Its heart is Holden and the design Korean, but a genuine ability to straddle the MPV and soft-roader markets makes the Captiva an attractive offering for families looking for an all-in-one solution. There are some shortcomings, though
Chevrolet has been slowly but surely expanding its model line-up and now has a footprint that covers most of the market. With the Captiva the company straddles a number of segments, offering a combination few others can boast: it’s a seven-seat soft -roader with the kind of power train that wouldn’t seem out of place under the bonnet of a luxury wagon.
The modern Chevrolet is not what some may remember from the braaivleis, rugby and sunny skies days. It’s more a question of kangaroo and kimchi, Korea’s cabbage-based favourite dish.
The Captiva (pronounced ‘Cap-tea-va’) is sourced from South Korea – Chevy’s modern home – but with ti me spent at finishing schools as far afield as Germany and Brazil. The engine is from Holden in Australia – part of the greater GM empire.
The Captiva’s looks confirm its cosmopolitan origins, and styling is neither overtly European nor American. It looks imposing, though, with a suitably purposeful countenance and the Chevrolet bowtie boldly positioned on a colour-coded bar bisecting the grille.
Its recreational SUV positioning is apparent in the roof rails, faux front and rear skidplates (in silver-effect plastic) and black protective cladding that forms an unbroken perimeter around the vehicle, including the edges of the wheel arches.
There’s a rounded rump that is more hatchback than hardcore SUV, while the short overhangs and 18-inch wheels with 235/55 rubber also qualify it for the “sport” tag. Big wheels aside, the LTZ models can be identified by the chrome door handles and dark privacy glass.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The Captiva 3.2 LTZ is the jewel in the range’s crown and boasts a high level of equipment. Yet it looks exceptionally strong on value and is ultimately the most affordable option in its segment – and the only one with seven seats as standard.
The powerplant is a smooth-running 60-degree V6, with four cams and 24 valves and variable valve timing on both inlet and exhaust. It makes its peak output of 169 kW at a heady 6600 r/min, backing this up with a fairly modest 297 Nm, achieved at just 3200 r/min.
There’s a five-speed automatic bolted to the back of it and in normal usage it is front-wheel drive, an electronically controlled Intelligent Torque Controlling Coupling sending it rearward on an “if and when” basis, also using inputs from various other sensors to detect the onset of slippage of the front wheels.
An electro-magnetic clutch takes just 100 milliseconds to send up to 50% of torque rearward, says Chevrolet. This is essentially the same system used in the Toyota RAV4.
LTZ trim adds speed-sensitive power steering, tilt and reach adjustment for the steering, heated mirrors with fold-away feature, climate control, leather seats and door trims, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, cruise control, MP3-compatible CD changer/cassette player, and six airbags – not bad for R326 600. In fact, it looks like unbeatable bang for the buck.
★ ★ ★ ★
In most cases buyers get an SUV or an MPV, but with the Captiva they’re getting a bit of each – and a soupcon of station wagon for good measure. So the interior isn’t genuinely modular and it is a 5+2 seater, but Chevrolet’s take on what modern families need is a smart one.
Starting at the rear bumper we have a separate back light that opens at a touch of a butt on: just what is needed to load a few grocery bags and saving the chore of lifting the large (and rather heavy) tailgate. Take the trouble and you’ll see that there’s an average amount of space behind the third row – enough for that weekday grocery shopping – and there’s a bit more room underneath the floorboards.
The good news is that the third row accommodation extends way beyond mere tokenism: thanks to a deep and surprisingly spacious footwell combined with a reclined backrest angle, six-footers can live here painlessly. The challenge as always is getting in and out, but then you can’t have it all.
Fold the chairs flat – they sink into the floor – and Chev says there are 465 litres to be had, and waving the magic wand over the second row doubles that number. They also sink downwards in the process, providing a flat floor and plenty of vertical space.
Use them for sitting on and there’s no reason for complaint, either. They’re plush and soft and the backrest angle can be adjusted, though occupants long of limb may find the “knees-up” posture a little uncomfortable.
With cup-holders, a 12V power point (there’s one for each row) and a storage compartment in the central armrest, most of the passengers’ other needs are taken care of, however.
And so to the driving environment: the driver’s seat has got a puffed-up look and feel. Adjustment extends to the lumbar region and there’s also little reason to take hands off the wheel, thanks to satellite switchgear both for speed control and for the in-car entertainment system.
Cabin quality is generally impressive, with the upper section of the dash having some give to it when pressed. However, some felt that the stalks were low-rent by comparison. And aft er 20 000km the markings on some switchgear had already started to rub off .
Dominating the centre stack is a liquid crystal display, providing information on climate control mode and fan speed. It also permanently displays a compass and information obtained by scrolling through the driving computer.
Unfortunately the climate control switchgear is at the bottom of the hangdown section, so while the LCD is close to line of sight, the driver’s vision must constantly refocus between the two.
★ ★ ★
The six is impressively refined, whirring silently up the rev range without any of the secondary vibrations sometimes found in a V-type motor. The gearbox is slightly less impressive, however, and while actual shift s are generally smooth, they’re occasionally executed well after the pedal and the carpet meet.
When the kickdown comes – normally a while after you would’ve preferred to have some drive out of corners – it can send the revs soaring. It is an uncomfortable sensation and makes the car feel cumbersome and slow-witted.
The results from our 60 to 100 km/h and 80 to 120 km/h flexibility tests also highlight the slight lack of mid-range urge coupled to delayed responses.
At a true 120 km/h the engine is ticking over at 2500 r/min – great for refinement and noise levels but bad for hills. As a result, the Captiva can lose speed fairly quickly if inclines are not anticipated and planned for – which is when you first notice the lack of a sequential gate for quick and easy pre-emptive downchanges.
On long climbs there’s a tendency for the transmission to hunt between fourth and top gears… but at least the smooth engine takes some of the pain away.
And despite this, fuel economy is not bad for a fairly large and powerful automatic: expect 12,5 to 13 litres per 100km as an overall figure, and about 11 cruising at the legal limit.
While it may not be the quickest out of the blocks, it stops very rapidly indeed, thanks to all-wheel ventilated disc assisted by ABS, EBD and BAS. This aspect of the Captiva’s dynamic ability is class leading.
★ ★ ★
The Captiva handled off-road conditions with relish, despite its modest ground clearance. While there isn’t the facility to manage the torque distribution front to rear, the electronically controlled clutch that does so automatically is hard to fault.
It is front-wheel driven until conditions dictate otherwise and neither muddy riverbeds nor eroded climbs seemed to adversely affect it.
Downhills are also no problem, Hill Descent Control limiting speeds to 7 km/h. Ground clearance is 185mm and occasionally something will ground between the axles, but approach and departure angles are reasonable – the latter more so than the former.
Tarmac dynamics are assisted by electronic stability ESP and self-levelling rear suspension, but it isn’t a machine that likes to be driven too vigorously. Pressing on highlights the rather lifeless steering and adds a few psychological centimetres to the already substantial 1850mm body width.
Ride quality is a mixed bag, and while it lopes happily along the freeways and easily soaks up speed bumps approached at right angles, pitted and pockmarked surfaces affecting individual wheels can soon outwit the multi-link rear and strut-type front suspension and cause an unsettling body motion.
★ ★ ★ ★
An impressive list of standard features (we neglected to mention the rear park distance control earlier) and a genuine ability to straddle the MPV and soft-roader markets makes the Captiva an attractive offering for families looking for an all-in-one solution. Its fuel consumption isn’t as frightening as we expected either, and so we’d be hard pressed to think of a better way to spend R335 000, if seven seats and all-terrain ability are must-have qualities.