The French are nothing if not quirky, and the Captur serves up a quick, sharp reminder of that. The car’s on a bit of a slope, so I yank the handbrake hard, just to be sure. A bit too hard as it turns out; my elbow goes WHACKKK against the pointy ‘elbow rest’. I see stars for the next few seconds: Sirius, Capella, Canis Major – I see them all. And that’s not the only quirk here. The central air con vents, for example, are tiny and refuse to adjust, the driver’s seat is perched so high up I don’t need a sun visor, and where’s the place to rest my left foot? And then there’s the turbo lag: Attendez, Attendez, patience it seems to say in French; exactly what you need if you are not in the right gear and are lazy to swap cogs in traffic.
So, first impressions on getting reacquainted with Renault’s baguette-shaped SUV are far from ideal. But quirks aside, things improve dramatically as the day progresses. On our way back from a shoot in Indore, the journey starts out with the Captur swimming through downtown Indore traffic. Here, joining traffic truly does feel like jumping into a tightly packed column of wildebeests crossing the Mara river. The fight for every inch of ground is so intense, I soon learn to keep engine revs up. And because the gearbox is light, precise and direct, staying in the right gear isn’t much of an issue. What also helps is that the motor responds well once the turbo comes in.
Further along our journey, the prodigious ground clearance comes in handy. Pulling off onto the shoulder or driving through diversions is a breeze, and the ride is so pliant, the Captur just seems to roll over everything on its lush alloys. The road from Indore to Mumbai via Nashik is lined with a mind-numbing number of speed breakers or rumblers. They appear suddenly around corners and many are left unmarked and unpainted. Of course, we drop our speed and slow down to 30 or 40km, so most don’t even register. And the Captur even skips through craters like they are not there. This reduces stress considerably and allows us to carry a fair amount of speed. Want to feel like the roads have improved? Drive a Captur.
There’s no four-wheel drive but ground clearance is massive.
What also allows us to keep steaming forward at a good pace is Renault’s diesel engine. It may displace only 1.5 litres and may put out just 110hp, but pull it hard and the Captur rides the boost like a pro. As a result, there’s more than enough grunt for those quick overtakes, and then sticking to a cruising speed of 120 or 130kph is almost effortless. The extra sixth gear helps and it is quite refined and silent when cruising, but the engine does make quite a din when pulled hard.
What makes the Captur feel more at home on the highway is the neat and tidy handling. No way does this feel like a tall SUV with a substantial amount of air under its belly. Straight-line stability is so good, even when you need to swap lanes at triple-digit speeds – it does so in one clean, neat move. So keeping our average speed up isn’t a challenge.
Our route down to Mumbai even includes a couple of ghat sections, and here too, the Captur displays considerable French flair. Now car-like handling is a much used and abused term when it comes to describing how an SUV tackles corners, but the Captur isn’t just car-like – it is so willing to change direction, it feels like a hatch. Carving up corners is actually mildly entertaining and the Captur sends up so much confidence through the steering, it even feels neat and tidy in the tighter stuff.
As we roll into the night, we discover the excellent lights that help us relax on the highway, the audio system has plenty of depth and punch, and even the rear seat experience is pretty good. I swap to the rear seat for about an hour or so, and though visibility is poor due to the tall front seats, legroom is sufficient and the rear of the cabin is pretty wide. If only the touchscreen up front were better. And would it have been so hard to include a few USB ports? Yes, there are a few things we don’t like, but on the whole, Renault’s very characterful SUV gets a big thumbs up.