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For two years Holden's SUV offering has been meaty but unappealing. The Adventra was a modified Commodore wagon, and while a reasonable choice for a trans-Outback expedition it never captured the imagination of suburbia — where most SUVs are sold.
With hindsight, it's not hard to see why. The Adventra's undoubted dirt road touring ability was the steak, but where was the sizzle? Without the tough styling and high driving position of other SUVs it seemed a bit undercooked in most potential buyers' eyes.
The Captiva is more suited to the suburban backyard barbecue. It makes no claims to pioneering cross-country ability but it does offer seven seats, a tough look and an elevated driving position. For the vast majority of suburban would-be adventurers, that's enough.
The Captiva is made in Korea by GM Daewoo for sale in most world markets as a Chevrolet. Here it's sold as a Holden, but for once it's more than mere badge engineering because Holden has strong links with GM Daewoo — as GM's nominated shareholder in the Korean company it enjoys significant influence over the sort of cars it makes.
That's good news for Australian buyers because it means the Captiva has been designed to drive like a Holden. That means something that accelerates sharply, particularly from rest, and goes around corners with some enthusiasm.
By SUV standards the Captiva does this.
Its 3.2-litre V6 is made by Holden in Melbourne and is a smaller version of the Commodore's 3.6-litre engine. It shuffles the Captiva along quietly and smoothly in everyday driving, but has enough in reserve to make joining a motorway no problem.
We weren't able to round up enough passengers to see how the Captiva would go under full load, but with a driver only, performance bordered on lively. Fuel consumption on test worked out to 11.8 litres per 100km, about what you'd get from a full-sized car but not bad for a seven-seater. A diesel version, later this year is likely to do considerably better.
The five-speed automatic can be manually shifted and in low gears, at least, will batter the rev limiter — as it should — rather than self-shift at high revs. Left alone it's a competent and unobtrusive transmission.
Safety is well addressed with electronic stability control and side curtain airbags, although curiously there are no side airbags.
On bitumen roads the Captiva feels more like a car than an off-roader. By SUV standards it corners flatly and turns in eagerly. The steering is light and not particularly tactile, despite the narrow leather-covered wheel rim — but free from rattle and kickback. While competent and safe on bitumen roads, it's actually quite a bit of fun to drive on dirt. The ESC allows a modest amount of sliding and squirming before bringing the vehicle back into line, which allows for a fluid driving style on the right road.
We even did a spot of light-duty firetrail off-roading in the Captiva. Wheel travel from the front strut and rear multi-link independent suspension felt limited, meaning little scope for anything other than easy tracks. But the traction control and hill descent systems worked well. It exceeded expectations and will probably go as far into the bush in search of that perfect picnic or fishing spot as most owners will ever want to venture.
Ride is on the firm side of comfortable, but free from the pitching that used to affect old-fashioned chassis-based off-roaders. It would seem more comfortable if not for the Captiva's wide, hard and flat seats. While easy to get in and out of, they're not the most inviting for long trips.
The interior is spacious for the front two seats but a little cheap-feeling, although there was no evidence of poor build quality on the test car. Some of the dashboard plastics are a little harder and more brittle-looking than the best in class, but there were no cabin rattles. It's also well designed for its intended suburban function, with eight storage spaces within reach of the driver.
Head-room is good for front and second-row seats but the third seat is strictly for children or adolescents. (Has anyone ever heard of adults — apart from car journalists — regularly using third-row seats? They are standard in all but the base SX model and, usefully, can be folded individually. A more serious failing is the lack of air-conditioning outlets for the rearmost passengers and the minimal boot space if all the seats are in use.
A high waistline gives a feeling of sitting low in the Captiva. Front seat headroom is correspondingly good and the windscreen pillars are not too wide by modern standards, but rear three-quarter vision is compromised by enormous D-pillars. It's a fault in many modern designs engineered to pass the stringent US rear-impact crash test. The large external mirrors compensate somewhat.
There are some unusual interior controls. The handbrake has a sabre-grip ring around the handle like an old cavalry sword. It may look inelegant but it means that unlike the VE Commodore handbrake there's no chance of pinching your fingers. There's a tell-tale blank space that must house a video screen in overseas versions, but the stereo has an iPod plug, and plays home-made MP3 CDs.
The worst ergonomic offender is the Captiva's cruise control, which on the test car could not be disengaged without turning the system off entirely or touching the brakes. It made for a few awkward and potentially dangerous moments.
The Captiva will be a seller for Holden, and deservedly so. In effect it replaces not just the Adventra but the Commodore station wagon, which continues as the old model VZ for the time being.
But don't tell that to its buyers — they think they're getting an off-road adventure vehicle.
|CX (4X4)||2.0L, Diesel, 5 SP AUTO||$2,800 – 4,730||2007 Holden Captiva 2007 CX (4X4) Pricing and Specs|
|LX (4X4)||2.0L, Diesel, 5 SP AUTO||$3,100 – 5,280||2007 Holden Captiva 2007 LX (4X4) Pricing and Specs|
|Maxx (4x4)||3.2L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO||$3,000 – 5,170||2007 Holden Captiva 2007 Maxx (4x4) Pricing and Specs|
|SX (4X4)||3.2L, ULP, 5 SP AUTO||$2,500 – 4,290||2007 Holden Captiva 2007 SX (4X4) Pricing and Specs|