Review

Renault Captur E-Tech review: the hybrid compact SUV comes of age

4/5

Like its Clio supermini, the French firm's small SUV is a useful first step into electric driving without sacrificing convenience or style

2020 Renault Captur E-tech plug-in hybrid (PHEV)
The Captur SUV is based on the Clio, which we liked in PHEV form

Plug-in hybrids have always made sense to a lot of people, but they have also always been seriously expensive. Well, that’s starting to change and Renault is leading the charge (if you’ll forgive the pun) on affordable plug-in hybrids with this, the Captur E-Tech plug-in hybrid (usually abbreviated to PHEV). 

The Captur E-Tech is one of the first of the non-premium compact SUVs to get plug-in hybrid technology, but is it going to be a hard one for the rest of the class to beat?

Pros: Looks great, enough electric range to do most commutes, nice interior.

Cons: Powertrain can feel a little busy. 

What’s under the skin? 

Rather a lot, to be fair. A 9.8kWh lithium-ion battery powers an electric motor, which drives the Captur’s front wheels and delivers an official pure-electric range of 30 miles. A naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre petrol engine keeps you going after that, which is really all you need to know.

However, knowing that there’s a fiendishly complicated clutchless ‘dog’ gearbox that offers two forward ratios for the main electric motor and four for the petrol engine, with 15 operating modes in total might help to understand why the Renault powertrain sometimes feels a little busy. 

What’s it like day to day?

Charging is via a Type 2 socket at the back of the car, on the opposite side to the fuel filler. With a maximum charging rate of 3.6kW, you’ll get a full battery from a home wallbox – which is free with a new Captur E-Tech – in three hours.  

More importantly for many, the Captur is still more than practical enough for a small family. The rear seats are spacious enough for an average-sized adult to sit behind another, and they also slide for-and-aft so you can prioritise passenger comfort or load space. There’s plenty of the latter even with the seats slid back; you’ll get a chunky buggy or big dog in no problems, and there’s underfloor storage for the standard charging cable that comes with the car. 

In the front, the new Renault era of posher, more tech-focussed interiors is in clear evidence. A large portrait-mounted 9.3-inch touchscreen is your window into everything, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Some obvious functions can be frustratingly well-hidden, but the majority of the menus are easy to navigate and graphics quality is good.

As is the general quality of the interior, which looks great with standard ambient lighting and a tactile blend of materials. It still feels much more hatchback than SUV in the Captur’s driving position, but the slightly raised hip-height and more upright stance makes it feel a touch more assertive. 

Is it fun to drive? 

It’s slick and stable, but certainly not as fun as the Ford Puma. The light steering feels a touch too sensitive around the dead-ahead but weights up quickly enough that you’ve still got confidence in where the Captur is pointing and what’s going on at the wheels. That light steering does make it feel usefully wieldy for about-town driving, too – especially in Pure mode when the seamless electric acceleration makes the Captur feel punchy and relaxing, as well as very quiet. 

The brakes, too, can feel a little hyper-sensitive on initial application but it doesn’t take long to get used to it and modulate the car’s stopping power smoothly.

There is a bit of buzz and vibration when the 1.6-litre petrol engine kicks in, but any hesitation in your progress up the road as the car switches its main power source is barely noticeable unless you’ve gone for a very heavy burst of acceleration – when you’ll also get a rather laboured moo of complaint from the petrol engine. 

Having said that, even if you have run out of battery and are pottering around on petrol power (a small amount of electric power is always kept in reserve to help boost performance and offer momentary pure electric power at low speeds) the Captur is quiet and enjoyable.

It only gets noisy if you go for overtake levels of acceleration, which you probably won’t very often since the Captur isn’t fast. The whole thing encourages relaxed use of the hearty mid-range and off-the-line perkiness, but it’s not a car you want to drive enthusiastically. 

Ride comfort on the 18-inch wheels of our test car is a little lumpy over bigger bumps, but the suspension does a good job of keeping things neat and tidy most of the time, and body lean is progressive and undramatic, too. The smaller 17-inch wheels fitted to most Capturs will no doubt improve ride comfort still further. 

How much will it set you back? 

Well, about that ‘affordability’ we mentioned… The Renault Captur plug-in hybrid is certainly much more affordable than most plug-ins have been up until now. Until recently, if you didn’t have £40,000 and above, your choices were severely limited. So the fact that the Captur costs just over £30,000 is, in fact, a good thing for PHEVs, especially since it comes in such a likable and popular car. 

No, it’s not cheap next to petrol alternatives like the Nissan Juke, the Ford Puma and even the non-electrified Renault Captur models. But, given the E-Tech plug-in hybrid’s potential to drastically cut fuel bills, and with monthly finance deals likely to start from around £300 per month even with the very generous equipment levels on the two high-spec trims offered from launch, it’s not hard to see how many will find it a very easy car to justify. 

The Telegraph verdict

The Captur’s complicated powertrain does make for slightly busy-feeling progress at times, and there are refinement improvements to make to the powertrain, both to the gearbox and brake pedal response.

For all that, it’s still easy and quiet to drive smoothly, it has way more ‘want one’ appeal than the Kia Niro, it’s a practical family car, and the cabin is now a pleasure for both driver and passengers. Most people will love the Captur’s blend of almost-posh, definitely practical and very frugal. 

It really is an enjoyable and compromise-free entry to electric motoring for swathes of the UK’s motorists – company car users and retail buyers alike. 

Telegraph verdict: Four stars out of five

THE FACTS 

On test: Renault Captur E-Tech Launch Edition

How much? £30,995 on the road

How fast? 108mph (84mph in EV mode), 0-62mph in 10.1sec

How economical? 176.6mpg (WLTP Combined)

Engine/gearbox: 1,598cc four-cylinder petrol, 158bhp (total system output), clutchless ‘dog’ automatic gearbox, front-wheel drive

The electric bits: AC motor with 9.8kWh battery, 3.6kW on-board charger, Type 2 charging socket

Electric range: 30 miles (WLTP)

CO2 emissions: 36g/km (WLTP)

VED: £0 first year, then £150

Warranty: 5 years / unlimited miles (battery covered for eight years/100,000 miles)

Spare wheel as standard: No (not available)

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