Although the primary purpose of a PHEV is usually to increase efficiency, the happy by-product is usually extra performance. After all, there are two motors instead of one! The Captur feels noticeably more perky at lower speeds as a result, with the electric motor doing most of the work if the battery has charge and you aren’t demanding too much in the way of acceleration.
When the petrol motor does cut in, the 1.6-litre unit is pretty quiet at lower speeds too, creating little more than a distant thrum. If you are just driving normally and not asking for any more than half of the car’s performance, this is how it remains. But ask for more – either because you fancy a bit of fun, or are pulling onto a motorway – and the engine begins to drone and sound a little unpleasant.
More irritating is the way the gearbox reacts to these requests for more performance. Renault have unusually gone for a conventional dual clutch transmission with gears rather than the more usual CVT gearboxes seen in other hybrids. While this works fine most of the time, it can be slow to react to sudden requests for more acceleration, causing a stutter in the power delivery that feels like a slight misfire.
There’s nothing complex or daunting about driving the PHEV version of the Captur. You simply turn the car on, select D and drive off. Even if the battery is not charged, it will start off in electric mode and give an instant surge from a standstill.
This is perfect for town driving where there’s stop-start traffic, and a selectable B mode increases the amount of braking you feel when you lift off the accelerator pedal. As well as feeling more natural to drivers of manual gearbox petrol cars, it increases efficiency by regenerating power back into the battery.
The way the Captur feels when it’s going down the road isn’t quite so smooth though. The suspension doesn’t soften bumps as efficiently as some rivals, and potholes leave it feeling a bit unsettled, almost as though someone has pumped the tyres up too hard. This is especially noticeable at town speeds - which is a real shame as it’s this car’s natural habitat.