure on the road, not unenjoyable, and certainly very safe, with a bevvy of safety toys coming as standard.

Sales in Ireland will start in February, and prices should kick off from around €22,000.

Will the Megane lose out to the Captur? Almost certainly, yes, but this time it’s the Captur that deserves the win.

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