Chevrolet Captiva LT

Its name may be a hostage to fortune, but John Simister is quietly impressed by the serene drive, high trim quality and practicality of this Europe-friendly SUV

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Price: from £18,500 approximately (the range spans £16,000-£25,000). On sale early 2007
Engine: 2,000cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbodiesel, 150bhp at 4,000rpm, 236lb ft at 2,000rpm
Transmission: five-speed gearbox, four-wheel drive
Performance: 115mph, 0-62 in 10.6sec, 38.1mpg official average
CO2: 197g/km

What strikes you first about the Chevrolet Captiva? Not the price, although it will start at a remarkably low £16,000 when it goes on sale here early next year. Not the fact it's yet another new SUV in an increasingly hostile world, even though it is and it brings some useful new features to its price and size class. No, it's the name.

To call something ostensibly American a Captiva is not fantastically bright. It's meant to evoke the idea of being captivated, but "captive" comes to mind. Chevrolet Guantanamo anyone? It's dangerous ground.

That said, the Captiva isn't really American. It comes from the ex-Daewoo end of the empire, but it isn't a Daewoo. It's the product of General Motors' new scheme for developing different types of cars in centres of expertise worldwide, and the ex-Daewoo organisation, now known as GM-DAT (Daewoo Automobile Technologies) and whose products now wear the Chevrolet "value brand" badge almost worldwide, is where compact SUVs are developed.

Next year's Vauxhall Antara will also come out of Korea, built on the same underpinnings as the Captiva. In the US, the Saturn Vue also uses this architecture but is built in its home country, and has a hybrid powertrain option denied to the Captiva. This new Chevy, however, will not be sold in the land of its brand's birth. Globalisation indeed.

The Captiva looks like a credible Chevrolet, thanks to the badge and a certain Americano-neo-Oriental style. Its primary target market is Europe, where the Chevrolet brand brings an enticing hint of US culture.

It also comes across as a product of surprising quality. The Chevrolet/Korea gene-blend doesn't sound promising, given the past hard-plastic overkill and overall cheapness that pervaded both automotive canons, but the Captiva is up to European and Japanese standards in respect of finish. There's padding on the dashboard and door trims, lids for storage compartments have a damped action, the soft trim looks sophisticated and there's neat chrome and mock-aluminium detailing.

And there's some well-engineered seat-folding. We'll major on this for now because there is no great driving excitement waiting, and be impressed that the Captiva can be had as a viable seven-seater - the cheapest SUV so configured.

The rearmost seats can be folded individually with a pull of a handle. When down they are level with the high boot floor; up, they can take adults at a pinch. Or specify a five-seat Captiva and you get a large storage space under the false floor.

Centre seats flip forward or you can fold them flat to continue a load platform that can culminate with a flattened front passenger seat. The rear window can be opened by the key's remote control separately from the main tailgate.

The only obvious omission is the lack of a one-prod-for-up facility for the windows (owing to the cost of an anti-trapping mechanism to protect fingers).

All Captivae get air-conditioning and a CD player, plus alloy wheels and four electric windows. In posher LT models the wheels are bigger, seats are part-leather, there's some bearable fake wood and indicator repeaters in the door mirrors instead of in the front wings, their places taken by fake air-extractor vents.

LT doesn't just mean equipment, though. It means the availability of seven seats and automatic transmission (with a serious economy penalty) denied to the base LS Captiva, a 2.0-litre, 150bhp diesel engine and four-wheel drive. The LS has a 2.4-litre, 133 bhp petrol engine from GM's Australian outpost, Holden (bigger capacity, less power, the world is turning upside-down) and mere front-wheel drive. Does that make this Captiva an SUV charlatan existing only to boost the egos of its owners? It does, but it fits in neatly with a reality that says most Captiva owners will never go off-roading. It's not what you've got that matters, it's what others think you've got.

Right, the driving. Despite its ample engine capacity the LS model is not lively. You have to work it hard to get it going and it gets vocal if you do. Its lack of four-wheel drive is barely noticeable on a dry, grippy road, and anyway the LT's 4x4 system sends torque to the rear wheels only if the front wheels begin to lose grip.

The obvious Captiva to have, then, is the LT with its GM-DAT diesel. This is a good engine once past a low-speed response lag, with the mid-speed musclepower needed for safe overtaking and towing. It makes for quieter progress, too, because you don't have to work the engine hard. Its four-wheel drive system is matched to ESP stability control, but unlike in Hyundai's Santa Fe you can't lock the multiplate clutch and thus achieve guaranteed traction traction on slippery surfaces. No need, says Chevrolet. It should hardly ever get stuck.

Neither Captiva is an inspiring drive, thanks to soft steering and pillowy responses, but at least every bit of steering movement influences direction instead of tipping you into float and wallow as used to be the case with American SUVs. But then this is not an American SUV. It's better than that - and rides over poor roads with splendid serenity, which will be enough to endear it to many.

The Captiva should be on sale about now, but there have been engineering "issues" with the right-hand drive LT version's Euro NCAP crash tests. There's feverish engineering going on, but all should be ready by early next year.

Here is the car as product, not as covetable creation. But the Captiva is a good product and very good value. For many, that will be enough.

The rivals

HONDA CR-V 2.2 ICDT-I SE £18,900

Honda's diesel engine is one of the most responsive and efficient, making this CR-V the most driver-appealing of this group. Good value, and quality engineering, five seats.

KIA SORENTO 2.5 CRDI XE £19,995

A larger engine (170bhp) but only five seats for the handsome but mechanically old-fashioned Sorento, which has just been facelifted. Feels heavy, but good value.

HYUNDAI SANTA FE 2.2 CRDT GSI 7-SEATER £21,620

Here's the second-cheapest seven-seater SUV, a new model with good handling, lots of equipment, space and a lively diesel engine. Korea now competes on level terms.

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