Renault's Captur brings PHEV plug-in tech more affordably to the compact SUV segment. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Renault has been a market leader in delivering plug-in hybrid technology to smaller cars - models like this one, the Captur E-TECH Plug-in Hybrid 160. This compact crossover offers a 30 mile electric driving range and, unlike some premium rivals, the powertrain's battery doesn't significantly affect either rear seat passenger room or boot space. Plus this French SUV is way cheaper than posh-badged models in this segment. So it ought to be worth a second look.
BMW, Mercedes and Volvo all offer plug-in powertrains in their compact SUVs but at quite a price - typically around £40,000. There's been very little sign of this kind of technology in the volume part of this segment, which explains why Renault feels so confident about the prospects of this model, the Captur E-TECH Plug-in Hybrid 160.
Being able to deliver this kind of tech in an SUV for well under £30,000 is a major draw (you can also get it in the brand's Megane models). The E-TECH project that's created the engineering underpinning all these Renault PHEVs began back in 2012 when the French government challenged its domestic car manufacturers to deliver a range of properly eco-minded cars by the end of the decade that were capable of a combined fuel figure of around 150mpg. Cars like this Captur E-TECH are the result.
This Captur plug-in model uses a 1.6-litre petrol engine mated to two electric motors and a multi-mode clutch-less transmission that Renault says offers "excellent efficiency and barely noticeable gear changes". The system puts out 160hp (around 20hp more than the equivalent plug-in package that Kia offers in its rival XCeed PHEV) and features a 9.8kWh, 400V battery that allows a range of about 30 miles; plus the ability to travel at up to 84mph, on electric power alone. After a stop, the transmission uses electric motor power to restart the car silently, and with immediate acceleration. When passing a vehicle or merging onto the highway, it combines the combustion and electric-powered engines to increase the available power and offer better acceleration.
The Captur E-TECH Plug-in features specific 'Multi-Sense' drive settings - there are three. 'Pure', activated by a special button on the dashboard, is the full-electric setting, selectable provided there is enough power. The second option, 'MySense', optimises the hybrid mode for lower running costs. Its "E-Save" feature helps to save battery power (at least 40 per cent) so that it can switch to full-electric mode when required for driving in city centres, for example. Finally, 'Sport' mode allows drivers to take advantage of maximum performance by combining the power of the engine and the two electric motors. In this setting, rest to 62mph takes 10.1s en route to 108mph.
There's very little to identify this E-TECH Captur model apart from its more conventional stablemates. It looks pretty smart because you have to have, at minimum, plush 'S Edition' trim, which gets you 17-inch Bahamas diamond cut alloy wheels and full C-shape LED front signature lighting for the daytime running lamps. In MK2 form, this car is 110mm longer, 20mm wider and fractionally taller than before. At the rear, there's a smart set of C-shaped LED tail-lamps.
Inside, it's a bit easier to identify this E-TECH variant's plug-in origins. Specific to this model is what Renault calls a 'flying console' with an 'e-shifter' for the auto gearbox. Plus there's a provided 'EV' button to activate the 'PURE' mode that'll give you 100% electric drive (provided the battery's charged). This PHEV also gets the brand's 10-inch TFT Driver information display digital instrument binnacle screen too. And there's a portrait-style centre infotainment touchscreen display that's 9.3-inches in size and is of course smartphone 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto'-compatible. The fascia also features a floating centre console that increases storage space. A couple of adults can be reasonably comfortably accommodated in the rear. And cargo capacity isn't too much affected by the plug-in powertrain; think in terms of around 400-litres of boot capacity, extendable to 1,275-litres with the rear bench folded.
From launch, there was a choice of two Captur E-TECH trim levels - 'S Edition' and 'Launch Edition'; think in terms of pricing in the £30,000-£31,000 bracket - which is quite a lot for a Captur but around £8,000-£10,000 less than you'd pay for similarly-sized PHEV crossover models from the premium brands.
Standard kit includes what Renault calls its 'Smart Cockpit', a key component of which is the 9.3-inch centre multimedia screen, the biggest ever on a Renault model. This vertical and subtly curved tablet visually enlarges the dashboard and lends the cabin a more contemporary feel. Turned towards the driver, this screen, with its EASY LINK connected system, comprises all the multimedia, navigation and infotainment features as well as the car's MULTI-SENSE driving settings.
Renault is offering 11 exterior colours and four contrasting roof finishes, which mean there are 90 different configurations for buyers to choose from. 'S Edition' trim gets you 17-inch Bahamas diamond cut alloy wheels, upholstery with part-synthetic leather trim, a wireless phone charger and a 10-inch TFT Driver information display screen in the instrument binnacle. There's also ambient lighting, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, auto high beam headlamps and an auto-dipping rear view mirror.
We've already mentioned the 30 mile WLTP-rated all-electric driving range of this model: that rises to around 40 miles on the urban cycle. You can select an additional 'B' mode via the auto gearstick to increase regenerative braking energy harvesting. Like all PHEVs, this one can offer three-figure combined cycle economy (up to 188.3mpg) and a super-low CO2 emissions figure - in this case 33g/km. Which in turn will mean a far lower BiK tax rating (10%) than the one which would apply to a conventional petrol or diesel Captur. Enough to justify this PHEV model's price premium? That'll depend on your tax situation. Your first year VED payment will be £0. Charging time via a Type 2 (mode 3) cable is 3 hours - or 4 hours 15 mins from a domestic socket.
The E-TECH system's two electric motors are key to its efficiency. The first handles energy harvesting during braking and deceleration. The second serves as a starter to get the combustion-powered engine running and also supports Renault's innovative transmission system, developed from the brand's F1 racing experience. With no clutch, it handles the distribution of torque from different motors to the front wheels and optimizes energy output when changing gears. As for the warranty, that's good for up to four years or 100,000 miles. Years one and two are unlimited mileage. The PHEV system's battery has a separate 8 year/100,000 mile warranty.
As you'd expect from a brand that's been selling electrified vehicles for over a decade, Renault is well advanced with this technology and that shows with cars like this Captur E-TECH. It's one of twelve different hybrid-engined models the brand has developed and might well prove to be the most popular PHEV cars the company makes.
There's no range anxiety, no curious styling, no confusing battery lease sums to grapple with. Just most of the advantages you'll want from electrified technology with few of the drawbacks you don't. It's not all rosy of course; there's quite a price premium to pay over a conventional petrol or diesel-engined Captur variant. And there'll be a few small practicality compromises to make. But if you can cope with that, then for the right kind of buyer, this right now might arguably be the most sensible compact SUV on the market.
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