PETER SIGAL

How Renault plans to keep the Captur ahead of rivals

The Captur gets a tweaked radiator grille to bring it more into line with the brand's crossover family. Also added are a chrome strip and skid plates.
Peter Sigal is a France-based correspondent with Automotive News Europe.
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In his play about the English king, Henry IV, Shakespeare had the troubled monarch say: "Uneasy lies a head that wears the crown."

I was reminded of that Shakespeare quote (Henry IV, Part 2) on a recent test drive of Renault’s updated Captur in Denmark by a sign for Helsingor, the Danish seaport better known as Elsinore, where Hamlet brooded in his castle.

Introduced in 2013, the Captur has ruled Europe’s growing subcompact SUV/crossover segment, with sales last year of 214,571, well ahead of rivals such as the Peugeot 2008 and Opel Mokka X.

With the segment in Europe forecast to be 2.3 million units by 2020, other automakers are rushing in, including the Volkswagen Group, which will offer Seat and VW small crossovers, as well as new Asian rivals from Hyundai with its Kona and Kia with its Stonic.

With that in mind, Renault has just released a mid-cycle refresh of the Captur, featuring an upgraded and redesigned interior and new exterior personalization choices. The French automaker has also added a luxury-themed Paris Initiale version that tops out at a little more than 28,000 euros. The lowest-trim model, the Life, starts at just above 17,000 euros.

Renault also sells the Captur in China, and may eventually produce it there; it is sold as the Samsung QM3 in South Korea. (Captur with a “C” is not to be mistaken for the similar-looking Kaptur, a more rugged four-wheel-drive SUV based on the Duster that is sold in Russia and Brazil, and is coming to India -- though in Brazil it gets the European spelling, and India’s spelling is apparently to be determined. Confused yet?)

It’s easy to see the appeal of small crossovers. A higher stance improves visibility for driver and passengers, and taller rooflines allow for more cargo capacity than the comparably sized sedan or hatchback with which many of the entrants share platforms. The extra height was certainly useful in bicycle-mad Copenhagen, where making a right turn often requires motorists to cut across a separate cycling lane.

“The station wagon segment has nearly disappeared,” said Renault’s head of sales and marketing in France, Xavier Martinet, who was on hand for the Captur test drives. Though Captur wasn’t the first small crossover in Europe — that honor probably goes to the Juke from Renault’s Japanese partner Nissan — he said it had “democratized” the segment by being a mass-market success.

Outside, the Captur gets a more-aggressive grille meant to evoke its larger Renault SUV brothers, the Kadjar and Koleos, and molded skid plates front and rear, though an all-wheel-drive version is not available. (Initiale buyers, presumably less interested in off-roading, will get smoother bumpers.) As before, Captur buyers can mix and match roof and body colors, with gray being added to the three current roof choices.

Some reviewers have been less than enthusiastic about Captur’s interiors, so the upgraded model has higher-quality plastics and softer tactile surfaces. On the technical side, Captur gets a blind-spot warning system and hands-free parking assist.

Renault’s Initiale versions have been trickling down from the high end of the automaker's lineup to the Clio and now the Captur. The reasoning behind the move is twofold, Martinet said: Two-thirds of Captur buyers are already opting for the high-trim Intens version, and about 40 percent of buyers are moving down from vehicles in a higher segment, and are used to plusher interiors.

Engine choices remain the same: A three- or four-cylinder TCe gasoline engine, with 90 or 120 horsepower, or a four-cylinder Dci diesel, with 90 or 110 horsepower.

Whether the changes will be enough for the Captur keep its sales crown remains to be seen, but first quarter sales (the current version) of 54,984 are running slightly head of 2016’s figures, according to JATO Dynamics. The latest version hits showrooms in France early June, so presumably Renault could see a bump from publicity.

Captur’s buyers have generally fallen into two categories, Martinet said. One is city or suburban residents who might be childless or have small children. The other is “empty nesters” — older people who are downsizing and don’t need a large car anymore.

Martinet said a happy finding for Renault is that Captur has a very high conquest rate -- though he wouldn’t disclose exact figures -- and that there was little cannibalization from the rest of the lineup. He said it is too early to say if those buyers who are new to the Renault fold are moving up the range into, for example, a Koleos, but that is the goal.

“It’s much easier to win loyalty than conquests,” he said.

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