Renault Captur 2021 review
The 2021 Renault Captur aims to expunge the shortcomings of the car it replaces, with more space, better drivetrain and a whole heap of new tech.
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Years ago we all thought the BMW X6 was an answer to a question nobody had asked.
Arkana is a brand-new nameplate for the French brand, and it’s built on the same belly bits as what’s under the Captur small SUV and the Nissan Juke. But this is a bit longer, has a touch more presence, but rather surprisingly is quite affordable. Good looking, too, innit?
Let’s take a deep dive into the Renault Arkana 2022 model and see whether it has other likeable attributes other than its price and eye-catching design.
Any European SUV that starts under $35K is an interesting proposition, and this one is no exception.
The Arkana range is offered in three trim levels (all prices listed are MSRP, not drive-away): the entry grade Zen is $33,990, the mid-spec Intens tested in this review costs $37,490, and the soon-to-arrive range-topping RS-Line grade will be a $40,990 proposition.
That’s not cheap by small SUV standards. I mean, you could consider a Mazda CX-30 (from $29,190), a Skoda Kamiq (from $32,390) or even the related Renault Captur (from $28,190) or Nissan Juke (from $27,990).
But it’s less expensive than a Peugeot 2008 (from $34,990) and starts at the same point as the base model VW T-Roc (from $33,990). While the Audi Q3 Sportback - arguably the closest small SUV competitor in terms of ethos - starts at $51,800.
Let’s take a look at what you get across the model range.
The Zen scores standard LED headlights and daytime running lights, 17-inch alloy wheels in a two-tone finish, a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, a 4.2-inch multifunction display for the driver, a heated steering wheel (unusual at this price point), climate control and artificial leather upholstery.
Zen buyers also score adaptive cruise control and an array of safety technology which is standard on all grades - we applaud you for that, Renault: customers on a budget shouldn’t have to compromise on their safety or the safety of other road users! We’ve detailed all that stuff in the safety section below.
Adding the $3500 to your new car bill to step up to the Intens grade will net you a bunch of goodies, such as three drive modes, 18-inch alloy wheels, a larger 9.3-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, a 7.0-inch multifunction display as part of the instrument cluster, as well as power-adjustable front seats with heating and cooling, leather and suede upholstery, ambient lighting and - what was I saying about standard safety gear? - you also get rear cross-traffic alert at this level.
And the top-of-the-pops RS Line is the sportier looking model. Note - sportier looking, but it doesn’t have any changes to the way it drives.
But it does get a body kit with gunmetal front and rear skid plates, rear privacy glass, gloss-black exterior accents, a sunroof, wireless smartphone charging, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and gloss carbon-look interior trim.
Options and extras for the range include a sunroof that can be optioned on the Intens grade for $1500 (as was optioned in our test car), while there’s a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster available on Intens and RS Line models for $800. Seems a bit rich given a Kamiq has a 12.0-inch digital screen standard.
There’s only one no-cost colour option, Solid White, while the metallic paint choices include Universal White, Zanzibar Blue, Metallic Black, Metallic Grey and Flame Red, all of which cost $750 extra. And if you’re into the black roof look, you can get that with black mirror caps for $600.
Accessories include the usual suspects - rubber floor mats, roof bars, side steps, bike rack options and even a tack-on rear spoiler, or - what you could call a sport pack - with a Flame Red highlight body kit.
I usually don’t really go much on the coupe-SUV thing. It’s typically not my cup of tea. And using that oddbod language on a smaller SUV typically makes even less sense, if you ask me. Apart from maybe the Audi Q3 and RS Q3, which look pretty dang cool in Sportback coupe form.
Yet, somehow - despite the Arkana being hardly a ‘small’ small SUV at 4568mm long and having some pretty lengthy overhangs because of its comparatively quite short 2720mm wheelbase - I think this is a really attractive and interesting design.
It’s fetching, with its slicked-back hair roofline and angular, bejeweled LED headlight/daytime running lights giving it some standout appeal. It carries that stunning light-work to the rear, with a neat signature running the width of the tailgate, a prominent (albeit not current) Renault diamond badge, and on-trend model lettering.
To my eye, this is a more convincing execution of the SUV-coupe look than many of the premium alternatives, like the BMW X4 and X6, not to mention the Mercedes GLC Coupe and GLE Coupe. To me, none of those look like they were purposely designed to be what they are, rather they were SUVs turned into coupe-style models.
This looks intentional. And I think it looks great - from most angles, anyway.
Not only that, it looks expensive. And that alone could well be enough to lure some customers away from mainstream rivals.
Many of its small SUV counterparts, and indeed even its stablemate the Captur, are surprisingly practical for such a small footprint. And while the design of this car makes it stand out as something of a counterpoint to its main rivals, it comes with a level of compromise you need to consider.
Any coupe-inspired design has inherently less headroom and less boot space than a ‘wagon’ style SUV. That’s just how geometry works.
But rather than eat into the boot space with a full-size spare wheel, the Arkana has a space-saver unit that helps keep the boot floor low, allowing 485 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity. That increases to 1268L VDA if you lower the rear seatbacks. I’ll go over the practicality implications of that roofline in the next section.
The in-cabin design in the mid- and top-spec models is dominated by the 9.3-inch portrait-style media screen, while the base grade has a 7.0-inch landscape-layout unit - which is odd, given Renault’s website says “Connectivity is Everything”... It’s everything, if you can afford it?
The dashboard with surprisingly prominent vents because of the trim colour. It’s a nice looking space, certainly more upmarket and with more plush materials than some of its Euro rivals - we’re looking at you, VW.
More on the interior in the next section.
Looking expensive from the outside, you might be surprised at the door handle action as you proceed into the cabin. It’s not premium feeling, that’s for sure - very plasticky.
Once inside, you’re greeted with a space that also looks expensive but feels a bit less luxurious in some facets.
There are mixed materials used throughout, with some soft touch finishes on the dashboard and door tops as well as lovely leather and microsuede trim on the seats, but there are plenty of hard plastics in the lower area sections of the dashboard and doors.
There’s interesting trim used on all four doors and the dash, a plastic with a mesh look pattern print on it. Again, if you didn’t touch it you wouldn’t realise it’s an inexpensive finish, and it’s certainly made to feel a bit more special by the configurable ambient lighting inlaid in those sections.
There are large door pockets, a pair of good sized cupholders between the front seats (big enough to fit a decent sized takeaway or keep cup, which is novel for a French car), and in front of the shifter there is a storage caddy but there’s no wireless charging - instead, there are two USB ports above.
A very small covered centre console bin with padded armrest resides between the front seats, while rear seat occupants score a flip-down armrest with cup holders, decent door pockets (though not sculpted for a bottle), and mesh map pockets.
The media screen in the Intens spec is a lovely, high-definition 9.3-inch screen in portrait layout, which is a bit unusual compared to the majority of its rivals which offer landscape designs.
However I do like the usability of that screen, with the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring integration being a square section in the middle of the screen, while some home buttons and quick return buttons sit top and bottom. The CarPlay worked quickly when connecting and reconnecting, though I did have a moment where the entire media screen went completely black and the phone call I was on reverted to my phone - not ideal when you’re not allowed to touch your phone while driving! About 10-15 seconds later, it was back up and running.
Also, the quality of the lens used for the reversing camera doesn't do the screen any justice. The vision is really pixelated.
There are physical buttons and controls for the air conditioning (it doesn’t run through the screen, thank goodness!), but I wish there was a knob for the volume control rather than the touchscreen buttons and the odd, oh-so-French stalk that pokes off the steering column.
There are cruise control buttons and driver info screen control toggles on the steering wheel itself, and there are more buttons to the right of the steering wheel for things like the steering wheel heating and lane control system.
Up front there’s enough space for an adult my size (182cm or 6’0”) to get in and out, and get comfy, without having to worry about space at all.
But the backseat space is better suited for children than adults, as there is limited knee room – behind my driving position, I couldn’t easily or comfortably fit my knees without being in the man-spread position.
The width of the back seat is also limited, and three adults across will be a real challenge unless each occupant is modeling themselves on slenderman. Taller occupants may find the back a bit cramped for headroom as well - my head brushed the ceiling when sitting up straight, and the middle seat is tighter again for head space.
Amenities-wise there are two USB ports and directional air vents, plus two ISOFIX child seat anchor points and three top-tether restraints. Plus there are multiple reading lights in the back, and grab handles as well.
In a typical cheaper-in-the-back-seat move the door tops are made of hard plastic – but that means they should be easier to wipe if you have grubby kids mitts in contact with them. At least you get soft padding on the elbow rests on all the doors, which isn’t always the case.
As mentioned above, the boot is an odd shape and you will find that if you have a pram and all the stuff associated with a young baby or child, it will be a tight fit - even though the claimed capacity of the boot is quite large.
There’s just the one engine option across the Renault Arkana range - yep, even the sportier RS Line gets the same motor as the base grade car.
It’s a 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine producing 115kW of power (at 5500rpm) and 262Nm of torque (at 2250rpm). This so-called TCe 155 EDC powertrain offers a higher torque figure than the likes of the VW T-Roc and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, both of which have larger capacity engines.
Indeed, the 1.3L unit punches hard for its size, and makes use of a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all grades have steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. It is front-wheel drive/2WD, and there is no all-wheel-drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD) option available.
The Intens and RS Line models have three different drive modes - MySense, Sport and Eco - which fettle the reactiveness of the powertrain.
Really strange to see a brand launch a brand new car in Australia with no form of electrification - there’s no hybrid, mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or electric version of the Arkana sold in Australia. The brand isn’t alone in that approach, but we are starting to see more high-tech alternative powertrains offered in competitor cars now.
The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure is 6.0 litres per 100 kilometres (ADR 81/02), with emissions stated at 137g/km CO2. Not bad, really.
In reality, you might expect to see a bit higher than that, though. On our test we saw 7.5/100km measured at the pump, across a mix of driving on highways, motorways, open roads, twisty roads, traffic snarls and urban testing.
The fuel tank capacity is 50 litres, and happily it can run on 91RON regular unleaded - so you don’t need to run it on premium unleaded, which helps keep running costs down.
The Renault Arkana has been awarded a five-star ANCAP crash test safety rating against 2019 criteria.
As mentioned above, the majority of the safety technology and equipment is offered on all grades in the line-up, including a front-facing autonomous emergency braking (AEB) system that works between 7km/h and 170km/h. It incorporates forward collision warning with pedestrian and cyclist detection which operates between 10km/h and 80km/h.
There’s also adaptive cruise control and speed limiter, as well as lane departure warning and lane keep assist, but it doesn’t intervene to really steer you out of a potential issue. It works between 70km/h and 180km/h.
All grades have blind-spot monitoring but the Zen base model misses out rear cross-traffic alert (a real shame!), and all models have speed sign recognition, a reversing camera, front, rear and side parking sensors, and there are six airbags (dual front, front side, side curtain for both rows).
Things that are missing are range-wide rear cross-traffic alert, there’s no available surround view 360 degree camera system, and you can’t get the Arkana with rear AEB, either. It could be a problem, as the blind-spot issue is a real one in this car. Plenty of rivals offer that tech now, too. Some newer rivals offer additional airbag coverage, too.
Where is the Renault Arkana built? You may be surprised to learn that it’s not France. It’s not even in Europe. The answer is “made in South Korea” - the company builds the Arkana there at its Busan plant alongside its localised Renault Samsung Motors models. The larger Koleos is built there as well.
5 years / unlimited km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
Buy a Renault these days and you’re set for an “Easy Life”... for five years, at least.
The brand’s Five Year Easy Life Ownership plan incorporates a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, five capped-price services, and up to five years’ roadside assist if you maintain your car with the brand’s dedicated workshop network.
The interesting thing here is that the servicing and maintenance is required every 12 months or 30,000km - a very long interval between visits - double or triple some competitors on distance. The service prices are decent, too: years one, two, three and five are $399, while year four is a $789 cost, meaning an average annual fee over five years/150,000km of $477.
All told it looks like a reasonably promising ownership program, with decent costs and par-for-the-course warranty cover.
Worried about Renault issues around reliability, engine problems, transmission faults, common complaints or recalls? Check out our Renault problems page.
The Renault Arkana looks better than it drives.
Scratch that. It looks a lot better than it drives.
Frankly, this car is downright poor in low speed city or urban driving, where the engine’s start-stop system, turbo lag and the dual-clutch automatic transmission plague the drive experience to the point of abject frustration.
I really, really disliked driving the Arkana in town. I also didn’t like driving it out of my driveway, which runs downhill from a down-hill street, and reversing it out of my driveway and taking off up the street actually scared some passersby.
Why? Because the transmission let the car roll forward while in reverse. There is an Auto Hold button which should have stopped this, but maybe I didn’t push the brake pedal hard enough to activate it.
Instead, I overcompensated and applied too much throttle. That spun the tyres on my pavers ever so slightly, so I braked and then backed out over the kerb point onto the road, rear of the car facing downhill, and it again rolled back while I shifted to drive. Then, again, the tyres scrabbled for grip on the road below once the transmission sorted itself out and the turbo kicked in, whooshing before the engine emitted its fuzzy hum and the car took off faster than expected.
It was bad. And it happened a couple of times, too.
And there were other instances where it was less than good, too. The transmission constantly swapped between gears under light acceleration at higher speeds or with adaptive cruise control on, a lot of that down to gradient changes. So, if you live in a hilly area like me (the Blue Mountains) you will notice how busy the transmission is with the top three gears - even just to maintain 80km/h. And it doesn’t maintain its speed very well at all using adaptive cruise control, either.
It was even worse when you’re dealing with low speed driving. The indecisiveness of DCT made for moments of hesitation before sudden explosions of progress - not fun in the wet. That means that it will be laggy on occasion, while also sometimes feeling like it’s taking off too quickly at times. You will get wheelspin even on dry surfaces, and I have experienced this during my time in the car multiple times.
The fact is, you need to be mindful of how you apply throttle in this car. You shouldn’t have to think this hard when you’re driving an automatic car, in my opinion. Many of its rivals with DCT transmissions are a lot better than this - the Hyundai Kona, for instance, and the slightly larger VW Tiguan, too.
The steering is light in the standard MySense drive mode, which you can configure to your tastes to a degree. Choosing the Sport drive mode (or just the Sport steering setting in MySense) adds extra weight but doesn’t add any extra feel to the experience at all, so there’s little to find in terms of enjoyment for a keen driver, with no real "feel" from the steering at all, and indeed it is a bit slow to react, with a larger than expected turning circle (11.2m). That can make for some multi-move turnarounds, and I found the reversing camera often lagged dangerously behind the realtime situation.
As is the case with a lot of SUVs in the segment, the steering is designed to be easy around town rather than enjoyable on the open road. So if you’re expecting a Megane RS-like drive experience, buy that car instead.
The suspension was quite sure of itself. There is a firm edge to it and it felt reasonably controlled on the open road, but at lower speeds when you hit deep divots or potholes, the body gets very upset as the wheels seem to drop in to holes. It’s really good over speed humps, however.
While it is a front-wheel drive (2WD) SUV, I did some very light off-road driving on a gravel track in the Blue Mountains and found that suspension to be overly rigid over corrugated parts, bouncing the car around on its big 18-inch wheels. The transmission, again, played havoc with progress, in combination with the eager traction control system which, at least, helped me get where I needed to go. There’s 199mm of ground clearance, which is good for an SUV of this ilk.
So who is it for, then?
I’d say a long-distance commuter might find this car a good partner. It is pretty refined at highway and freeway pace, and that’s where the suspension and transmission are least annoying. And hey, that could help you get the most out of those long service intervals, too. Newcastle-to-Sydney or Geelong-to-Melbourne drivers, this could be one to take a look at.
The Renault Arkana is certainly an interesting addition to the small SUV segment. It has a look and level of appeal that sets it apart from the rest of the compact crossover brigade, and a price that is reasonably sharp for a European badged SUV. Given the inclusions, our pick of the range would be the mid-spec Intens.
It is let down by a frustrating drive experience in some instances, and compromised packaging as a result of the swoopy roof. That said, for singles or couples who do more highway driving than anything else, it could be an enticing alternative.
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