Think about Renault in Malaysia and the first things that come to mind are performance-oriented hatchbacks offering thrill-a-minute experiences. Malaysia is probably one of the top markets for R.S. badged Renaults especially when you consider how few of the French cars are sold here on an annual basis, but things are changing.
Last year, Renault’s official distributor TC Eurocars, launched the Fluence; a locally assembled C-segment family sedan that offered a fantastic ownership proposition for an affordable price. It didn’t exactly set the market alight but the sales numbers were decent and after a mild refresh this year, the car has attracted the attention of buyers looking for something different.
The second half of 2015 saw the range of non-R.S. badged Renaults expand with the addition of the Clio GT Line and the Captur, a crossover that shares its underpinnings with the Clio. Both are priced at around the RM120,000 level, which puts them up against some very strong competition, so they’ll have to combine French dynamic flair with an equally strong ownership package to have any hope of success.
I drove both cars recently and here’s what I think.
Renault Clio GT Line
Small B-segment hatchbacks still make up the bulk of sales in Europe, so it’s no surprise to see Renault lavishing so much attention on the Clio. Getting this car wrong would have been a disaster for Carlos Ghosn and his merry men, though from a Malaysian context, it’ll only ever be a niche player.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so excuse me if I gush a bit about how the Clio looks. In my opinion, it’s a handsome little car with just enough muscle and aggression to hint at a sporty side, and yes, the GT Line trim is the reason why. With a tailgate spoiler, extended side sills, 17-inch wheels and an aggressive bumper, this car can easily be mistaken for the Clio R.S. 200 EDC, which I guess was the whole point anyway.
It’s not as fast of course because instead of a 200hp 1.6-litre turbocharged motor under the bonnet, you’ll find a rather less bombastic 1.2-litre 4-cylinder engine. It still has a turbo, which explains why it produces 118hp at 4900rpm and 190Nm at 2000rpm, allowing the Clio to match the Honda Jazz and Mazda 2 for power while producing over 30 per cent more peak torque.
That’s a noticeable advantage during daily driving where speeds rarely average more than 35km/h and strong acceleration at low engine revs is vital. The Clio feels light on its feet, despite being heavier than its Japanese rivals, pulling away from traffic lights with no hint of strain and though its dual clutch gearbox isn’t as slick as a DSG unit, it doesn’t impede on performance or cause the dreaded ‘nodding head’ syndrome when shifting gears.
With struts at the front and torsion beams at the back you’d expect the handling to match its rivals, but Renault has tuned the chassis for handling, so there’s a sharpness to the steering and a deftness to the way the Clio goes through corners that’s absent from other B-segment hatchbacks. With big 205/45 R17 Michelin Primacy 3 tyres at all four corners, grip is prodigious and while the electrically assisted steering rack is bereft of true feel (they all are these days), it’s accurate and quick enough to dissect a winding road at speed without reducing the driver to a sea of arms and elbows.
Just in case you were wondering about fuel efficiency, an economy run was held during the media drive and the best figure I achieved was 18.5km/L, which is a respectable number for B-segment hatch. Expect to average 13.5-14km/L in daily use and more if there’s a lot of highway cruising in your daily commute.
The fact that the Clio GT Line is nice to drive is hardly a surprise, but then a great chassis and sweet engine and gearbox combo is not enough to convince people to part with RM118,000 (GST inclusive), especially for a small Renault. It has to appeal on other levels too, so it’s a good thing the equipment list is long.
A reach adjustable steering wheel, a 7-inch touchscreen media system with navigation and LED driving lights are just some of the premium items included as standard. Safety kit runs the gamut of passive and active systems with four airbags, ESC with ASR and ABS with EBA all included and for ultimate peace of mind, TC Eurocars offers the Clio GT Line with a five-year unlimited mileage manufacturer’s warranty to go along with their premium RENCARE customer care package. They can even help arrange for a plumber to come to your house, though you’ll have to foot the bill yourself.
As for space, the Renault doesn’t feel as spacious as the Honda Jazz, but it’s not as tight as the Mazda 2 either. The boot is a respectable 300-litres and while the interior isn’t as posh as the Mazda, it holds its own especially when you consider it has a full-colour touchscreen and the materials look like they’ll last in our harsh climate.
Ultimately though, this car was always bound to be a hard sell as Renault is asking C-segment money for a 1.2-litre B-segment hatch and regardless of its pedigree, technology, equipment level and after-sales package, having the better part of RM30,000 in change sitting in your bank account is tough to argue against. Yes, there will be takers out there, but their numbers will be so small you’ll have more luck spotting a Porsche Carrera at a Ferrari Owner’s track day.
Firstly, it’s pronounced ‘capture’ and not ‘captor’ or ‘cap-toor’, which is apt really because at first sight your interest will definitely by captured by this cute little B-segment crossover.
If you think you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because the Captur is the latest in a long list of cars to conform to the formula of taking a B-segment hatchback platform and turning it into a mini pseudo-SUV. Think Ford Ecosport, Peugeot 2008 and you get the idea, though neither of those made a big impression on Malaysian buyers. In fact, we didn’t really get the crossover thing until Honda launched the HR-V and shocked everyone by selling 1,800 units a month since its launch in February 2015. Mazda will undoubtedly sell loads of their newly launched CX-3 too, so perhaps the Captur will find success with the same formula.
It certainly starts on the right foot with an exterior that looks fresh and youthful. While its Japanese rivals went for a ‘compact-premium’ design language, the Captur is less formal with big trapezoidal headlights, a bluff frontal design and muscular surface treatments pressed into the sheet metal. All body colour options come with a contrasting roof, though the ones that stand out the most are the orange/black and blue/white combos. Those colour options also get special seat cover patterns to match the exterior so they’re the ones to get if you’re from the mountain-biking, scuba diving crowd.
Underneath the bodywork is essentially a Renault Clio platform that’s been mildly lengthened and widened. The suspension hardware remains the same with struts and torsion beams, so despite overall height being over 100mm taller than the Clio GT, the Captur goes down the road in a very similar fashion. It even corners flatly and feels just as eager to attack a winding road when you’re in the mood.
The chassis isn’t the only shared component because powering this crossover is the same 1.2-litre turbocharged motor used by the Clio GT Line. Power and torque figures are identical as is the dual-clutch gearbox used so its unsurprising to find similar levels of performance on offer.
I know what you’re thinking, no way would you buy a crossover with a tiny 1.2-litre engine but on the road, it doesn’t feel like the Captur is short of grunt. In fact, the turbo masks the lack of engine capacity by offering loads of torque from just 2000rpm, which is why it feels brisk when you floor the accelerator, so really the main hurdle to overcome is a matter of perception. I’ll get back to that later.
Inside, the interior follows the same fresh approach as the exterior though the dashboard consists mostly of hard textured black plastic. The main focal point is the same 7-inch MediaNav colour touchscreen system as that found in the Clio GT though the ventilation controls are housed in their own funky little cluster. The real saving grace are the seats and seat covers.
As mentioned earlier, choose orange/black or blue/white and the Captur comes with special seat cover designs. These do wonders at lifting the ambience inside and they can even be zipped out and put in the washing machine to remove any stains. It’s really a simple idea, but a clever touch.
Safety kit consists of four airbags, ESC and ABS and there’s also a reversing camera to avoid running over your cat, but these days that’s just par for the course. The five-year warranty is very useful though, which should help put the minds of potential buyers at ease.
If you want a Captur though, you’ll need to wait a bit as TC Eurocars have yet to confirm the final price. Current estimates are between RM118,00 to RM123,000 inclusive of GST so it’ll be priced competitively. Unfortunately, I already foresee a few issues.
One is the Captur’s interior. Though it looks fun and funky, most Malaysian car buyers in this segment are not. They would rather have drab predictability or something that gives off a premium feel, which unsurprisingly is what you’ll find in the HR-V and the CX-3. Nice colours inside and out can only go so far and unfortunately their market appeal is limited.
The other issue is the size of the engine. Though modern technology and turbocharging has endowed us with small capacity motors capable of doing big capacity work, there’s still a mental block in Asia and especially in the used car market. The best move Honda and Mazda did is to use the 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines from their C-segment cars in their B-segment crossovers, which shows in the sales figures. Renault didn’t really have much a choice as the biggest Captur motor is a 1.5-litre turbo diesel, but it just goes to prove Asia and the needs of locals still rank lowly in the product planning function of mass-market European brands.
Too little for too much?
I can’t help but feel sorry for TC Eurocars. On the one hand, they have a rabid group of owners who’ll devour any R.S. badged product coming to these shores but they’re really struggling to attract the mainstream buyer. The product is as good as if not better than their rivals, but with the exchange rate being the way it is and their CKD options limited, it’ll be some time yet before the average Malaysian thinks of a Renault the same way they think about a Honda or Toyota.
Warranty: 5-years unlimited mileage
New Renault showroom opens in Seremban
TC Euro Cars, the sole franchise holder for Renault cars in Malaysia, recently unveiled a new showroom in Seremban. Located in Era Square and operated by AJ Premium Motors, the new 1S centre builds on the Renault brand presence in the southern region of Peninsular Malaysia.
“Following the successful implementation of Renault’s new design and product strategy as evidenced with the New Renault Captur and Clio GT Line, the brand’s momentum is steadily growing in Malaysia,” said Kuan Kim Luen, CEO, TC Euro Cars Sdn Bhd.
“This new dealer showroom in Seremban will allow us to expand our reach and interact with more customers as we continue to offer more desirable and fuel-efficient Renault cars with ingenious innovations which enable customers to live life to the fullest,” he continued.
To ensure that customers receive strong after-sales support, TC Euro Cars will leverage on Tan Chong Group’s after-sales network, which means that customers can service their Renault cars at the Tan Chong service centre located in the Seremban Light Industrial Park, about 5km away from the new showroom. To date, Renault has 15 showrooms in Peninsular Malaysia, with 14 service centres across Peninsular and East Malaysia.