Family is what matters even when it comes to driving.
What Do I Drive is a series where the editors and writers of InsideEVs share with readers the cars we personally drive. These are the cars we bought with our own money and drive in our daily lives. As such, we've got a lot to say about them.
This is probably the most personal text anyone gets to write here at InsideEVs. The idea was to let you know our reasons for buying this or that car so that this experience helps you decide which vehicle to put in your garage. But buying decisions follow life decisions. Mine was one of the biggest I have ever taken: living in another country.
I was proudly born in Brazil with strong Portuguese and Italian roots. In my teens and twenties, I have fiercely believed in a better country while my cousins always considered to live in the US. One of them achieved that and is quite happy in Texas with a beautiful family and a Ph.D. I thought I would see things get better for people where I was. They didn't change much, despite all the propaganda that crosses borders.
From my twenties to my thirties, things there got even worse. They got dangerous. It was not just a matter of living in a country with crazy inflation and corruption levels. It was fearing not to be able to come home again once you left in the morning. I used to work for a newspaper at the beginning of 2000, always covering cars. Some people asked me if I was not afraid to test drive luxury vehicles. After all, I could get murdered in one of those. Some of my friends at the newspaper actually were.
Why have I moved? More than 60,000 people are killed every year in Brazil. There are places with smartphone apps that warn about neighborhoods with shootings. A dear uncle was shot in the leg when getting back home by thieves that wanted his motorcycle. We never dared to drive with open windows and anyone who can afford them has armored cars.
Time went by and I got married. I was permanently afraid something could happen to her. I felt a mix of happiness and concern when she got pregnant with our oldest boy. I had to do something. And I did: I planned to move to Portugal. In the process, my second son was born.
Brazilian, but Portuguese. And vice versa
With double citizenship – Brazilian and Portuguese – I could legally live anywhere within the Schengen Area. It currently encompasses 22 countries of the European Union that abolished border controls of any kind after the 1985 Schengen Agreement. Four more will add them in the future. With a little effort, I could also live in countries that are part of the European Union but not of the Schengen Area.
As a motoring writer and a proud member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, I considered moving to the UK, but Brexit prevented it. My fellow writers there are also fighting for any good opportunity that appears, which made things even more difficult. They are native speakers. I do all I can to write and sound like one.
In Portugal, we have a country with the same language we speak in Brazil. And with lots of common references. My wife understands English perfectly, but she was afraid of speaking it. Portugal ended up as the safest choice, but I would probably have to give up being a motoring writer.
The automotive journalism market here is small and good friends I already had here told me they had to write to other countries – including Brazil – to make a living on motoring writing. If I moved to Portugal, as I did, I would either have to quit working with that or find a job that did not require me to go to an office every day. Yes, InsideEVs helped me tick that box.
When things were more or less defined, I started selling everything I had in Brazil. Ironically, my car was the last thing I managed to sell. It took me almost a year to find my Renault Fluence a new home. It was a fantastic sedan with a very poor demand in Brazil. One of the best deals I ever made when buying; definitely the worst ever when selling. It was the sort of vehicle you buy and use until it rots because no one will pay what it is worth. When I decided to live abroad, I did not have that option anymore.
We arrived here almost a year ago. At first, we lived close to everything, but we were at an AirBNB house until we settled. We eventually bought an apartment that was relatively far from my kid's school. I can go there on foot, but ask 7-year-old and 5-year-old boys to do that at 8 AM. Not having a car was not an option anymore.
While we waited to get into our new apartment, a burglar broke into the house we were staying at and stole a few things. When he heard us getting in, he jumped a window and managed to escape. The kid's Xbox One was saved because we arrived while he was still figuring out what to carry, but not my laptop. Nor my wife's. If you happen to find a silver Dell Inspiron 5547 with a Brazilian keyboard for sale in Portugal, it is probably mine...
Why the Renault Captur?
We managed to feel home by the end of December, while my kids were already on winter break. So we started looking for car options with the money we had managed to transfer at the time.
Being new in a country is a comprehensive new start. In everything. One example: I would not get credit because I did not have a bank history to ensure I was a good payer. Forget about financing: I would have to pay cash. So I could not afford anything fancy.
While I was not at InsideEVs at the time, I am a long time fan of electric cars. I had the chance to be one of the first journalists to test the first electric car that was supposed to be sold in Brazil, the REVAi. For the record, it wasn't. Mainstream EVs just started to be offered there by 2019.
Portugal has a very decent infrastructure for EVs. I saw dozens of them on the streets right on my first days here and strongly considered getting one. Some issues eventually discouraged me to do so.
To begin with, I did not have a garage. My apartment was built with one, but it was sold a long time ago. Only very recently I managed to rent a parking space here in the building. And it has no power plug anywhere near.
The second was pricing and size. I needed at least a C segment car – a compact, in the US – such as a Corolla or a Civic. As I always loved station wagons, I was considering an Opel Astra or a Toyota Corolla SW.
Although we would probably not be able to buy a brand-new car, we wanted it to still be under factory warranty. Practical reasons: we did not know any mechanics or good shops in Portugal. Remember the comprehensive new start? Exactly.
After Chrismas, we took the kids with us to a used car dealer with a very good reputation around here. They had lots of options, such as a 2008 Volvo V60 e-Drive – diesel and too old – and a 2006 Civic Hybrid – old, but I still think it could have been a nice option. In the end, we were between two cars: an almost new 2018 Opel Astra SW and a 2016 Renault Captur.
To be honest, my wife went straight to the station wagons. She knows how much I like them. But she always wanted to have an SUV. She never dared to consider one in Brazil because of our fear of violence. SUVs attract too much attention in Brazil. But we are not there anymore. Why not consider an SUV this time? The Captur seemed like a good fit, especially because she loved its looks.
She was not having an easy time adapting to her new life here. She used to work as an ICU cardio-respiratory physiotherapist in one of the leading hospitals in Brazil. Portugal just recently recognized physiotherapists have the right to a class council. Most Portuguese think physiotherapists are masseuses. And nurses here are in charge of what she spent 20 years doing in Brazil. Physiotherapists are not even allowed in the ICU. Not worse nor better: just different.
You surely have to adapt, but the heavier load was on her shoulders. I managed to keep working as a motoring writer. In a language with a much broader audience than I could ever get writing just in Portuguese. That felt like a promotion.
She cannot work anymore in an environment she knows like the palm of her hand. And she deals with people, what demands that she finds a job where she is. Helping people recover from strokes, cardiac arrests, or live better with Parkinson's disease – just to name a few situations physiotherapy addresses – will probably never be remote.
Buying the Captur was her chance to have something she would really love to drive. A small satisfaction among a lot of disappointing scenarios. Besides, she would have to drive much more than me. I have an office at home. She would have to move around for job interviews.
It was a fortunate choice. She started working for a company that puts her in touch with patients with lung and motor problems. She has to assist them in their homes. In other words, the car turned out to be part of her office. Time spent on something you like is well spent.
Despite being a car guy, I confess I am also OK with it. A little before we bought it, I wrote an article about people's passion for SUVs. I looked for practical reasons for people to adopt them. Well, human beings are now taller and older than they ever were.
My parents had me in their twenties. I first became a father at 35. And it is much easier to put kids inside an SUV than inside a coupé. Or even a station wagon. The passion for a taller driving position or a rugged style are not the main reason they sell so well nowadays, in my humble opinion.
There is a Captur in Brazil that is in fact a Duster with a different body. It is bigger, but surprisingly not that much more spacious. Perhaps because my boys are already big enough to use a booster instead of a child seat, which takes a lot more room. The boot is, definitely, but only that. The Brazilian Captur is also a lot less pleasant to drive.
The one we ended up buying uses an 89 hp turbocharged 0.9-liter three-cylinder engine that is enough for city traffic and that does not spend too much gas. I wish it spent even less, something the second generation Captur offers with its plug-in hybrid version.
Fit for European streets
After we bought it, we found out there's a reason the Captur is so compact on the outside and so roomy inside. Europe in general and Portugal specifically have such narrow streets that larger cars will very likely get stuck trying to cross. There are two-way streets in which traffic signals tell who is supposed to use it at each time: the ones going or the ones coming.
The Captur fits almost anywhere. It is considered to be a safe vehicle for my family, with 5 Euro NCAP stars. Finally, it is extremely popular in Portugal, something that will ensure it is easy to resell when the time comes. Lesson learned...
I could have bought a diesel – with loads of torque and a better reselling value than gas – but since the WHO declared diesel is carcinogenic, I refuse to burn it unless it is really necessary. A car review for work, for example. If I have to burn anything, I prefer ethanol, as we used to do in Brazil, but this is not possible here. Only in France.
Would I have bought the Captur for myself? No. It recently stressed me on the road after losing speed very easily. Something stronger would definitely be in my book, but the car was not about me. It was about my family. About my wife. And I want them not only to be safe – with the right to open the windows whenever they want. I want them to be happy. And they are. With our new car, our new home, and our new life.
EVs are the plan
Am I totally satisfied? Not quite. My goal now is to buy an EV to replace the Captur. A recent strike among fuel transporters here in Portugal shows it is a wise decision. The team encourages me to get an Opel Ampera. I like it. And it will eventually become a classic.
If I do not manage to buy an EV, I'd like at least to have a plug-in hybrid. If not for the environment's or for savings' sake – EVs are much cheaper to run – for professional reasons. I am now a European Editor at InsideEVs and it would be nice to set the example. I'll tell you about it when I get there.