Matching purse and lipstick: the car ‘designed for women’

Dodge La FemmeThe Dodge La Femme arrived on the scene in 1955, a year when America was thriving with post-war prosperity. The baby boom was in full swing, and more people lived in the growing suburbs than in any other type of community, drawn by elbow room, fresh air, and affordable housing for growing families.

The rise of these new communities also gave rise to commuting; the vast majority of suburban families had at least one parent who drove to work. Groceries, household items, and sundries were generally not available at a convenient mom-and-pop corner store like in the city, but rather down the road at supermarkets and shopping centers with sprawling parking lots. A second family car was needed.

Dodge La FemmeWomen were going to work in greater numbers than ever before by the mid-1950s, accounting for about one-third of the workforce and increasing overall household income. They were also taking a greater interest in cars; about one half of all adult women held a driver’s license. The automobile industry recognized that women were a growing presence in the marketplace, and actively sought to court to them.

In 1954, Nash was the first manufacturer to market a car specifically to women with the fresh, petite Metropolitan. That year saw the La Comtesse, the pink feminine half of “his and her” Chrysler show cars. General Motors also wanted a piece of the growing market, and design studio chief Harley Earl hired six women in 1955 to work across the various model lines in an effort to create cars that appealed to women. Those designers pioneered such modern automotive staples as retractable seat belts, child-proof doors, storage consoles, and vanity mirrors. One of those women, Sue Vanderbilt, overcame many obstacles to become a GM studio chief herself.

The birth of the Dodge La FemmeDodge La Femme

1955 also saw the unveiling of the Dodge La Femme, a trim package available for the Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. The car featured a pink-and-cream paint job and rose-printed upholstery, as well as a matching purse, umbrella, and other fashion accessories. It was marketed as being the first car for the modern American woman.

It can be hard to look back at a car like the La Femme. It is not an oddity; it represents the cultural values idealised by the media and advertising of its time. Today, offering a pink car with matching lipstick exclusively to women might be seen to be just as condescending as filling a car with potatoes and offering it to the Irish. Even in the period advertisement above, it’s not the driver’s door that is opened for her on what is said to be her own personal vehicle.Dodge La FemmeYet what the La Femme represents, however obtusely, is a recognition by the American automotive industry, and therefore the largest sector of industrial manufacturing on the planet, that women were an rising economic force, and that it was imperative that their specific wants and needs be addressed. So great was this tide that by 1958, GM executives from all over the country came to the unofficially named Feminine Auto Show to see the cars created by its six female designers. Not too many years later, Ford released its own car created to appeal to women: the now world-famous Mustang.

Women now drive the automotive world. Women buy more than half of all new cars and influence up to eighty percent of car buying decisions. More women hold driver’s licenses than men. Women drive more miles and take more car trips than at any time in history, while the number of miles men drive has begun to decline. Car manufacturers now market their wares aggressively to women, and usually with dignity and respect. Yes, there are companies that take spectacular pratfalls and ignite social media firestorms, but overall the trend inspires pride in our societal accomplishments and hope for the future.

The La Femme can be viewed as a cynical design exercise, as Fifties kitsch, as social commentary, and many other things. The machine itself though, made of steel and fabric and devoid of the poisonous influences of humanity, is spectacular, in the strictest sense of the word.

Dodge La Femme: the legacy

Dodge La FemmeWomen make or influence a majority of new car purchases today, and manufacturers do everything they can to appeal to them. Marketing is a science, and demographics can target a person by age, gender, region, education level, and myriad more variables. Once a target demographic is acquired, the manufacturers do their best to present a vehicle that has the performance levels, economy, and features that demographic wants. This La Femme ad from 1956 illustrates the difference between a car “designed with the ladies in mind” (as stated in the above ad) and the modern practice of designing a car that offers the attributes a particular demographic wants.

The La Femme was discontinued after 1956. As it was a trim package and not a standalone model, production numbers are undocumented, but most agree about 2,500 were produced. Because it was only a trim package, it was not widely advertised, nor were demonstration models available at most dealerships. It’s demise is generally credited to lack of widespread public awareness of the product.Dodge La FemmeViewed through today’s standards, the marketing material shouts, “Hey, princess! Pink is for girls!” which hits every wrong nerve in modern psyches. It discolors perception of the La Femme, which is a powerful, well-engineered, and stylish vehicle. It’s designed by Exner, has a wicked Hemi under the hood, and comes with a matching umbrella, just like a new Rolls Royce.

Sadly, the Dodge La Femme may go down in history indistinguishable from the gibbering chauvinism that created it. Hopefully, we can learn to ignore its questionable parentage and let the La Femme be itself, standing proudly on its own four wheels.

In pictures: the world’s greatest hot hatch festival

Worthersee Volkswagen FestivalThe Austrian town of Reifnitz on the side of Lake Worth, or Worthersee, has hosted the ‘GTI Treffen’ festival for 36 years. Originally a small meet of Volkswagen enthusiasts (just 100 cars attended the first event), more than 100,000 fans from all over Europe now head to the Alps at the end of May. We sent a snapper to the event and captured some of the weird and wacky VWs in attendance.

Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTIWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

If Mk1 Volkswagen Golf GTIs are your thing, you’ll be well catered for at Worthersee. The event was first created to celebrate the original GTI, and there are still loads in attendance today. From the original example to modified ones like this bright yellow GTI, we can get behind the subtle look.

Mk3 Volkswagen Golf cabrioletWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

What were we saying about ‘subtle’? This modified third-generation Golf cabriolet is anything but. There really is something for everyone.

Audi A1Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

Although predominantly a Volkswagen show, there are other VW Group cars in attendance. Such as this interesting Audi A1, which we can barely see thanks to its camo look.

Audi 100Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

Brown with gold alloys doesn’t sound like a great look, but it works for us on this Audi 100.

Audi 50Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

The Audi 50 is what became known as the Volkswagen Polo… and the rest, as they say, is history. This fairly standard and incredibly tidy example received many admiring glances at Worthersee.

Volkswagen Passat CoupeWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Remember when Passats were cool? This B1 generation Passat Coupe is closely related to the Audi 80 of the same era.

Mk1 Volkswagen GolfWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

In a town full of modified Vee-dubs, there’s something very refreshing about a pair of properly mint Mk1 Golfs as the factory intended.

Volkswagen campersWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Well, if you’re visiting the Alps for a VW festival, is there a better way of doing it than an old-school VW camper?

Volkswagen BeetleWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Thanks to their popularity, classic Volkswagen Beetles are still a relatively common sight on the roads. Plenty made it to Worthersee, including this lovely green example complete with skis on the back.

Volkswagen Polo G40Worthersee Volkswagen Festival

The Polo G40 is the result of what happened when VW bolted a supercharger to the 1.3-litre engine in the GT. Although it wasn’t incredibly powerful (it produced 115hp), it’d beat both the Fiesta XR2i and Peugeot 205 GTi in the 0-62mph run.

Volkswagen LupoWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

Ah, the VW Lupo. Pre-dating the popular Up, the Lupo wasn’t quite the sales success of its successor. They’ve got quite a following in Volkswagen circles, though. This was one of a number of modified examples on show at Worthersee.

Volkswagen Polo HarlequinWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

You can imagine the meeting that led to the creation of the Volkswagen Polo Harlequin. “We need to give the Polo a sales boost. Let’s launch a special edition. But what can we do with it?” The answer, apparently, was to paint every body panel a different colour. Around 3,800 were made (and presumably sold), including this modified example.

Volkswagen TouranWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

A Volkswagen Touran people carrier doesn’t seem the obvious choice as a base for a modified car. Name the VW, however, and you’ll probably find a modded version at Worthersee.

Mk2 Volkswagen GolfWorthersee Volkswagen Festival

We spotted this lovely Mk2 Volkswagen Golf in one of the car parks at Worthersee. The decals suggest it’s an Elite special edition… we don’t know much about it, but feel free to tell us more about it in the comments if you do!

2018 Megane Renault Sport teased at Monaco Grand Prix

2018 Megane Renault Sport teaserRenault F1 driver (and Le Mans 24 Hours winner) Nico Hulkenberg has helped tease the upcoming new Megane Renault Sport in a road demonstration around the Monaco Grand Prix circuit. The new car will be fully uncovered at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show in September.

Although Renault is not revealing much about the car right now, it has confirmed buyers will be able to choose from a manual gearbox or a paddleshift EDC auto for the first time. It’s thus not again making the same mistake, as with the disappointing Clio Renault Sport 200 Turbo, of going auto-only…

2018 Megane Renault Sport teaser

We don’t know a huge amount about the new Megane Renault Sport just now: sales aren’t even scheduled to begin until Spring 2018. However, Renault is aiming high with the new car: Renault Sport Cars MD Patrice Ratti says “we aim to make the new Megane R.S. the new compact sports car benchmark”.

This is a sector, remember, that includes the Ford Focus RS, the Honda Civic Type R and both the Volkswagen Golf GTI and R. Formidable competitors, all…

We’re not sure what sort of F1-inspired technologies Renault’s bringing across to the road car, but it does say they are focused on efficient aerodynamics, road holding and high performance. It also mentions F1-inspired reliability, although given the team’s pitiful performance thus far in 2017, let’s hope reliability in this case is not quite so heavily inspired by F1.

See the car in full at the Frankfurt Motor Show on 12 September. Ahead of that, read through our collection of 40 great hot Renaults, to see the sort of family DNA we hope this car is thoroughly infused with.  

New Jaguar XE SV Project 8: they're building it!

Jaguar XE SV Project 8

Jaguar has revealed a stunning 600hp 5.0-litre supercharged XE called the XE SV Project 8 – and confirmed it’s actually putting it into production in a limited 300-model run. The car will be the most powerful road legal Jaguar ever. 

Revealed here while undergoing testing at the Nürburgring, the new XE V8 will be the next low-volume project from JLR’s crack SVO department. That’s the division that previously created the 2014 F-Type Project 7; this will be only the second showroom-ready car it’s built. 

Jaguar F-Type Project 7: in pictures

At the moment, Jaguar’s not revealing too much about the car, ahead of its full debut at the 2017 Goodwood Festival of Speed on 30 June. But JLR SVO MD John Edwards does reckon “the time is right for SVO to produce the most extreme performance car in the history of Jaguar.

“Our clients worldwide were thrilled by the F-Type Project 7. The new XE SV Project 8 takes aerodynamics and performance engineering to another level – it is conceived for enthusiasts and the most discerning collectors. The price for such an extreme performance sports car available in strictly limited numbers will reflect that.”

Making this the first £100,000-plus Jaguar XE? 

Jaguar XE SV Project 8: in pictures

From what we can already see of the new super-saloon, it looks like the 600hp XE will pack the styling punch to go with that. Wheelarches are bulging, there’s a massive rear wing and the bonnet also receives a huge central air outlet to help cool that 5.0-litre V8 squeezed in below.

Jaguar’s talking of supercar performance, which these days means a 0-62mph time of around 3.5 seconds, and a top speed, if it’s being bold, of more than 200mph. Suspension, steering and brakes will all be fully upgraded accordingly, and the interior should get an almighty set of sports seats plus the sort of hand-crafted beauty we saw in the F-Type Project 7. 

Watch the video to learn more about the new XE SV Project 8, and get an earful of its V8 bellow. And get your order in now, collectors: this car is real, it’s coming to showrooms soon, and demand for it is going to be off the scale…

Video: Jaguar XE SV Project 8 teased

Volkswagen Up GTI revealed at Worthersee

Volkswagen Up GTI revealed at Worthersee

Volkswagen has revealed a near-production concept of its new junior hot hatch, the Up GTI, at the annual GTI festival at Worthersee, Austria.

Producing 115hp from its 1.0-litre three-pot turbo engine, the Up GTI might not sound like the hottest of hatches. VW’s keen to draw links with the original Mk1 Golf GTI, however, which packed 110hp and weighed just 810kg. The Up GTI is set to weigh 997kg.

The new baby GTI will hit 62mph in 8.8 seconds (0.2 seconds quicker than the original Golf GTI) and is good for a top speed of 122mph. Its ride height has been dropped by 15mm, while a spoiler has been fitted to increase downforce (and definitely not just for appearance…).

Cosmetically, it gets all the GTI treatment. So, there’s a red stripe beneath the honeycomb radiator grille, while the door mirrors are finished in black. The Up GTI sits on 17-inch alloys and will be available in a choice of red, white, silver and black colours – as well as a new shade of blue bespoke for the GTI.

Pushing the link with the original GTI, Volkswagen says the Up is similar in size inside to the Mk1 Golf. Indeed, VW’s city car is sharing a stage with a mint example of a Mk1 at Worthersee. The Up’s interior features a leather-trimmed sport steering wheel, a GTI gear knob and the iconic tartan cloth seat pattern.


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Buyers will be given a choice between three- and five-door models when the Up GTI goes on sale in 2018. Prices for the production version are yet to be confirmed, but expect it to come in at around £14,000.

2017 Volvo XC60 review: smaller SUV is a safe bet

Volvo XC60

Volvo owners will be getting very excited about the new XC60. Thing is, will anyone else?

It’s a steady, sensible buy, a Volvo, bought by steady, sensible people. The big selling point has always been safety, although they are usually pretty comfortable, too. But are they desirable?

Well, lately, yes. The current XC90, Volvo’s largest SUV, was launched two years ago and was an instant success. Despite a massive price hike over the previous model, new buyers were sucked into the Volvo fold by the winning looks, lovely interior and, even now, the best package of safety systems you’ll find in any car.

The new XC60 carries across all these attributes in a more compact package. Not that it’s small. While seven seats are not on offer, the XC60 competes with other mid-sized SUVs like as the Mercedes GLC, BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace and Audi Q5, with the bulk of the range in the £37k – £50k price bracket.

There’s a lot of standard gearVolvo XC60

If you are familiar with the pages of oh-so-necessary ‘optional’ extras that fill the price lists of the German brands, you’ll be pleased that the XC60 comes well-equipped, even in the lowest-priced Momentum guise.

Navigation with lifetime map updates, LED headlights, heated leather seats, power tailgate, four-wheel drive and automatic transmission are all part of the package. R-Design specification adds an overlay of sportiness (sports seats, bigger dashboard display, more focused chassis), while XC60 Inscription sits at the luxury end with nicer leather, power seats and “multi-colour theatre lighting”. Gosh.

At the risk of filling this whole report simply listing the safety features of the XC60, there’s the ability to steer the car out of trouble if you are heading for a collision, even one of the head-on variety. And of course, the structure and internal safety systems make the XC60 about as good a place as you could hope to be in a crash.

A very pleasant placeVolvo XC60

Ignore the driving experience for the moment, because that’s less of the big deal here, despite what Volvo would like you to think. The interior of the XC60 is a very pleasant place to spend a few hours. Volvo is a master of building seats that seem soft and embracing, yet actually give you great deal of long-term support.

There is lots of seat adjustment, both for reach and height, and plenty of elbow room in the front. The dashboard has strong Swedish design cues (with soft, light colours in our test car) and a stylish sweep from side to side.

In true media launch fashion, all the cars were fitted with the optional air suspension, which adds £2k to the price. It’s very good, giving a comfortable ride on all surfaces and helping keep body-roll in check when cornering. Sadly, we can’t tell you how good the regular suspension is.

Rear-seat room might not look especially generous, but there’s much space under the front seats, which turns that first impression on its head. Seats in the back as just as comfortable as those in the front, too. Luggage space is around average for the class, although lacking in height versus some rivals.

Apps, widgets and gadgetsVolvo XC60

You will love the systems here. Or hate them. It all depends on how savvy you are when it comes to smartphones and tablets. Volvo’s ‘Sensus’ system is based around a large vertical tablet in the centre of the car, with just one button, like an iPhone. Everything is then controlled by touchscreen menus and sub-menus.

There are plenty of apps, including Spotify, while the navigation is very clear. The media player is fully integrated via Bluetooth for Android and Apple devices. The Bowers and Wilkins sound system is also excellent, as it should be for an additional £2,500.

However, trying to accurately press a screen when your eyes are meant to be on the road seems, well, not quite safe. How hard would it be to simply fit a set of traditional buttons around that screen for navigation, map, radio, media and phone?

Other gripes? On a brand-new car, I’d expect a wireless phone charging cradle, like I might get on a top-line Kia. But there’s none on this Volvo. And the indicators are surprisingly noisy..

Don’t ask about the number of cylindersVolvo XC60

With a prestigious car, especially one higher up the range, you’d usually expect a multitude of cylinders in your engine. Five if there was something leftfield going on, but more likely six or eight. More was better, no question.

Not any more. Turbocharging combined with highly sophisticated electronics means a humble four-cylinder engine of two litres gives the best mix of low emissions, fuel economy and performance. And so it goes with every XC60 in the range.

Volvo no longer even mentions engine capacity, instead calling the diesel models D4 and D5 – the same engine, but with either 190hp or 235hp. The T5 petrol model has 254hp and the T8 (pay attention, it doesn’t have eight cylinders, still only four) 320hp from its hybrid system.

For the time being, Volvo still thinks the diesels will be the popular choice in the UK. The more powerful D5 should have ample horsepower, although it’s a very capable cruiser, rather than giving much sense of high performance. The engine pulls well and strongly through the gears, and is very relaxed on the motorway. But there’s no denying the underlying feeling that this is a heavy machine.

This means that, despite all the clever trickery and the ability of the air suspension to switch to a ‘Dynamic’ driving experience if you choose, the XC60 doesn’t feel at its happiest when you try to drive it like a Jaguar F-Pace.

Economy and emissionsVolvo XC60

Volvo’s old five-cylinder engines were lusty but thirsty, so much emphasis has been given to these newer four-cylinder alternatives. The D5 diesel, with its eight-speed automatic transmission, gives a claimed average of 51.4mpg. You’ll have to drive like a monk to get that, but the competition doesn’t have anything in that power bracket without six cylinders, which inevitably means inferior economy.

The CO2 output for the D5 XC60 is 144g/km. Figures for the D4 are better, naturally, at 55.4mpg and 133g/km CO2. If petrol power is the preferred route, the XC60 T5 returns 39.2mpg and 164g/km.

Volvo XC60: verdictVolvo XC60

Volvo sent us up into the hills behind Barcelona on a test route designed to show off the new XC60’s prowess as a driving machine. That it failed to fully convince in these circumstances isn’t necessarily a failure. In the same way drivers hardly ever use their 4x4s off-road, few expect them to drive like a sports car.

Pitch the XC60 into its natural habitat – urban driving and long-distance cruising – and it quickly measures up, combining very high levels of comfort with equally convincing safety features and an easygoing manner. It’s a step on from the original XC60, and puts forward an entirely persuasive case against its rivals.

Specification: Volvo XC60 D5 Inscription Pro

Engine: 2.0-litre four cylinder, turbocharged
Output: 235hp
Top speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 7.2 secs
Combined fuel economy: 144g/km
Gearbox: 8-speed auto
Drive: Four-wheel drive
Length/width/height: 4688/2117/1658mm
Weight: 1846kg
Seats: 5
Boot space: 505 litre
XC60 base price: From £36,950
Price as tested: £48,150

Volvo owner Geely buys Proton and Lotus

Proton Gen2Under-pressure Malaysian car firm Proton’s future has finally been secured after Geely Holding agreed to buy a stake in the firm after pipping PSA Peugeot-Citroen to make the winning bid. The deal is good news for British sports car enthusiasts because Proton owner DRB-Hicom also controls Lotus Cars – and Geely’s completed a full takeover of it. 

The deal is expected to be finalised today (Wednesday 24 May); in advance of it, DRB-Hicom shares have been suspended on the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange. 

Proton sales have been under pressure for some time and the firm’s two Malaysian factories are currently operating well below their capacity of 400,000 cars. Insiders say Geely’s first priority will be re-establishing Proton in right-hand drive markets such as the UK, Australia, India and its home market of Malaysia. Platform and technology-sharing with Geely cars and SUVs is expected to accelerate this turnaround. 


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For Lotus, the news will be excellent: the Norfolk firm will be looking positively at what Geely stewardship has done for Volvo Cars. After the downfall of Dany Bahar, current boss Jean-Marc Gales has stabilised the company, returned it to profitability and even begun development of an all-new Lotus Elise for 2020. Extra investment from Geely can only be a good thing here. 

Might Lotus finally become the genuine British sports car alternative to Porsche, maybe even Ferrari, that was Bahar’s vision all those years ago? We shall watch with great interest. 

Oh, and keep our fingers crossed for a new Volvo-themed Lotus performance special…

Hybrid Volkswagen Golf GTI at Worthersee 2017

Volkswagen hits Lake Worthersee with hybrid Golf GTI

If this hybrid Golf is anything to go by, performance fans needn’t be worried about the future of the GTI brand in an era of post-Dieselgate cost cutting. Making its debut at the GTI fest that is Worthersee 2017, the Golf GTI First Decade combines a 410hp petrol engine with a 12kW electric motor.

It’s the work of 18 to 23-year-old apprentices at Volkswagen and is the latest of 10 show cars revealed at the Austrian lake-side extravaganza since 2008.


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The First Decade’s clever hybrid system can be operated in three different ways. Drivers can opt for rear-drive electric-only mode, or switch to front-wheel-drive petrol running. For ultimate traction (and performance), the two powertrains can work together as a four-wheel-drive hybrid. Interestingly, the different modes can be selected remotely using an app or via the car’s infotainment display.

Even by the vee-dub-crazy standards of Worthersee, the First Decade is sure to stand out – with Atlantic Blue paintwork and large patches of dark blue foil. A Clubsport rear spoiler completes the bold look, along with 20-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, there are just two seats. Both of these can be moved using a phone app, along with clever massage functions. Replacing the rear seats is, why, a high-end 1,690-watt 11-speaker sound system.

If one quirky concept wasn’t enough for this modified car show, Volkswagen is taking a second concept to Worthersee. The GTE estate Impulse is the work of 14 apprentices from the Zwickau vehicle plant, and uses a prototype battery with an impressive 16.8 kWh capacity.

Volkswagen hits Lake Worthersee with hybrid Golf GTI

Competing for attention with the GTI First Decade on VW’s stand, the Impulse features a five-tone matt paint scheme made up of a variety of colours. Inside, animated lighting can be controlled using a mobile phone app.

We’ll be seeing both Volkswagen concepts at Worthersee 2017 over the coming days, where Motoring Research will be reporting live with all the GTI news and latest pictures.

The Ford Mustang is the most popular sports car in the world

The Ford Mustang is the most popular sports car in the world

It’s long been North America’s favourite sports car, but the Ford Mustang’s launch in Europe means it’s now the best-selling sports car in the world.

That’s according to analysis of global new vehicle registration data by IHS Market, which revealed that more than 150,000 Mustangs were sold around the world in 2016, putting it in the number one position ahead of the likes of the Mazda MX-5 and Porsche 911. The firm found that global Mustang sales increased by 6% in 2016, with non-US market growth up 101%. Almost 45,000 Mustangs were sold outside of North America last year.


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More than 4,500 Mustangs have been sold in the UK since it was launched late in 2015, with 3,250 sold during its first full year on sale. That makes it ‘comfortably’ the most popular sports cars with more than 250hp, says Ford.

“From the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean, the Ford Mustang has topped the sports car sales charts in markets across Europe,” said Roelant de Waard, Ford of Europe’s vice president, marketing, sales & service. “European customers continue to play a significant role in the global success of Mustang. The iconic sports car’s popularity with drivers of all ages and backgrounds shows no sign of waning – we sold 3,600 Mustangs in the region during the first three months of 2017.”

The firm says outside of the UK, the Mustang is proving popular in new markets such as Germany and China.

European buyers get a choice of a 421hp 5.0-litre V8 or 317hp 2.3‑litre EcoBoost engine, and six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. Soon after the Mustang’s launch, Ford revealed that around 70% of UK sales were the larger V8 engine.

2017 Renault Captur facelift review: If it ain’t broke…

2017 Renault CapturRenault Capturs are flying out of showrooms. The small crossover outsells the Clio it’s derived from, which, as it also costs more than the Clio, is great news for margins. Perhaps that’s why Renault flew us out to Copenhagen for the day to drive it, rather than just emailing us some pictures. After driving it for two hours feeling for any changes, and failing, a Renault boss admitted there weren’t any. Engines and chassis of today’s cars are identical to those of this revised one, due in showrooms from July.

2017 Renault Captur

The changes focus on the details. At the front, there’s a new grille that mimics the larger Kadjar SUV, distinctive C-shaped LED running lights and, on upper-spec models, full LED headlights. The front skid plate has been toughened up, matched by one at the rear, while tail lamps are also new (they contain a C-shaped LED pattern: C for Captur, said Renault. Neat). Choose from three new body colours (Desert Orange, Ocean Blue, Amethyst) and a new metallic grey contrast roof colour.

2017 Renault Captur

Inside, more has been done to make it nicer to sit in. The steering wheel feels nicer, and the gearlever is new. Door panels look more sophisticated. Most significantly, the Clio-look dashboard now has a higher-quality finish with soft-touch plastics and, on top-spec variants, a stitched leather-look surface like you get in Range Rovers and Bentleys. Chuck in new seat trims and LED interior lighting for a fancier-feeling interior: existing Captur owners looking to swap into a new one will in particular notice this.

2017 Renault Captur

There’s now an extra top-spec trim line. New Captur prices open at £15,355 for the Expression+ model, but most people buy either a Dynamique Nav or Dynamique S Nav. Above this sits Signature X Nav, with a grip-boosting drivetrain, plus the new Signature S Nav, which has heated Nappa leather seats, Bose audio, Android Auto-compatible infotainment system and, outside, more chrome and gloss black. Prices start from £21,405 for the 1.2 TCe 120 petrol – and Renault expects it to be popular because, so far, buyers have rather taken to posh-trim Capturs.


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Captur fundamentals have sensibly been left in place. The driving position feels a step up from a normal supermini, with a more commanding seating position that feels a lot more confident. Certainly in left-hand drive test cars, we found plentiful adjustability and the seats were comfortable. Deep windows and a large windscreen ensured good visibility, relatively compact dimensions made it easy to manoeuvre and it was generally easy to see why this type of car is so appealing.

In the rear is where the Captur really excels. The back seat is soft and sofa-like, providing great comfort – and more importantly, it’s extremely spacious, much more so than a conventional supermini. There’s loads of headroom and, with the sliding rear bench slid right back, a huge amount of legroom, further aided by lots of foot room beneath the front seats. There’s certainly more space in there than the larger Renault Megane family hatch: it’s no wonder young families like the Captur so much.

2017 Renault Captur

The Captur’s boot is big – as large as 455 litres with the seats up, extending to 1235 litres with them folded. Superminis normally have around 300 litres with the seats up and less than 1000 litres with them down, so you can see what a step up the Captur is. The space is easier to access than a regular car too, with a multi-level boot floor providing ledge-free access, and a wide, clear opening lending itself to expletive-free loading of a pushchair.

You can get a Captur with a budget 90hp 0.9-litre turbo three-cylinder petrol engine, or the punchier 120hp 1.2-litre four-cylinder we drove on launch. This is a sweet motor, with smooth-revving manners and decent turbo-aided pull. It’s diesel-like, without the diesel clatter; we also drive the 110hp 1.5-litre dCi turbodiesel, which is strong, but starting to sound rather thrummy these days. It’s particularly rattly from the outside, which won’t endear you to anti-diesel-headline-reading passers-by in supermarket car parks or on the school run. It’s also expensive – £2000 more than a same-power TCe 90 and £1k more than the TCe 120 – but despite this, Renault reckons it will still be the best-selling engine. Curious.

The Captur is a pleasant car to drive, with a supple in-town ride that soaks up bumps quietly and without too much fuss. It can get a bit pattery over rougher roads, but it’s generally smooth and inoffensive. Handling doesn’t have much feel but is easy and accurate, and the Captur’s made for fuss-free in-town use. At speed, there is a little wind noise, but the 1.2-litre engine has a decent amount in reserve and the Captur generally does a decent enough impersonation of a larger crossover. It’s certainly nicer to drive than, say, the new Vauxhall Crossland X.

2017 Renault Captur

Overall, the 2017 Captur is more of the same, just with a bit of a visual sharpening and a few new goodies to make it look different in the showroom. The fact changes are so minimal proves what a well-rounded car the Captur is. It’s likeable, practical, well-equipped and, if you don’t go too silly with trims (and avoid the pricey diesel), not too expensive. Europe’s best-selling small crossover, Renault reminded us frequently, and a car that outsells the Clio here in the UK. It’s not hard to see why, either.

For

Pretty, practical, pleasant to drive. A neat family-friendly step-up from a supermini that’s more practical than a family hatch

Against

Prices can quickly start to look expensive, clattery diesel, infotainment system is visually showing its age

The best version

1.2 TCe 120 Dynamique S Nav (£19,095). Refined, likeable engine and Dynamique S Nav has neat styling features to give it a distinctive look.

Rivals to consider

Peugeot 2008, Nissan Juke, Vauxhall Crossland X, Honda HR-V

Did you know?

European Capturs have a super-cool sliding draw instead of a glovebox. It’s a terrific feature… that sadly isn’t available on right-hand drive cars, because the glovebox gets in the way. What a pity, Renault.