captur

Why the mid-sized Vauxhall you need isn’t this one

IF YOU’RE reading this in The Champion – as opposed to having it beamed into your eyes by a laptop or smartphone – then you’re already way ahead of me. There is still a sizable constituency of normal people who like doing things the old-fashioned way, and that includes getting your weekly motoring fix through a proper, printed newspaper.

There are plenty of us who still prefer to ring people up rather than WhatsApping them, bemoan the fact that Tesco is trying to ditch its deli counters and were quite happy with just the four channels on their analogue TVs (I suspect there are still a few poor souls out there still trying to tune into Channel 5, even now).

I know this because at the last count, when it comes to Europe-wide sales that include both Vauxhall and its continental Opel cousin, the Astra still comfortably outsold the Mokka. Which, on the face of it, shouldn’t really make sense.

The Mokka X, to give it its full name, is Vauxhall swiping right at just about every Millennial would-be buyer it finds – it’s a petite crossover with the same sort of cutesy styling that makes the Corsa such a big hit with younger drivers, it’s easy to park and get in and out of, and it has the sort of high driving position and bags of interior space that make its Juke and Captur counterparts such big sellers. The Astra, on the other hand, is the seventh generation of a sensible family hatchback that’s been around since The Jam’s Going Underground was top of the charts. Your dad probably had an Astra. And your granddad too, for that matter.

But having spent a couple of days driving around in both it’s not hard to suss why more of you are still driving around in Astras. It’s a better car.

I know that, yes, technically the bigger and newer Grandland X is the closer relative to the Astra, but it’s also more expensive – whereas the Astra and Mokka I drove both had turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engines, similar equipment levels and cost a shade under £22,000. The Mokka X is the more 2019-relevant of the two, but the Astra has a bigger boot, a smoother ride, better composure through the corners and is much nicer to drive. It’s also easier to see out of – Vauxhall evidently listened to everyone who moaned about the enormous A-pillars on the outgoing Astra – and, for what’s supposed to be a dowdy old five-door hatch, it’s still rather easy on the eye.

I know that crossovers are meant to be the future but I reckon you ignore the good, old-fashioned Astra at your peril. I’m sure it’ll still be around in another 39 years’ time. As will The Champion, of course…

Why the Renault Captur made me learn to love buttons

BUTTONS. Until this week I didn’t realise how fundamentally important they are to my happy, wholesome life – but an outing in a Renault Captur changed all that.

Not only are buttons fairly important in keeping my shirts intact and preventing any unfortunate colleagues from being treated to an Austin Powers-esque helping of unwanted chest hair, they’ve also given their name to one of my favourite chocolate snacks. Buttons also provided the premise for the brilliantly barmy spacefaring children’s show Button Moon – admit it, you watched it too – and allow you to switch everything from calculators to Sony Playstations on and off.

But the Captur – and to be fair, just about every family hatchback on offer these days – doesn’t have nearly enough of them, because it relies on an infotainment system with a touchscreen to manage all the vaguely important stuff. Which is great when you want a screen with satnav directions built into it, but an utter nightmare when you’re trying to do anything remotely complicated.

I was in the passenger seat when a colleague asked me to switch off the Captur’s audible speed camera alert. Its occasional beep is a useful feature to have, but on a stretch of the M1 with a camera seemingly every three feet Radio 2 was being drowned out by what sounded like a drunk communicating in Morse code. Shutting it up should’ve been a simple task, but the Captur’s infotainment system is so complicated that I ended up buried in sub menus of sub menus, desperately tapping every option to stop the incessant beeping.

I opened the glovebox up to find an empty space where the owner’s manual would normally live; it later turned out this would’ve been useless anyway, because while a handbook deciphering the infotainment system’s various modes does exist it wouldn’t have been supplied with our car anyway.

So I ended up looking online, finding the Renault Captur Owners’ Club – no, really – and learning, after scrolling through many pages on its advice forum, the correct way of navigating the system’s labyrinth of options to turn the speed camera alerts off. Success, but it’d taken nearly 20 minutes and every ounce of my concentration to crack it. Had I’d been driving, I’d either be dead or somewhere near Dundee by now.

The other problem is that I have no problem with swiping through the touch screen on my smartphone because it isn’t attached to something that’s jolting its way down a badly surfaced motorway at 70mph. There are lots of different systems plumbed into all sorts of cars nowadays – I drove a Peugeot 308 last weekend for instance, which was fine – but the Captur’s controls made things surprisingly tricky. Not great on a car that has quite a choppy ride to begin with.

The Captur has many things to commend it, but most of all I applaud its ability to make me appreciate buttons. Buttons are underrated, and don’t take 20 minutes to work out. And anyway, can you imagine your kids watching Touchscreen Moon?

The Skoda Yeti is a hard act to follow

Skoda put substance ahead of style with its Yeti

IN A WORLD of Jukes, Capturs and Mokkas the Karoq is a good thing; a proper, evocative car name of the old school.

Not only is it drawn from the language of a remote Alaskan tribe but you can just imagine it being slapped across a supercar’s rump. A Maserati Karoq has a certain ring to it.

But this name isn’t going on some Italian slingshot; it’s going on Skoda’s new baby off-roader, which looks great and should sell like Ed Sheeran tickets when it goes on sale here later this year. I’ve no doubt it’ll be an accomplished all-rounder (especially if its Kodiaq big brother is anything to go by) but it means Skoda’s existing baby off-roader, the Yeti, will be quietly put down.

Which is a real shame because I still reckon it’s one of the most talented tiny off-roaders out there. In fact, it’s one of the best motoring all-rounders, full stop.

I remember road-testing it for The Champion in 2010, not long after it first arrived in the UK, and thinking how willfully different it was from the rest of the Qashqai-alikes out there. It eschewed trendy styling and clever in-car infotainment for slab-sided proportions and minimal overhangs for better ground clearance – just like you get on a Land Rover Discovery. It even had the same sort of chunky buttons and indestructible interior plastics as most off-roaders, so that even the clumsiest of schoolchildren or the hungriest of Labradors wouldn’t be able to ruin it.

But best of all it had that rare thing missing from so many of today’s off-roader-esque family cars; the prowess to match the proposition. One of the cars we occasionally use at Classic Car Weekly for photoshoots is a 13-reg Yeti, and no matter what we throw in its direction it always emerges totally unflummoxed. On one jaunt back from the Goodwood Festival of Speed we actually took it green laning to avoid the traffic jams and it dealt with the muddy ruts and rocks superbly – and as a result, it was faster than every Ferrari, Porsche and M-badged BMW within a ten-mile radius.

For a five-door hatchback that kicks in at a shade under 18 grand it is supremely talented, and definitely something that even in its twilight years I’d thoroughly recommend. I can only hope the new arrival picks up the Yeti’s baton of being something you can count upon in a muddy field, rather than following the me-too route of looks over all else.

It does at least have a cool name, though, which is a good start.