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

Launch Story

Holden logo26 May 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

HOLDEN’S unlikely stealth fighter, the Captiva, has flown under the radar for the past few years, quietly launching raids behind enemy lines to pick up sales from rivals that probably did not give the Korean-built, mildly bland SUV a second thought.

Progressively adding weapons such as diesel and two-wheel drive to its armoury, the Holden SUV has, in fewer than five years and without hooplah, become Australia’s best-selling ‘soft-roader’ – the car-based, high-riding form of SUV so loved by mums everywhere.

And it did this with the burden of an uninspiring engine line-up and the shadow of Daewoo’s production quality reputation that preceded it.

The fact is, Captiva gave people – young couples and families, in the main – what they wanted, and they beat a path to their Holden dealer’s door to get it.

Number one on the list was seven seats – not just any seven seats but a usable, easy to fold, safe and comfortable seven seats at an affordable price.

Holden says its research has screamed, loudly and in capital letters, the almost desperate plea from ordinary Australians for this feature, with almost everything else on the SUV-buying agenda rated a poor second.

And when the vehicle shopper opens up the rear hatch of the Captiva 7 – the slightly larger of the twin Captiva models – and watches as a salesman flips a lever to fold the individual rear third row seats flat in to the floor in a blink, with the headrest automatically tucking out of the way, it is a Eureka moment.

When Mum asks eight-year-old Jack to jump in and try the rear-most seat, and he finds he can actually get his feet under the seat in front and not bash elbows with his sister Emily, it just gets better.

It is a flexible design that shames many rivals whose after-thought SUV third-row seats force adult passengers’ knees up around their ears, with questionable safety.

Another plus for Captiva has been its overall size. Like Goldilocks, buyers have found it to be not too big, not too small, but just right, straddling the compact and medium segments with a wide range of choice in powertrains and other essentials.

But the Series I Captiva was not perfect, with its most glaring Achilles heel being lacklustre acceleration from all but the top-most V6 engine.

Then there was the clatter from the old-school 2.0-litre diesel engine from GM’s Italian partner VM Motori. Ear-plugs, anyone?

We are pleased to report that Holden and its GM partners have addressed most of these shortcomings in the latest Series II Captiva, while also sharpening the value and broadening the range.

To date, Holden says take up of the previous diesel was about 50 per cent of all Captiva sales recently, and will probably continue about that level. We think they are dreaming.

No offence to the fine workers at Holden’s V6 engine plant in Victoria or our American cousins labouring over the new 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine also now available in the new Captiva globally, but we would not go past the new 2.2-litre diesel that has not only shut-the-hell-up but found an exuberance that its tardy predecessor never showed.

This engine, coupled with a range of chassis tweaks to sharpen handling and greater efforts to cut annoying NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), has transformed the so-so Captiva into a pleasant familial cocoon for urban errands or rural running.

Yes, the 190kW Aussie V6 available in the Captiva 7 will out-accelerate its four-cylinder counterparts, but the penalty of the heavier powertrain is a lead-tipped arrow effect that blunts driving enjoyment.

Keeping in mind that the 2.4-litre petrol engine Captivas we drove on the launch test route in rural Victoria had as few as 700km on the odometer, we could not help but be disappointed with the step-off acceleration of this base engine.

Considering that the smaller of the two petrol engines is all new, with variable-valve timing and other modern goodies, it does not feel as sprightly as some of its rivals in this arena, especially Kia’s acclaimed new Sportage – which has a startling launch feel at the traffic lights for such a prosaic family-mobile.

However, the revised Captiva’s sharper on-road manners, with flatter cornering, a firm but not harsh ride and trim steering performance, have closed the gap on Kia’s benchmark such that – if there was such a thing – it would have won the most-improved award in 2010.

The Captiva comes into its own on Australian country roads, where it lopes along on its new, tall sixth gear with a confidence-inspiring competence that families will love. Mid-corner bumps taken at 100km/h? No problem. Pot holes? Easy.

This is Holden at its best, and thanks to the new generation of engines and countless tweaks to iron out the wrinkles, the Series II Captiva will only continue to gather fans in surburbia.

But what about drawbacks? Let’s start with the dashboard where a mish-mash of designs across the two models – the Euro-designed Captiva 5 and GM Korea-designed Captiva 7 – are somewhat confused, fiddly and, to our taste, overdone.

In the Captiva 7, a silver-painted centre binnacle causes that old chestnut – the ugly and distracting reflection in the middle of the windscreen in Australia’s harsh summer sun.

We thought that after the VY Commodore, GM interior designers would get the message that anything above the dash line needs to be blacker than black, but apparently not.

In the 7, a little oval-shaped mid-dash clock is naff, doing nothing to add tasteful decorum or ease of use. On the base SX variant, a flat plastic flap where electronic screens reside in the upper versions, cheapens it further.

A Commodore-style touch-screen across the range would be a godsend.

The Captiva 5 is somewhat more restrained, even though it is dominated by no fewer than five big round chrome-ringed air vents – three in the middle. For some reason, even the instrument dials are different from those in the 7, with the 5’s tacho, speedo and fuel gauge recessed within the dash in chrome rings, while the 7’s dials are laid out flat in simplicity itself.

In the end, we are not sure that all this variation is going to cause too much heartburn for buyers trying to decide which Captiva they want, as they will have bigger fish to fry with choices about numbers of seats and type of engine.

Holden says Captiva sales are dominated by the top-of-the-range Captiva 7 LX – seven-seats, all cloaked in leather, with electric power for most things that open and shut. So much for families on a budget.

After driving the latest range, we think that is unlikely to change, except that the percentage of buyers ticking the box for diesel might – or perhaps should – go well beyond the 50 per cent that Holden envisages.

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