Renault is on a roll in India. What started with the Duster has carried on with the Kwid, and the French company is now looking to continue that upward trend by launching a raft of fresh models, many of them tailor-made for the Indian market. Sure, there have been some duds along the way, but the Renault we see in India today is a far cry from the company that first took the covers off cars like the Koleos and the Fluence.
The company now knows the wicket, it knows the bowling attack and it knows that for it to score here, it has to come equipped to take on the most demanding customer in the world: you. This is why the next big thing from Renault will be the car you see on these pages – the all-new Kaptur.
Now wait, halt, stop; let’s start right at the beginning, because otherwise it could get confusing. This is because, believe it or not, there are two outwardly similar cars with similar-sounding names. The first is a compact crossover called the Captur, designed, engineered and produced for the European market. Roughly the size of an EcoSport, it is built on the same platform as the new Clio Estate, and stretches the tape at just 4.12 metres. Because it is sold in Europe, it comes with all the bells, whistles and safety features expected of a European car. Problem is, this makes it expensive. And expensive and small don’t go too well together, especially in emerging markets such as ours.
So Renault, being Renault, has gone for a wholly different answer to a similar question – a Kaptur with a ‘K’, as kookie as that sounds. Yes, the Kaptur looks similar from the outside and the insides have more or less the same layout too, but unlike its European cousin that’s built around a compact hatchback, this one shares its platform with the more robust Duster. Made for emerging markets such as ours, it is wider on the inside, longer, several times tougher and, importantly, comes with a more affordable sticker price. So while the Captur had no hope of succeeding in our emerging markets, the Kaptur has the potential to ace it.
One for the ramp
Part of the reason is because the crossover styling simply looks stunning in the flesh. There’s a freshness here I’ve not seen on an off-roader in a long, long time, and the new surfaces and shapes Renault’s designers have used work incredibly well. This clearly is automotive haute couture for the masses, and the good thing is that it scores well in almost all areas.
For one, it’s got a wide stance. The nose is longer than on the European Captur, lending it more of a two-box feel, the large wheel arches give the body a strong set of shoulders and the muscular bonnet and sporty roofline add to the looks. The treatment of the nose, however, is what gives the Kaptur its character – the droop of the bonnet, that superb headlight-and-grille combo and those C-shaped LED brackets in the chin. Brilliant. It does look a bit awkward in profile because of those big 17-inch wheels and high 205mm ground clearance, but then, which car with a crouching roof and high clearance doesn’t?
It’s no Parisian dandy under the skin, though. More wild man of Russia than bon vivant, the Kaptur has been over-engineered to take on the roughest of terrains, the coldest of winters and years and years of abuse. Under the skin is a highly evolved and updated version of the B-Zero platform, similar to the one that underpins the Duster. And Renault engineers from Russia have taken the opportunity to toughen up this made-for-Russia SUV even further. The chassis has loads of extra underbody gravel protection, with tough metal protection for fuel and power lines. The front axle has been reinforced to deal with hard, heavy loads, the springs are more robust in both construction and the manner in which they are mounted, and even the doors have extra rubber seals to keep dust and other elements out. All Kapturs also get a more powerful alternator, extra battery capacity and something you’ll get to use in India only if you drive across some Himalayan passes – that ability to start at -30deg C, first crank. Don’t know about you, but I’d love to have all that extra ruggedness built in.
Upsize and Upgrade
While the two cars share the same platform, the insides of the Kaptur are a departure from the Duster’s. Stepping into the cabin for the first time on a soaking wet day in Moscow, I’m initially struck by just how modern and sophisticated it feels. The wrap around the dash is nicely curved and devoid of extraneous details, and Renault designers have used self-contained pods that house the vents, instrument panel and centre console. What I also notice straight up is that quality levels, in general, are way above those of the Duster, so the cabin feels like a clean break from the past. What spoils this feeling of freshness somewhat, however, is that there are one too many legacy parts in here. Bits like the vents, steering wheel, touchscreen, air-con controls and four-wheel-drive selector are clearly carried over from the Duster, and the quality of some plastic parts in the lower part of the dash aren’t what you’d expect on a car in this class.
The design of the dash is minimalist yet modern, but there are many parts carried over from the Duster.
The view out over the low dash is excellent though, the driving position is first-rate and what’s nice is that there’s loads more width in the cabin than you’d expect. I’m also particularly happy with the driver’s seat, which is large and supportive. The base is nice and wide, the bolsters on the backrest don’t intrude on shoulder space and adjusting the seat is pretty easy too.
This feeling of greater space you get up front is further enhanced by the amount of space you have in the rear. This is due in part to the wider track and the greater overall length over the Duster. The height of the back seat is near-perfect, there’s a good amount of support for the thighs, the backrest is ideally angled and there’s more than sufficient legroom. You can also seat three abreast in greater comfort due to the extra width, and all three passengers get a proper three-point seatbelt each, the centre one popping out from the roof. There’s no elbow rest in the rear, however, at least on this version, and the rear isn’t as airy as the front. This is because the headrests up front are slightly oversized and the rising window line blots out some of the light too.
But while comfort on the Kaptur is much better than on the Duster, the boot isn’t as large. Yes, Renault has added cladding to the insides and made it more streamlined, making it easier to slide big bags in, but at 387 litres, it doesn’t have the capacity of the Duster’s, which holds 475 litres. Luckily, the rear seats split and fold, so there’s plenty of flexibility.
Renault say the Kaptur thrives in challenging conditions, and to prove it, they arranged for a deluge of such ferocity in Moscow, the southwest monsoon would have been proud. Not only is it raining as hard as it does back home, it’s been at it for hours and hours and hours. So my first impressions of this car are of how well it takes to Moscow’s flooded backstreets, strange as that sounds. All the training back in Mumbai sure is coming in handy here. But the Kaptur simply waltzes through, easily ‘ploughing’ through some difficult bits.
Soon we are on an elevated road that leads out of the city. I’m not following the Moskva river down to Gorky Park, not today I’m not, and this is no balmy August summer night; but what the hell, the city looks pretty spectacular from up here. The upshot of the rain is that the elevated six-lane highway we are on is as empty as a road in rural Kazakhstan. We pass the occasional car on a very long stretch and since no one is around, I, well... put a bit of extra weight on the accelerator pedal. The 143hp two-litre petrol isn’t the most modern engine around and the four-speed automatic is positively lethargic, but with all that grunt under my right foot, we’re soon doing very ‘respectable’ speeds. The Kaptur may have 205mm of ground clearance and there’s probably a gale force wind blowing us from one lane to the next, but the Renault still feels so ‘locked’ onto the tarmac; I’m relaxed behind the wheel, only looking out for standing water. The highway, of course, is well drained and so I can keep my foot planted. This allows me to keep my speed up even when the highway is reduced to two lanes. There is a bit of looseness as I change direction at high speed in the wet, and that calls for some extra attention, but apart from that, this is a Sunday drive.
The Kaptur also impresses as the highway gets tighter and tighter. While I find that it’snot nearly asquick to dive into a corner as the Duster and needs a bit more effort to pointinto tighter corners, it does settle on its springs nicely, and then there’s plenty of connection and confidence from the wheel. The steering and general handling, in fact, are so friendly, you don’t need to be goaded into driving faster – it comes naturally. And what also makes it easier to do is that the brakes are strong and pedal feel is excellent. It does start to run a bit wide when I really up the pace and it doesn’t particularly like quick changes in direction, where it rolls from one extreme to the other, but all things considered, for an SUV with so much clearance, this is great. It’s not an SUV you want to throw around, however – it’s a bit too ‘loose’ for that.
After a bit, we get to some rural roads that aren’t paved as well as Moscow’s highways. There are large rutted sections and the tarmac is frayed in bits, and this causes the Kaptur to take a few medium-sized knocks. But the suspension soaks them up surprisingly well due to an initial layer of suppleness. There is a bit of deflection as I go over larger bumps and a hint of firmness too, but the ride in general is so flat, I soon learn to simply power over most intrusions – something that most people want an SUV for in the first place.
Performance using the 2.0-litre petrol unit is also quite sufficient. This SUV weighs around 1.4 tonnes and with 143hp, there’s enough power and torque to accelerate well. The engine is smooth and there’s plenty of torque in the mid-range, but the four-speed automatic tends to spoil the experience. I’d stick to the 110hp 1.5 DCi diesel that the car is expected to come to India with. The Kaptur is only 5kg heavier than the Duster and with shorter gearing and the strong 245Nm of torque, it should have more than sufficient performance on hand. Still, if you have to buy a petrol, make sure it’s a manual.
What Renault has got with the Kaptur is an SUV that has the ability to deliver a much more sophisticated experience than the Duster. It will be more expensive, with a starting price of around Rs 16 lakh, and it is still a bit rough around the edges in a few not-so-important places, but the Kaptur generally puts in such a strong all-round performance, it’s difficult not to be hugely impressed by it.
To begin with, it’s as tough as the Duster and has a robust SUV feel – something Indian car buyers are increasingly starting to admire. Next, its design is fresh and attractive, the cabin is extremely comfortable, the interiors are a massive step forward and it rides and drives with a fluency most Renault cars just seem to have. Build the car here, price it aggressively and the carmaker is likely to have yet another winner on its hands. This is an SUV worth waiting for.