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Car reviews - Holden - Captiva - 5 2.4 2WD 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Value for money, spacious cabin, classy interior, no safety omissions, great styling
Room for improvement
Petrol engine performance, notchy five-speed gearbox, big turning circle, feel-free steering, bouncy ride

Holden logo14 Dec 2009

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

REMEMBER the 1990s Frontera?

Holden’s compact SUV form has been poor to say the least.

Two generations of the Rodeo-based ladder-frame SUV jarred the fillings of the few Australians who bought the Frontera on the strength of either its appealing styling or the big lion logo in the middle of the grille.

By comparison the larger Holden Jackaroo felt like a Range Rover Vogue.

Unsurprisingly then there hasn’t been a successor since the Isuzu-built Frontera (hilariously known as the MU Mysterious Utility in Japan) faded away almost six years ago – unless you count the oddball first-generation Cruze that was also supplied by a then-GM affiliate (in this case Suzuki).

Today it is GM-DAT of South Korea that has finally filled the yawning gap in Holden’s dormant compact SUV line-up, in the form of the Captiva 5.



“Hold on!” we hear you ask. “Haven’t we seen this handsome wagon before?”

Indeed we have. Between 2006 and early 2009 it was sold as the ‘Maxx’ - a misguided attempt to market a flagship version of the proletarian mid-sized Captiva SUV with a smaller and shorter five-seater powered by a thirsty 3.2-litre petrol V6.

And in time-honoured Frontera tradition the Maxx fizzled out as Australians continued to buy Subaru Foresters, Honda CR-Vs and Toyota RAV4s instead.

But it is still a striking SUV by anybody’s standards (the current BMW X3 would do well to look half as good), so Holden is trying again.

However, this time, with a new name (Captiva 5), smaller engine (2.4-litre four-pot petrol), lower pricing (from just $27,990), and proper positioning (to reflect the compact SUV sizing), the model formerly known as Maxx has a far better chance to finally start making some hay for the General in Australia’s second most popular vehicle class.

Originally we planned to bring you a test of the automatic and all-wheel-drive version of the Captiva 5, but a last-minute hiccup meant that only the manual FWD front-wheel drive variant was available.

And at under $30K driveaway it seems like an attractive overall package.

But should you divert your compact SUV funds away from default Subaru/Honda/Toyota offerings?

Sadly for Holden the answer is a qualified no. Save your money and buy a VE Commodore Omega Sportwagon instead, we say.

And here’s why.

In a curious reversal of the class norm, the Captiva 5 actually feels bigger and more truck like than its pert measurements suggest, and that’s because the Theta architecture lurking underneath was developed to serve some pretty large vehicles in GM’s North American SUV portfolio.

So while it isn’t a truck-based ladder-frame chassis vehicle, there is a weighty inertia to the way the Holden drives that soon becomes tiresome.

The biggest culprit is the steering, with its cumbersome 12.4 metre turning-circle and lack of meaningful feedback. Yes, the Captiva 5 corners with sufficient response and adequate control, but there is no pleasure to be gleaned from it.

Getting the Holden up to speed is easy, because although the 103kW/220Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder Ecotec Family II petrol engine does a heroic job hauling the 1732kg SUV along in everyday traffic situations – and can even make the front tyres chirp if you’re sudden with the clutch – there is little in reserve for overtaking or when needing to accelerate forward quickly, like when joining fast-moving traffic.

The issue is a lack of low-down torque, which results in the engine having to have a hefty workout just to keep things on the boil performance-wise.

Revving the four-pot isn’t painful but it only increases noise and consumption (from an adequate 10.5L/100km in urban conditions, against Holden’s 9.7 combined average figure), so you’re better off to keep the momentum up, which is actually quite easy to do.

While the clutch is also a cinch to use, the five-speed manual gearbox is light but a little notchy and vague in that boring GM way (c’mon, isn’t 101 years enough time to get it right?), so we’d be inclined to recommend the five-speed automatic instead, even if it bumps up the price to $30,990.

This brings with it a part-time 4WD system, which improves traction presumably (we couldn’t tell the difference driving our FWD Captiva 5 even in wet conditions) and adds another 100kg to the bulk, so expect performance to be sluggish – if also smooth and linear as a result.

We would have liked to describe the ride quality as consistent as well, but instead the description ranges from pliant or bouncy over big bumps, to busy and jittery over the small, rough stuff. There just isn’t any finesse going on underneath you.

And don’t even think about serious off roading action because this isn’t designed for it at all despite the generous (and Ford Territory beating) 200mm ground clearance.

Yet while the Holden’s flaccid on-road dynamics isn’t going to worry the more capable RAV4, Forester, Suzuki Grand Vitara or Nissan X-Trail – never mind the agile Nissan Dualis and Mazda CX-7 – it is a superior drive to other cheapie SUVs like the existing Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Ford Escape and Ssangyong Actyon.

And it is worth keeping in mind that the Captiva 5 manual offers a heck of a lot of metal for the money.

The Holden costs less than a basic Toyota Camry yet includes luxuries like front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, a six-stacker CD and 17-inch alloy wheels, along with a full suite of safety gear (dual front airbags, side curtain airbags, electronic stability control, and traction control).

Being an SUV, you sit high, with a fairly commanding view all round, behind a smartly designed dashboard that is vaguely reminiscent of the old AH Astra’s. Opel in Germany allegedly had a hand in the look of the fascia and it shows.

This impression is underlined by the Euro-centric instrumentation and centre-stack LED screen, whose ultra-complicated trip computer functionality is in stark contrast to the super-crisp speedometer, fuel and tachometer dials.

More clarity is evident in the audio and air-con functions, while the attractive steering wheel includes logical remote buttons for the sound system as well as the welcome cruise-control functionality. The indicators have a lane-change feature as well.

Finding sufficient spots to throw things in won’t be a challenge either, thanks to a menagerie of options, including a deep centre bin area.

It’s all good stuff going on inside the Captiva 5.

Actually touching some of the hard and shiny plastic surfaces does take some of that sheen away ironically enough, but it isn’t bad by any means, and better than the other price-driven SUVs.

On the other hand, the front seats, while initially comfortable, are a little flat in the cushion for our tastes, even if they do offer plenty of adjustment.

However, the rear seat of the Captiva 5 is right up to the class standard as far as accommodation is concerned, although a rather high floor and low seat base does require a bit of a knees-up seating position if you are of the long-legged human variety.

Further back in the Holden, the boot area is well finished, with a large cargo area that is enhanced by the inclusion of a split/fold backrest. However, that high floor might make loading heavier objects hard work.

But it isn’t hard work figuring out why you might want to be interested in the Captiva 5.

Seen from the inside out, the appealingly ambient and roomy interior, high standard specification and solid, quality feel make for an entrancing showroom proposition. And that’s before you factor in the good-looking outer skin.

On the road, though, the value-for-money impression begins to pale due to the smooth but lacklustre 2.4-litre engine’s surfeit of torque, combined with the lardy and quite inert chassis feel. You’ll never just drive this for the fun of it.

We can’t help but question the wisdom of not offering the 110kW/320Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel available in the larger and longer Captiva 7. Surely this would at least bring driveability and fuel consumption benefits.

As it stands, the Holden is preferable the Tucson, Escape, Sportage and Actyon, but loses out to the rest of the fiercely competitive compact SUV set.

So, like we said, look elsewhere or save up for an Omega Sportwagon 3.0 SIDI and see how much better a Holden can be.

The spectre of the Frontera looms.

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