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Effectively a fourth-generation Clio on stilts, the Captur could be just the thing if you're after the height and practicality advantages of a compact crossover without the wacky styling.

Even Renault says the Captur is ""˜inoffensive' to look at. Just be warned, that's not the same as suggesting it's pretty. While the two-tone examples we were driving certainly attracted a lot of attention on the French coast, not all of the stares appeared to be complimentary.

Choose your colour combo ""“ of which there are several ""“ very carefully. Blue and ivory cream? Probably best left to the Italian police in our experience.

The mixed paint is just one example of the Captur's extensive range of personalisation options, which also include trim parts and graphics inside and out, as well as the novel ability to unzip and swap the seat covers. Not to mention the R-Link infotainment system, where you can even customise the engine note.

Add in a fair degree of practical versatility, a small but efficient range of engines ""“ CO2 emissions are as low as 96g/km ""“ and some very attractive pricing, and you've got a supermini-sized pseudo SUV that's really determined to take sales away from both its crossover competition and more traditional compact MPVs.

It's pronounced ""˜capture', by the way.

The Captur comes in three engine choices initially: a 90hp 0.9-litre TCe turbo petrol that's paired with a five-speed manual gearbox, a 120hp 1.2-litre TCe turbo petrol paired with a six-speed EDC automatic gearbox, and the latest version of the long-standing 90hp 1.5 dCi turbodiesel, available with both transmissions.

It is resolutely front-wheel drive only. There is no 4x4 option for the Captur
We sampled the 1.2 TCe auto and the 1.5 dCi manual.

The diesel is likely to be the most popular. Despite the recent introduction of a new 1.6-litre turbodiesel elsewhere in the Renault range, this little dCi shows no sign of going away ""“ and with good reason. It delivers the diesel grail of smooth, torquey performance in combination with great refinement. An excellent choice.

The 0.9-litre petrol should prove an interesting alternative, however ""“ especially given strong entry-level pricing of just £12,495, undercutting the segment-leading Juke's base model by £500. We've recently driven it in the new Clio, and with just 100kg more to cope with here it should prove just fine.

The Captur is based on the same basic platform as the Clio 4 ""“ although the chassis has been overhauled to cope with the increased wheel size and the taller body, meaning some parts come from the latest Clio Sport Tourer estate rather than the regular hatchback, and the suspension is stiffer.

Depending on trim level, all of the seat covers can be unzipped and removed for easy cleaning
It is resolutely front-wheel drive only. There is no 4x4 option for the Captur, and nor will there be. But you do get 20cm of ground clearance, and a seating position that's 10cm higher that the Clio's.

The sense of command this brings over the road ahead is only slightly marred by steeply raked windscreen pillars. Which tend to get in the way as you negotiate corners. And you also can't completely ignore the choppy ride ""“ a side-effect of the firmer suspension that's especially noticeable as a passenger.

This aside, the Captur is a highly agreeable car to drive. Being barely any bigger than the Clio, it's wieldy around town and on country lanes and, while there is an inevitable increase in the amount of body roll, it never feels excessive or out of hand.

Left-hand-drive Capturs don't get a glovebox ""“ they get an enormous 11-litre drawer, which slides out of the dashboard, Ikea stylee. Unfortunately for UK buyers, a bundle of electrics behind the dash means this can't be done for right-hand drive, so we're stuck with a regular five-litre glovebox instead.

A shame, but not the end of the world, for the Renault is a remarkably spacious small car. At its maximum, rear legroom matches the latest Laguna saloon, but because the rear bench seat slides forward and aft you can balance passenger comfort against boot space, as required.

The Captur is the most efficient car in its class, with CO2 emissions of just 96g/km from the diesel
The boot itself features a double-sided false floor ""“ one side normal carpet, the other easy clean rubber ""“ with a deep additional storage well underneath. At its minimum it offers 377 litres of space; slide the bench forward and this goes up to 455 litres; fold the rear seat backs down, and there's 1,235 litres in total.

Other handy storage solutions include a cubby in the dash top, and optional elastic straps on the front seat backs. Depending on trim level, all of the seat covers can be unzipped and removed for easy cleaning, or swapped for new ones should you simply fancy a change.

We like the way the Captur drives, and we think buyers will like the way it looks, the degree of personalisation it offers ""“ and the price. It's practical, the engines are excellent and it seems well built. All of which adds up to a strong debut for Renault in the compact crossover segment.

It needs to. This is a sector of the market that's primed to explode in 2013, as other new cars such as the Peugeot 2008, the Chevrolet Trax and the Ford EcoSport all come gunning for the Nissan Juke as well. Has Renault done enough to capture customers' imagination? On the whole, we think so.
Read the full review at MSN Cars here:
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