Chevrolet's seven-seat soft-roader is decent enough, but its high price pitches it against rivals it can’t beat

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“The strength and space of a sports utility vehicle. The style and practicality of a family car. The Captiva is a unique mix of both…”

So claims the marketing campaign for Chevrolet’s Captiva, which is built on the same production line in Korea as the Vauxhall Antara. Chevrolet as a brand is beginning to work quite well in the UK, crafting itself a niche for well made, good-value-for-money products that have more than a whiff of originality to their styling.

The split tailgate allows you to open the glass top section separately

The Captiva was designed entirely in-house at GM Korea’s Design Centre in Incheon, and the team was led by 35-year-old American Max Wolf. It first saw the light of day as the S3X concept and was unveiled at the 2004 Paris motor show.

Since then, however, the car’s styling has been refined at various GM studios around the world, including the Opel HQ at Russelsheim in Germany. That’s where the process to turn a Captiva into an Antara visually was perfected.

The Captiva might not entirely hit the target when it comes to VFM. The top-of-the-range LTZ 2.2-litre diesel auto, for example, is right at the limits of where a conventionally powered (ie non-Volt) Chevrolet can go on price, at over £30k. But it’s certainly good looking. Question is, does it give as good as it looks?



Chevrolet Captiva rear

In design terms the Captiva is big news for GM, especially in Europe, where the compact SUV market is lucrative. When the Korean-built big brother of the Vauxhall Antara was launched in Europe in 2006, the soft-roader spearheaded Chevrolet’s “new era of design, combining the ruggedness of an SUV with the stylishness of a mid-size station wagon”.

The lines are clean and rugged enough to look imposing but not as heavy-handed as they are in one or two of the Captiva’s less good-looking competitors, the Hyundai Santa Fe and Nissan X-Trail.

The styling is neat, if a tad innocuous in the metal

A mid-life refresh in 2011 introduced a bolder face, with a re-shaped and sharply sculptured bonnet, a new larger grille, prism-style headlamps and integrated LED turn signals on the outside rearview mirrors.

On the road the Captiva looks fresh, muscular and compact for a seven-seat, four-wheel-drive soft-roader.

If you consider how much more road space vehicles such as the Audi Q7 and Range Rover occupy (and neither offers notably more room inside), you get a clear idea of how well packaged the Captiva is.



Chevrolet Captiva interior

The cabin of the Captiva is very much its engine room, so to speak, and although there are some neat individual design touches, it’s nowhere near as appealing inside as its key rival, the Freelander. Where the Land Rover feels like a genuinely class act inside, there’s a touch of blandness to the Chevrolet’s cabin.

On the lesser models Chevrolet will get away with this, but on the top-spec LTX it’s harder to forgive. The main culprits are the rather flat and featureless front seats, the low-rent plastics used to trim the dashboard and centre console, the plain styling of its instrument cluster and the size of the boot, which is close to hopeless – 85 litres – when the two rearmost seats are in use.

It's easy to accidentally press a button on the key fob when turning on the ignition

On the plus side, there’s acres of space in the rear seats proper; two six-footers can easily sit in front of and behind one another. Storage space has also been reasonably well accounted for with a huge glove box, deep door bins, high-quality cup holders (front and rear) and an equally vast centre console cubby.

Overall, however, the Captiva fails to exude anything like the same sense of quality inside as the Freelander.

Fair enough, it does have the extra pair of occasional rear seats, which appear from beneath the boot floor in a similar style to those of the Vauxhall Zafira and which have Isofix attachments for child seats.

What’s more, the goodie count is high for the money, with items such as cruise control, leather seats, 18in wheels and climate control all appearing as standard. But the Captiva’s extra kit count fails to compensate for its bargain-basement personality against high-grade rivals.


Chevrolet Captiva cornering

Having been launched with Chevrolet's first-ever diesel engine, a 2.0-litre common-rail unit that produced 147bhp at 4000rpm and a promising 236lb ft at just 2000rpm, a new 2.2-litre came on stream in 2011, when the Captiva was given a cosmetic and mechanical facelift.

The new powerplant is available with either 161bhp and 258lb ft or 181bhp and 295lb ft outputs, while a 2.4-litre, 169bhp petrol engine that also forms part of the line-up in other countries isn't currently available in the UK.

A 200mm ground clearance gives the Captiva some off-road ability

The smaller diesel engine is offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, while the larger oilburner has a choice of manual or auto, both six-speed. All LT and LTZ models come with on-demand all-wheel-drive and seven seats as standard.

In revamped form, the Captiva is a big step forward over the pre-facelift model. The most significant improvements come in terms of refinement and power delivery. Upgrades to the cabin insulation have made the Captiva a more relaxing place to cover miles, with much less engine noise and vibration creeping into the cockpit, and the punchy motor also makes progress very easy.

Mated to the six-speed torque converter the engine offers good response across the range, with the auto box making slightly lazy but well-judged shifts. For all that it is not the most rewarding drivetrain in the class, it’s effective at what it needs to do, and is really quite likeable because it encourages such an easy-going, laid-back driving style.

In normal running the Captiva is front-wheel drive, but when the car’s AWD system detects any slip whatsoever, the rear axle is deployed and it automatically becomes four-wheel drive.


Chevrolet Captiva rear cornering

This is probably the Captiva’s strongest area dynamically. What distinguishes the Chevrolet's ride and handling is its polish and poise.

The ride (on 18in wheels at least) is well damped and very well controlled, considering the Captiva tips the scales at 1970kg with a full tank of fuel. Install a passenger in each of the seven seats and you’re looking at close to two and a half tonnes, yet even then the Captiva’s suspension retains its composure. That’s a fine but deliberate achievement on GM’s behalf.

The Captiva is composed near the limit, even when you fill it with passengers

A word of warning: the ride quality on UK roads was less impressive on a top-spec LTZ model fitted with 19in alloys as standard. There was too much jogging and jarring over typical B-roads, although things did settle down on smoother main artery roads.

It’s not unforgivable, and is unlikely to be a deal breaker for those who are taken with the Captiva’s looks and practicality, but a car fitted with 17in or 18in wheels could offer some improvement.

The steering is also worthy of praise, not because it oozes feel and communication but because it is well weighted, accurate and almost entirely devoid of kickback, even on rough surfaces. It’s the sort of steering excellence you don’t notice in normal driving.

We were also impressed with the Captiva’s brakes, not just because they featured reasonable feel but also because they hauled the car down from big speeds time after time at the test track, without fade and in short distances, even compared with the Freelander.

Tyre roar, on the other hand, is less than well suppressed, especially on rough roads.

Off road the Captiva is no Land Rover, however, and to be honest it isn’t meant to be. Its approach and departure angles are more than good enough, as is its ability to traverse reasonably rough terrain. But try to follow a Freelander into the unknown and eventually you’ll get stuck. If this is a key failing, look elsewhere. If not, the Captiva is as good as (if not a tiny bit better than) the Land Rover on road.


Chevrolet Captiva

Chevrolet is still an emerging brand in the UK, which is both a good and a bad thing for those considering a Captiva. It’s good because it means Chevrolet has to try to offer the customer more for less in an attempt to establish itself as a player in the market.

It’s bad because in terms of depreciation the market rarely trusts an unknown name, especially when it comes from America. Having said that, the entire operation is based out of Luton, which means the after-sales is strong and the warranty is attractive.

Although the level of standard kit is good, the Captiva still seems pricey

On the downside, pricing is an issue. In the UK, you won’t get a Captiva with seven seats and four-wheel drive – both of which you’d surely want from a family 4x4 this big – for much less than £28,000. That’s because Chevrolet’s UK range doesn’t allow you to have the Captiva’s entry-level engine or equipment spec in combination with seven seats or four-wheel drive.

And the trouble with that, for Chevrolet at least, is that you can have a Hyundai Santa Fe with seven chairs and four-driven wheels for about £3000 less. And although it’s got a more utilitarian flavour, the Hyundai’s an equally refined and spacious car.

Chevrolet’s front-wheel-drive five-seat Captiva is better value, but still isn’t market-leading on price.

The new engines brought in at facelift time in 2011 were essential to ensure Chevrolet didn't get left behind on fuel economy and CO2 emissions. The pre-facelift 2.0-litre diesel's figure, of more than 230g/km, didn't do the Captiva any favours on fleet costs or BIK bills, and the now-mothballed 2.4-litre petrol was the least desirable of the range.

Now, the entry-level Captiva returns a claimed 44.1mpg on the combined cycle, which equates to 170g/km. The most frugal all-wheel-drive variant is the manual-equipped 2.2 VCDi LT seven-seater, which boasts 42.8mpg (combined) and 174g/km of CO2.



3 star Chevrolet Captiva

We are quietly impressed by the Chevrolet Captiva, if not exactly bowled over by its range of abilities. In one or two areas it is excellent, particularly its chassis, which combines soothing refinement with decent manners, on and off road.

But in the main the Captiva is a middle-of-the-road kind of car, one that neither irritates you nor knocks you sideways with its achievements. And its cabin, although spacious for five with the flexibility of two more occasional seats in the rear, is something of a letdown beside its key rivals.

Brakes are fine but the pedal is too high for some tastes.

The Captiva’s biggest problem, amazingly, is its price. We say amazingly because Chevrolet has a reputation for producing excellent-value vehicles. But in top-of-the-tree LTZ auto guise the Captiva is as expensive as a Freelander and nothing like as desirable.

Go for the cheapest model — the LS five-seater — with the less-powerful diesel engine and the Captiva makes sense as spacious family transport at a reasonable price.

Even with the two extra occasional seats, at an extra cost of just over £1000, a Captiva LT looks a good proposition. But the top-spec Captiva LTZ has ideas a little above its station in life.

Chevrolet Captiva 2007-2015 First drives