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Car reviews - Holden - Captiva - 7-seat CX Diesel AWD 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Strong diesel performance and economy, big cabin, lots of seats for the money, plenty of standard features, styling update
Room for improvement
Stiff ride, dull steering, packaging compromises, ergonomic flaws

26 May 2011

IN the pantheon of inappropriate or ironic names for cars there are many to choose from.

Did you know Mitsubishi once offered an astonishingly bland variation of the original and very vanilla Volvo S40 of the 1990s called the Carisma?

We’ve also been vexed by the delusional Hyundai Grandeur, very chav Austin Princess, and not-at-all intriguing Isuzu Mysterious Utility (briefly sold – poorly – in Oz as the Holden Frontera).

Funny we should mention Holden…

Even after a thorough revamp to accompany a pleasing facelift, the MY11 Captiva joins these ranks. Unless seating seven people in a new SUV as cheaply as possible is your bag, we cannot think of a bigger family-car misnomer.

First, the good stuff though.

Behind that sharper and more contemporary nose in the $39,850 Captiva 7 CX AWD Diesel tested here is a new 135kW 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel delivering a heady 400Nm of torque.

Smooth and if not exactly quiet at idle, it turns into a swift and responsive powerplant that – most of the times – provides instant poke the moment you stoke the accelerator.

Combined with clever gearing via a six-speed auto gearbox, the ‘Diesel’ is also a frugal unit, sipping fuel at a lesser rate than the bulk of the car might suggest.

We were averaging under 9.7 litres per 100km in our mainly inner-urban driving cycle. Yet even in ‘ECO’ mode (normal to you and me) the Holden never feels short on performance.

The sheer competence of the new powertrain makes it easily the biggest story in the CG Series II Captiva, and one that deserves heaps of praise.

Then there is the cabin packaging.

As the name suggests, this Captiva seats seven in the usual 2+3+2 configuration – with a pair of lift-up chairs that simply fall back into the agreeably large, long and wide (if high) rear cargo area when not needed.

But the third-row access – which is quite easy to execute – is compromised by the fact that it is set up for LHD, with kerbside entry and exit requiring two of the three middle-row occupants to leave in order for the seat portion to tumble forward.

Once sat a pair of full-sized adults will find tolerable short-term accommodation, with adequate head, shoulder and elbow space, but restricted knee and legroom properties.

But it’s all too stuffy and a bit cramped, with no vents and only a light and cupholder for comfort. At least both the backrest angle and head restraint are correctly positioned.

In this position there is just 85 litres of luggage space available. Fold the last row down and that rises to 465.

Moving forward, the middle row is an anomaly no vents there either, and no centre head restraint to boot. That’s a major oversight in a family car. Yet it can easily accommodate an adult in the middle, making this car a true five-seater – as long as one of them is headless.

The seats themselves are adequately comfy, with the added bonus of an adjustable backrest, deep side windows, overhead grab handles and more than sufficient space for knees and feet. It is here that many a Captiva salesperson has snared their customers we think. With the second row lowered cargo room increases up to 930 litres.

Another bonus in the CX is a front passenger seat that folds onto itself, to create a tailgate-to-dashboard-length cargo area. Perfect for transporting a coffin. Holden says there is an astonishing 1565 litres of luggage space available with just the driver’s seat erect.

Up front the plus points are many: a tilt/telescopic steering column makes finding the perfect driving position easy vision out is aided by lots of glass, plenty of height and massive mirrors. The instrument dials are really easy to decipher and there are no qualms about the ventilation system’s effectiveness.

And we cannot remember being in a family car with so much storage space – including the world’s deepest centre console (complete with a hidden compartment for extra security), aided by a big glovebox and a handy raised centre bin.

The audio and Bluetooth connectivity systems also work well.

But who thought putting the climate-control display screen more than a hand-span above the switches and dials was a good idea? It looks messy and confused. The metallic-look plastic looks ghastly (especially the faux carbon-fibre – aargh!), and the thin steering wheel is one of the nastiest we have felt in ages.

Speaking of the wheel, the myriad remote audio and cruise control switches also include a trio for the fan and vent outlets. Why? Isn’t it confusing enough having to rummage around the bottom of the centre console while your eyes are looking elsewhere just to raise or lower the temperature?

So far, then, the Captiva has been a so-so experience. Maybe it can redeem itself again on the road. After all, that admirable diesel engine is a very promising beginning indeed. However, just a few hundred metres behind the wheel reveals why the Holden stalls at the starting line too.

Dig underneath the (effective) styling update and you will find General Motors’ trusty old Theta platform – a stolid piece of mid-sized SUV engineering that imbues the Captiva with a small truck flavour despite its monocoque body construction.

What this means is the rubbery steering – though light in movement and steady at speed – feels ponderous when going slowly and artificial at all times, and that just gets tiresome after a while.

Forget about zipping around roundabouts or up a twisty road because everything about the Captiva 7’s handling is approximate – you’ll get it through AOK (the brakes are certainly up to the task and the all-wheel drive-aided grip in inclement weather is great to have) but it will all seem executed via remote control. In contrast a Ford Territory corners like an Olympic athlete.

Capable of quelling the big stuff like speed humps easily, there is little finesse in the way the suspension absorbs smaller bumps and road irregularities as well, for it ends up sending shocks and shimmers through to the cabin, accompanied by unwanted body movement.

Tetchy best describes the Holden’s ride comfort. You wouldn’t relish the idea of spending too much time in the back if motion sickness is an issue. As this is meant to be a family bus, it scores a ‘D’ dynamically.

There is no doubt that the Captiva 7 CX Diesel represents great showroom reading, with an up-to-date drivetrain of impressive performance, economy and refinement.

But it is not a patch on its Territory counterpart dynamically, lacks the cohesion and appeal of the Kluger’s interior and is no fun to drive at all.

More pressingly, there are packaging issues (left-hand drive third-row seat entry and no middle centre seat head restraint are worrying oversights), ergonomic flaws (crazy climate-control layout) and ride-related comfort shortcomings that place the Captiva 7 at the bottom of its class.

Better looks, drivetrain advances and $2000 cheaper pricing make things much more palatable than before, but Holden’s newest seven-seater SUV just doesn't come even close to living up to its name - in either sense of the word.

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