It seems that even the head honchos at General Motors are aware of the lure of the Kingdom, having chosen the rolling hills of rural Kerry to play host to the Irish and English launch of the new Chevrolet Captiva. Given this is Chevrolet Europe’s first family-orientated SUV, we wondered if the region’s fiercely narrow and twisty roads would be the best place to give the Captiva its first outing. It might offer a spectacular backdrop for photography, but if the Captiva isn’t up to scratch things could turn ugly very fast.
At least the Captiva’s not an ugly car. The modern, contemporary shape looks neat from any angle and the excellent detailing means that overall it is an attractive machine. There’s more good news inside too - gone are the carryover Daewoo plastics while the trim is good to look at and nice to touch, too. The four-spoke wheel feels pleasant to hold and the Captiva is extremely well finished and well laid out with clear dials, good all round visibility and lots off storage space both up front and in the rear. There is plenty of room for adults in any of the seats and the boot is a decent enough size too, unless you chose to use the rearmost seats which are really only suited to children and which eat into the boostspace rather significantly. SUV-style cars like this tend to be an illogical purchase, bought more for their looks and presence than any practical notions, but at least the Captiva offers a lot of practicality for those that actually need it.
The Captiva is a sister car to the forthcoming Opel Antara and GM aims to have the Antara fight it out further up the class while the Captiva scoops up younger, more budget-orientated buyers. It is worth nothing that the Captiva comes with the option of seven seats, the last two being for occasional use, whereas the Opel will be strictly a five-seater. Surprisingly, the Captiva is home to Chevrolet's first diesel engine, a 2.0-litre common-rail diesel unit co-developed by GM powertrain and VM Motori who are acknowledged experts in the field of oil-burners. Our test vehicle was the 150bhp four-wheel-drive version although a 127bhp front-wheel-drive only variant will be along shortly and there is also a 2.4-litre petrol engine, again front-wheel-drive only, with 136bhp. The 2 litre diesel engine, at least in 150bhp specification, is a strongpoint of the car. It could use a bit of polish in certain areas, at idle it sounds quite tappety but once underway it is a fine motor, delivering big dollops of torque while remaining respectably quiet. The throttle response is rather sharp and it feels quite quick when the needle is kept around the engine's mid-range. The road to Kenmare features several 'Will I? Won't I?' overtaking moments and when pressed into action the Captiva was quite willing to pull strongly past slower moving traffic. Indeed, my only real problem with it is the rather narrow powerband; it feels lethargic below 1,500rpm and is well out of puff by 3,500rpm.
The gearbox is a definite improvement of Chevrolet's previous efforts with a nicely short, precise shift action. The Captiva rides well, gallantly shrugging off some fairly appalling road surfaces with ease. Turn into a corner and the car rolls but it hangs on well. Press it a bit and the Chevy will simply roll more, it is a tidy enough handler but it seems to quite dislike being made to change direction in a hurry. The level of grip is quite good so while it will push into understeer in extremis it is very mild and quite safe. The steering is acceptably accurate but it lacks feel in the straight ahead position and it doesn't get any more communicative off centre; indeed it is the one area of real disappointment with the Captiva. The route we took might have been narrow and bumpy but the only way we were going off road was by mistake so I can't really tell you if the Captiva is any good in the rough stuff. The fact that Chevrolet made no mention of this in the press conference or the press release suggests that the Captiva is no Freelander.
When the car does go on sale at the end of June it will come in two trim levels. The entry level LS model kicks off the range. The front-wheel-drive 2.4-litre petrol will come in at under €34,000 although exact prices will not be available until launch. LS models get five seats, 16” alloy wheels, air conditioning, dual, side and curtain airbags, roof rails, two tailpipes and a 6 speaker CD player as standard. The diesel LS also gets self levelling rear suspension. The diesel LT gets seven seats, all-wheel-drive, 17” wheels, ESP descent control, a leather wheel, 8 speakers, cruise control, rain sensing wipers and parking sensors while a five-speed auto, full leather, a sunroof and 18” wheels will be available on the top-of-the-line LT model. As it stands it looks good, drives well enough and appears to be good value. The Captiva should do the business for Chevrolet. It could do with attention in certain areas such as steering feel and low-down engine response but as an overall package it looks attractive and makes a lot of sense.
Engine: 2-litre 4-cylinder, 150bhp, 320Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Acceleration: 0–100 km/h: 12.2 seconds
Top speed: 179 km/h
Economy: 7.6 L/100 km
CO2: 191 g/km
Boot Capacity: 465 litres
Weight: n/a kg
Base Price: €36,000 (est)
Price as tested: €36,000 (est)
Verdict: Not the sharpest SUV to drive but good looking, comfortable and good value. Should be a hit for Chevrolet.