Chevrolet Captiva: A blancmange on wheels

Good looks aside, for Daniel Cobbs, driving the new Captiva proves anything but captivating
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The Independent Online

Specifications

Engine: 1,991cc, high-pressure direct injection
Transmission: five-speed manual
Drive: front-wheel drive with on-demand all-wheel drive
Maximum power: 148bhp @ 2,000rpm
Maximum torque: 236lb ft @ 2,000rpm
Top speed: 112mph
0-60mph: 11.5 seconds
Fuel consumption: 32.8mpg (combined)
Price: from £16,995 to more than £22,000

Judging merely on appearances isn't the most scientific way to buy a new car. Price and purpose come into the equation, but thereafter, most of us are guilty of being swayed by oh-so-alluring design cues to help us write that cheque. I'm no different: when it comes to my own critique of a new car, I take my first impressions and work backwards from there. This is not good news for Chevrolet.

On initial inspection, the new Chevrolet Captiva looks as though it can equal, if not outdo, any other compact SUV. Unfortunately, first impressions lend themselves to a great expression: don't judge a book by its cover. The Captiva begins to disappoint from a point in the text not long after the Contents, and goes on thwarting any hopes for exhilaration, or even practical offerings, right up to the Index.

Cast an eye beyond the Hollywood-style chisel-jawed architecture, and things start to go a little awry. At £16,995, the basic LS package seems cheap enough. The problem with that deal is the lack of anything more than an old-fashioned front-wheel drive system. To have power at all four corners, one has to choose between either the LT or LTX trim level, which warrants an extra set of seats in the boot and AWD, but the addition of those goodies will send the price soaring past the £22k mark. There are several better-equipped and more capable MPVs and SUVs on the market for that kind of cash.

In fact, a complete lack of off-road credibility makes one wonder why Chevrolet fitted such niceties as a Hill Descent Control function. The Captiva's lofty stature – and implied capability – is just an optical illusion: there is very little ground-clearance, and the 4WD system just can't be taken seriously. Those failings aside, the inside of the Captiva is a mixed bag of offerings: some good, some not so good.

The trim is bland and low- rent, but there are good proportions of leg- and headroom in all three rows of seating. Access to the third set of seats is surprisingly easy – all the seats tip and fold flat to leave a clear and unobtrusive cargo area, and the tailgate has an opening rear window. There's a hidden storage compartment beneath the floor, too – and you can probably tell that none of these applaudable features inspire me with any excitement.

It's a shame because, in theory, everyone should be happy. I, am not everyone. I, am the driver. I, am not quite sure who, or what, developed the driver's seat ergonomics, but they definitely weren't from the same gene pool as any other example of Homo sapiens I've ever met.

To be anything like comfortable, you'll need the deportment of Quasimodo with the arm's length of an orang-utan. I desperately wanted to give Chevrolet's designers the benefit of doubt over the placement of the steering wheel, the misaligned pedals and the squishy seat. The thing is, I spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to find a position that worked for me – and failed. Perhaps I'm deforming, slowly, with the onset of middle age, but I have my doubts as to whether the Captiva will ever grow on me, or mould itself to my obviously sub-standard skeletal form.

What I do know is that the first (drastic) impressions of the Captiva weren't aided in any way by the secondary experience: the drive. Handling? What handling? The Captiva lollops around corners as if the suspension has been replaced with blancmange, and the prolific bodyroll is enough to give that blancmange a second run for its money. In a straight line, where the road ahead is as calm as the proverbial millpond, there aren't too many problems. Put this SUV on an uneven surface, however, and the shortcomings of the soft suspension are exasperated even further as it bumps, bounces and springs its way across the tarmac.

Choosing between the newly developed 2.0-litre diesel and 2.4-litre petrol engine makes no difference. The five-speed auto box, only available with the diesel unit, constantly slides up and down the ratios, searching for some of the alleged 148bhp of power available. Given the choice, the diesel coupled to the five-speed manual is marginally a better choice than the petrol engine, but only marginally. It's never going to get you clenching your buttocks with its turn of speed – 0-60mph in 11.5 seconds – but it will take up all 236 lb/ft of torque in a relatively smooth and unfussy manner.

And, despite its many faults, being able to average 32mpg is possibly the one – and only – thing that takes the Captiva from "not very interesting" to "well, maybe we can give it a quick look" .

I expected much more from Chevrolet. I don't know if it has high hopes for sales here, but I can assure it of one thing: if it wanted the Great British car-buying public to forget that this is, to all intents and purposes, a dressed-up seven-seater Daewoo, it may be disappointed.

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