We’ve a longstanding dislike of SUVs being used as everyday passenger cars. Their high centre of gravity, tall tyres and high unsprung weight makes for a ho-hum ride/handling compromise; the large mass and high-drag aerodynamics result in poor fuel consumption. But cars like the Ford Territory, Toyota Kluger and Hyundai Santa Fe have started to change this. The Santa Fe diesel – with its excellent economy and very good value for money – makes an especially persuasive case for this class of car.
Late to the field is the Korean-built Holden Captiva. It may be a recent arrival but in many ways it reminds us of the older type of SUV rather than the new generation. The fuel consumption on test was a woeful 14.5 litres/100km – almost incredibly bad considering that most of the kilometres were at 100 km/h on the highway. (The ADR 81/01 figure is 11.6 litres/100km.) The ride has the lumpy feel of high unsprung weight and the engine – despite being a 167kW 3.2 litre V6 with a 5-speed automatic - struggles to keep the car moving, especially up hills. The seats are uncomfortable and although the MaXX is the most expensive model, switch blanks abound on the dashboard. There’s not even a trip computer – although Holden provides the labelled (non-functional) button.
The engine is Holden’s V6, downsized to 3.2 litres and apparently tuned for the application. It’s a sophisticated and – in this application – smooth and quiet engine. Peak power of 167kW is developed at 6600 rpm, and peak torque is 297Nm at 3200 rpm. But both are much too high revs for this type of heavy vehicle. The engine simply doesn’t have enough torque to pull the weight around with ease.
The Captiva feels powerful only when you cane it off the line, when it revs quietly to the redline, each gear-change resulting in good acceleration. But in normal driving, the gearbox needs to drop back a gear to climb even a slight rise – the sort of gradients that would be easily negotiated by almost any other car in top gear. Up big open-road hills the gearbox logic is appalling – it will hold 4th, drop back to 3rd, change back up to 4th, drop back to 3rd and so on. And all at a constant speed and constant gradient! Up one long hill we counted the gearbox doing this eight times. Yes, you can move the gearlever across to the left and use the ‘box manually but in any current car, the gearbox control logic should make such a move unnecessary.
Like the gearbox, the cruise control doesn’t seem to have been calibrated to suit the application. Very unusually for a car with electronic throttle, the system can be jerky when driving on an undulating road. Then when confronted with a large hill, speed dies away – we switched off the cruise control when the speed had dropped by 15 km/h... And remember, this car has an auto transmission!
It’s important to note that the behaviour described above was with the car quite lightly laden – we can only imagine that with a heavy load, it would be worse.
If handling is just grip then the Captiva is fine. But if handling is feedback and precision, the Captiva is terrible – a very long way behind the Territory. The steering is light and lacks road feel – at speed all drivers new to the car will swing on too much lock and then have to unwind it. Familiarity improves matters slightly but the Captiva always feels large and unwieldy. Lots of body roll is present and the car can move around noticeably in crosswinds. As you’d then expect, the Captiva MaXX is tiring to drive long distances.
If this lack of handling precision was present because an excellent ride had been provided, that might improve matters. But we didn’t like the ride at all. Especially around town at urban speeds, the MaXX bobs and bounces – even this writer’s 2 year old son exclaimed of his own volition that the ride was bumpy, interesting when he’d spent the previous week traversing the same roads in the very firmly suspended Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart and had made no comment! Note that the MaXX has a slightly different suspension tune to the other Captiva models.
The Captiva is a part-time four-wheel drive – drive is normally to the front with the rear wheels brought in automatically as required. The brakes – which need a hefty push - use large ventilated discs at both ends. They have ABS, brake assist and electronic brake force distribution.
Looking around the MaXX it’s easy to reach the assumption that equipment has been stripped from the car. Lift the rear door and you’ll see markings that indicate the presence of a first aid kit and a warning triangle. But look under the indicated panel and nothing will be found – both items are extra-cost accessories... The absence of a trip computer is even more puzzling – it’s available on the LX model but not the more expensive MaXX. Tyres are Dunlop SP Sport on alloys, however the spare is a cheaper Hankook on a steel rim. But included are stability and hill descent controls, electronic stability control, auto recirculation switch, in-dash MP3 compatible 6 CD and electric driver’s seat. Front and curtain airbags are standard.
The dashboard and controls are very similar to the Astra; we found them confusing but an owner would get used to their idiosyncrasies. An orange/black LCD is used as the interface for the radio, semi-auto climate control and main information display. It can be read while wearing polarising glasses. On the test car the air con wouldn’t stay on but needed to be switched every time the car was started. In hot weather the air conditioning was marginal in cooling performance – and no vents are supplied for rear occupants. The chrome trip rings around the instruments sometimes reflect confusing highlights onto the dials and the large silver trim panel on the steering wheel can be distracting.
The front seats are uncomfortable, with a distinct lack of lower back/rear of bum support. The rear seats are fine and have good foot- and head-room. However rear knee-room can be marginal if the front seats are fully back. The rear seats 60/40 fold quickly and easily, giving a flat load space. Build quality appeared good.
The Captiva MaXX lags well behind its opposition. At minimum it needs a tweak in equipment or the AUD$42,990 price, and a major rethink in engine torque development and/or gearing, in auto trans and cruise control logic, and in the calibration of the suspension.