HOLDEN KNOWS A BIT about SUVs. It has had a few of them on the field over the past two or three decades. Some were perhaps more 4x4 than SUV, but back a decade or so, the distinction in the market wasn't as clear.
Like the early Jackaroo. Lots of mums on the school run liked them. It was under-powered but versatile and sold in reasonable numbers under 'the lion' badge.
The diminutive Drover didn't fare so well, nor the forgettable Frontera. With a ladder-frame and low-range transfer case, the Frontera was rugged enough but not so well suited to life in the urban jungle.
In later years, the Commodore wagon-based Adventra SX6 and SX8 carried the SUV mantle for Holden. While these were designed to give Holden dealers a showroom answer to Ford's Territory, they struggled for traction in the market (if not on a gravel road).
In 2006 with the arrival of the Daewoo-sourced Captiva, all that changed. Holden was finally able to field a versatile and well-equipped SUV that was capable of squaring off against the mid-size soft-roader competition.
Few buying in this segment will bemoan - or even notice - the absence of a low range transfer case. The style and versatility on offer winning points instead.
So, for a car considered vital in the modern market, how does the Captiva acquit itself?
After throwing it through a test cycle of peak hour crawls and weekend escapism, TMR discovered just where Holden’s Captiva belongs in the popular SUV pecking order.
The Captiva is a global car for GM; variously badged as a Holden, Daewoo and Chevrolet. It is doing ok for Holden and now is a regular sight on Aussie roads.
The overall design may be a few of years old, but it's ageing well.
It ‘sits’ bigger than it actually is – its internal space a testament to its well though-out packaging. With a deep swage line that runs through the door handles and into the vented guards, and contrasting lower body cladding and wheel arch mouldings, the Captiva looks the part for the segment.
Overall, its understated utilitarian lines are not without appeal and will offend few. Ours, in deep blue metallic, looked pricey – which it’s not.
Some of the features of the 60th anniversary model seen here, such as the chrome plated bumper vents and clear-lens tail-lights, are omitted from standard versions of the car.
The rest of the range scores a chrome grille and numberplate valance, body coloured (instead of contrasting) door handles, dual exhaust outlets and alloy wheels.
There are four Captiva variants available, the SX, CX, LX and the range topping Captiva MaXX. The 60th Anniversary model on test is based on the LX.
Equipment & Features
All models in the Captiva range are available with active all-wheel-drive (standard on CX, LX and MaXX). The base model SX can be specified as a two-wheel drive diesel.
Each comes with an MP3 compatible CD player with steering wheel controls, power mirrors, remote central locking, powered windows and mirrors, and a two-stage tailgate that allows just the rear window or the entire panel to be opened.
There’s also air conditioning (climate control for the LX and MaXX), split-folding seats in the two rear rows and cruise control as standard.
Standard safety features include, Electronic Stability Control with Traction Control, a Descent Control System, ABS brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Active Rollover Protection, along with dual front and side curtain airbags.
Both the SX and CX are fitted with 17-inch alloy wheels while LX and MaXX are fitted with 18-inch alloy wheels. Importantly, all models have a useful 200mm of ground clearance.
The 60th Anniversary model (based on the LX) comes equipped with a number of additional features including 18-inch sports alloy wheels, ‘silver premium painted’ skid plate and fog lamp inserts, ‘silver premium painted’ roof rails and door handles, unique black bezel headlamps, unique tail lamps and a ‘60th anniversary’ rear badge.
Inside, there is a seven-inch driver information display and in-dash DVD player, front passenger under-seat storage tray, leather gear-shifter and electrochromatic mirror.
All models in the Captiva line-up now offer a seven seat configuration in which the second and third seating rows fold flat to carry long or bulky loads. The second row is 60:40 split, the third row 50:50 split.
In reality though the seven seat layout is more of a ‘5 + 2 smalls’ arrangement.
Front and middle row occupants are treated to commanding seating positions with plenty of room to stretch the legs out. But no such luck with shoulder room in the middle row; three adults there will find it a bit of a squeeze.
Thankfully, plenty of head room, a flat floor and enough space for feet beneath the front buckets alleviate some of the tension.
The third row is much tighter and more problematic. Even accessing it through the narrow rear doors or via the middle row comes with its own set of challenges.
And, once settled back there, taller occupants will find themselves short on headroom while also needing to take a knees-up approach – space for the size ten clod-hoppers is a tad limited.
Best described as a jump-seat, the third row is really only suited to children, short legs and short trips.
That said, it does rather cleverly fold away into the floor, leaving a flat cargo area.
The Captiva SX, CX and LX offer 930 litres of cargo space with rear seats folded and 1565 litres with the front passenger seat also folded. The MaXX offers slightly less: 865 litres with rear seats folded.
With the third row seating left in place however, even a light grocery shop will test the limits of the available space.
Handy storage features, a must in this vehicle segment, include a large wet/dry area beneath the load compartment floor, a glovebox cooler, deep centre console bin, rear centre-console storage and useful door bins all round.
There are drink bottle holders, small item/coin and cup holders, a parking-ticket holder, overhead sunglasses compartment, seatback pockets and, in the MaXX, an under-seat storage tray. Three 12-volt power outlets are also included.
While the dashboard and controls are well enough laid out with large buttons and an easy-to-use interface for the centre stack, there is no escaping the slightly down-market feel to the plastics and surfaces.
The touch screen for audio and trip-computer settings is also a bit clunky to use, although most functions are repeated on the dash for those who prefer not to use the touch screen.
The standard engine across the Captiva range is the Australian built Euro IV compliant 3.2-litre Alloytec V6 made at Holden’s Global V6 engine facility in Port Melbourne.
In Captiva SX, CX and LX models, it produces 169kW and 297Nm, while the MaXX is robbed of a couple of kilowatts (167kW) thanks to a slightly different exhaust system.
The all-alloy engine has continuously variable camshaft timing on inlet and exhaust valves and a variable intake manifold and is matched to a five-speed automatic transmission with Active Select.
A 2.0-litre common-rail turbo diesel engine (as fitted to the test vehicle) is available as a bargain priced $1000 option on all but the MaXX. It produces 110kW at 4000rpm and 320Nm at 2000rpm and is Euro IV emissions compliant.
It is available (depending on the model) with either a five-speed manual or the five-speed automatic transmission with Active Select fitted to our test vehicle.
Holden claims that the manual equipped turbo-diesel will return 7.6 l/100km, while the automatic equipped diesel sees that figure climb to 8.7 l/100km.
We couldn’t match this on test. Our regime saw the Captiva spend most of its time negotiating Melbourne’s peak hour rushes (because that’s where these cars spend most of their time), with a highway and back-roads run to test its legs.
In our heavy hands, fuel consumption was dead on 10.0 l/100km.
Carbon dioxide emissions are also reduced, with the manual producing 197 grams per kilometre.
All Captiva models use a four-link independent rear suspension with MacPherson struts up front. The CX and LX are equipped with a level ride suspension system that automatically maintains a set ride height under differing load conditions.
The Captiva MaXX’s suspension is tricked up a little with revised damper calibrations and the fitment of rebound springs to the front struts for extra body-roll control.
In normal driving, the all-wheel-drive system has the front wheels doing the work, apportioning drive to the rear once slip is detected.
It’s for light work only – don’t think about straying too far off road – but the torquey diesel will help getting across sand with the surf-boards up top or to a favoured campsite.
Braking is handled by four-wheel vented disc brakes measuring 296mm in front and 303mm at the rear.
When the Captiva range was first introduced back in 2006, all models featured the active-all-wheel-drive system, but Holden has since made a FWD option available on the base model diesel-equipped SX, with either the manual or automatic transmissions.
Externally, there is a touch of class to the Captiva’s looks. Unfortunately, that impression doesn’t carry over to the interior nor to the experience behind the wheel.
While the diesel engine itself is not a particularly old design, it is now starting to feel (and sound) dated when compared to up-to-the-minute offerings of some other manufacturers.
The 2.0-litre unit doesn’t spin as freely as we expected and diesel ‘clatter’ is a constant throughout the rev-range.
Being a diesel though, there is of course plenty of low down torque to shift the Captiva’s 1770kg kerb-weight, although five adults on-board blunt performance.
Any shortcomings in the diesel are balanced by the excellent five-speed automatic transmission, which does a wonderful job of delivering creamy shifts and is well programmed to keep the available power on tap in most situations.
The automatic also features a tiptronic mode that is handy on steep inclines and also useful in mild off-road situations (or when towing).
Along the highway and on country back roads the Captiva is well isolated from road noise, with the diesel sitting comfortably on 2000rpm at 100km/h.
The suspension tune is a little on the firm side with just the driver on board, but add the whole family to the equation and the ride becomes more balanced and compliant. The Australian engineering is evident in its ability to deal with everything from cobblestone laneways to pockmarked and potholed country roads.
The Captiva’s steering is light, but it’s also largely lifeless. This makes manoeuvring carparks and tight situations easy, but on the highway lacks for feedback through the wheel.
The brakes proved to be up to the task of stopping the Captiva, with the diesel also providing a useful degree of engine braking.
The diesel Captiva is a versatile all-rounder for what amounts to a bargain basement price.
It faces some stiff competition from the larger and more polished Ford Territory and Kluger but undercuts both on price and fuel efficiency.
Entry level to the Ford Territory range is the RWD TX, which is available from $39,490. The equivalent entry level FWD petrol-engined Captiva automatic easily undercuts the Territory at $35,990.
Until a diesel engine is made available in the Territory range, it will be unable to challenge the efficiency of the diesel Captiva.
The real challenger for the diesel Captiva is the arguably-better Hyundai Santa Fe, reviewed by us earlier this year. Powered by a more willing 2.2-litre CRDi turbo diesel and five speed automatic transmission combination, the Santa Fe is also available in a similar seven-seat layout.
Pricing for the entry level CRDi automatic, seven-seat Santa-Fe begins at $38,990, just $1000 more than the equivalent AWD SX Captiva.
The stiff competition aside, the Captiva still has a lot going for it. It is easy to live with, easy to drive and easy on the eye.
If value and fuel efficiency is a high priority on your new car shopping list, then the reasonably frugal and well-equipped Captiva diesel is certainly worth close consideration.