Renault Arkana, Captur hybrids impress in eco challenge - but why are they not for sale?

Published Oct 2, 2023


Formula 1 is no doubt one of the most expensive sports in the world and if you’ve seen any of the “Drive to Survive” shows you’ll know exactly why, despite the FIA capping the amount of money in an attempt to level the playing field.

There are, however, advantages for us lesser mortals whose driving is restricted to public roads in ordinary cars.

A lot of the technology developed around F1 eventually finds its way into our cars and that can only be a good thing as technology develops almost faster than we can keep up.

Taking a leaf from their involvement in F1, Renault has developed the E-TECH powertrains - hybrid and rechargeable hybrid - directly from their 2014 race car.

The same architecture has been transferred to E-TECH that combines an internal combustion engine with two electric motors: one for traction and the other as an alternator-starter, for a 100 percent electric start-up.

A “dog clutch” gearbox has also replaced mechanical synchronisers.

According to Renault the system has 150 patents, making the technology unique to the market.

We got to experience the technology for ourselves in a unique consumption challenge for eight hours around the Zwartkops racetrack that according to Renault “results in around 40 percent less consumption on an urban cycle for Hybrid E-TECH models.”

The cars in question were the Arkana Hybrid SUV Coupe and the Captur Hybrid.

The Renault Arkana is a coupe-inspired compact SUV that’s not yet for sale in South Africa.

Before we continue though there is a caveat.

Neither of the hybrid cars are currently available in South Africa. There are two main reasons for this: The (non) performance of the rand and the ridiculous taxes imposed by the government. There’s an 18 percent (including the six percent EU discount) import tax, an Ad valorem tax (luxury excise tax because it’s a NEV) calculated to a maximum of 30 percent depending on the price of the vehicle and to top it off a CO2 tax.

What that means is that the cars will simply be too expensive.

Renault SA is hoping that the exchange rate improves and if so, will be looking towards launching in Q2 or Q3 next year.

Both the Captur and Arkana are fitted with a 1.6-litre petrol engine providing 70kW and two electric motors - a 36kW e-engine and a 15kW High-Voltage Starter Generator primarily used to charge the 1.2kWh (230v) batteries.

The challenge consisted of four vehicles, two Arkanas, a Captur and the locally available Capture ICE that was the control vehicle fitted with its 1.3-litre turbocharged engine with 113kW and 270Nm.

Four names were drawn out of a hat that saw colleagues Jaco van der Merwe from The Citizen, Ziphorah Masethe from Ignition TV, Chad Luckhoff from AutoTrader and myself team up to drive the Captur with two one hour stints each.

We would be judged on economy and distance completed in the eight hours and had no idea what the strategy would be so figured it out mostly on the fly and communicating with two-way radios.

Like all Hybrids, the battery recharges automatically while driving so during deceleration and braking the electric motor works like a generator to convert the energy produced into electricity while a “B” position on the gear lever further activates advanced regeneration.

It’s fitted with a Multi-Sense setting that provides My Sense which is an everyday mode with an ‘electric effect’ Eco Mode and Sport.

I experimented between My Sense and Eco Mode and it didn’t seem to have any effect on the consumption, largely because our throttle inputs were always gentle and, whenever we had the chance, let it coast against the engine's compression occasionally using the “B” position.

Sport was obviously out of the question although there were a few times I was tempted to do a Jeremy Clarckson and hoof it after 45 minutes of driving around a track between 80 and 110km/h.

Because we were so focussed almost exclusively on on the consumption readouts we didn’t really get to fully experience the well appointed smart cockpit interior with its 9.3-inch touchscreen and 7-inch digital instrument cluster but what I can say is that after an hour around Zwartkops with its eight corners the seats are incredibly comfortable and supportive.

Using the Speedhive app we figured out that lap times between 1:45 and 1:50 measured on each person’s transponder, were the optimum balance between distance and consumption and once you’ve done that a couple of times you slip into the zone and keep rattling them off.

As is often the case in these types of challenges there’s always some good-humoured shenanigans during driver changes with doors being opened, wheelie-bins placed in front of the cars and as the English would say, general Tom Foolery.

The following morning expectations were high as we awaited the results that were calculated in what I described as a Duckworth-Lewis system taking into account various factors including a 300kg lighter handicap for our Captur.

And wouldn’t you know it, team Captur walked away with the honours with a distance of 588 kilometres (245 laps) and consumption figures of 7.068l/100km.

Second was an Arkana with 590km (246 laps) and 7.345l/100km, third the ICE Captur with 592km (247 laps) and 7.527l/100km and bringing up the rear the second Arkana with 590km (246 laps) and 8.595l/100km.

Whether we like it or not, New Energy Vehicles are here to stay and while full electric isn’t a practical solution for South Africa for reasons well documented, hybrid and plug-in hybrid provide a happy medium.

Now, can we please sort out the Rand and relook at the absurd taxes imposed on the industry.

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