Australians are flocking to four-wheel drive vehicles, not for off-road use but for the versatility and high seating position that these vehicles bring. But we’ve always had extreme doubts about family use of these vehicles: compared with traditional cars, they invariably handle more poorly and with their high floors, typically don’t have the interior space many people expect. But the biggest downfall is fuel consumption - a high, wide and heavy vehicle cannot get fuel consumption that we regard as acceptable for a family car. Well, that’s the case for the petrol engine models - but enter the diesels.
The Holden Captiva is a case in point. When we reviewed the Captiva MaXX we got a woeful 14.5 litres/100km fuel economy. But isn’t ‘woeful’ too strong a term? Nope, not when you consider that most of the kilometres were at 100 km/h with the car carrying just one person...
But the Captiva diesel on test here has fuel economy that is simply radically better than the petrol models. The official figures might say the 3.2-litre petrol V6 gets 11.6 litres/100km and the 2.0-litre diesel automatic gets 8.7 litres/100km (that’s a 25 per cent improvement), but we found that on the road the diesel was more like 30 per cent better in fuel economy.
Or to put that another way, in similar testing, the petrol Captiva used 45 per cent more fuel than the diesel!
And it isn’t as if the diesel Captiva is a slug. The diesel engine develops 110kW at 4000 rpm and 320Nm of torque at 2000 rpm. That strong torque, low in the rev range, translates to the availability of plenty of bottom-end power. Matched to a 5-speed automatic transmission (an even more frugal manual trans version is also available), the diesel Captiva is responsive and seldom lacks for power.
The turbocharged engine uses a front-mounted intercooler (rather than an under-bonnet type that can often heat-soak), so even when performing hard low-speed work (eg towing), we’d expect the performance to remain good. (Incidentally, max unbraked tow weight is 750kg; with the auto diesel, max braked tow weight is 1700kg)
The engine isn’t as quiet and smooth as the petrol V6 – at idle it’s obvious that you’re driving a diesel. There are also some odd noises produced as the engine moves through its rev band. (However, the engine is much more subdued in the Captiva than in the Epica sedan.)
The auto trans has a manual mode (accessed only through the central lever) and this works well, especially when engine-braking down hills. The transmission calibration is also much better than we found in the petrol Captiva, without up/down hunting when climbing long hills.
The gearbox/engine combination may be effective for engine braking down hills, but the slow-speed Hill Descent function (accessed by a dashboard press button) is pretty crude: it simply activates the brakes to keep the speed low. The system isn’t smart enough to also utilise engine braking, and the brakes are noisy as they click on and off ABS-style. With this system, we can also imagine the brakes (vented discs front and back) getting a real work-out, especially when towing.
In this 60th Anniversary special edition, the Captiva is fitted with 18 inch wheels clad in 235/55 Dunlop tyres. The ride on these tyres is poor – it feels lumpy, the suspension acting as if it has a high unsprung weight, and tyre impact is harsh. We carried some elderly people in the car on a secondary country road and felt embarrassed that the ride was so bad.
However, outright grip and handling are fine. With standard stability control and on-demand all-wheel drive (the car is usually front wheel drive and swaps to all-wheel drive when it detects slippage), the Captiva can be hustled along reasonably quickly, feeling safe and stable. However, the steering can kick-back over rough surfaces.
For this type of vehicle, the bias seems to be too much in favour of handling and not enough in favour of ride.
In addition to the wheels and tyres, the Anniversary model also adds a large touch-screen colour LCD display complete with navigation, effective rear vision camera and DVD player (note: the DVD screen turns off when the handbrake is released). Also included in this special model are a self-dimming interior mirror and some cosmetics and badges. These features are in addition to those of the standard Captiva LX that include seven seats and front and curtain airbags.
The interior packaging works better than in many vehicles of this type. The third row of seats easily appears out of the rear load area floor, and because the second row seats fold and tumble forward on gas struts, access to the third row is surprisingly good. And the amount of room in the third row? At a pinch, you could put two adults in there for a short trip – although they are designed primarily for children.
The second row of seats split-folds - this motion is again easy to do, even for a smaller person. The second row seat back angle is also angle-adjustable.
With all the seats fully folded, a large, near-flat rear load area is formed. However, the opened rear door height is a little low for tall people, who can easily hit their heads. Access to the rear load area can also be gained through the lift-up rear window – this is released only by the remote.
The spare wheel is lowered from underneath the car – it’s not an alloy wheel with the same size tyre as the other wheels but instead a steel rim with a cheap 215/70 Hankook tyre.
The front seats are flat and lack side support – with the poor riding suspension, this is not a particularly comfortable car. Only narrow front door pockets are provided (although they incorporate bottle holders) and electrics are fitted to just the driver’s seat. Rear seat room is OK if the front seats are moved forwards a little – so with a tall driver, the room directly behind the driver will be tight for large adults. No rear vents are provided.
In general the controls are clear and well labelled – and far better to the different design used in the MaXX. However, exceptions are the non-illuminated steering wheel buttons and the dashboard dimmer knob that works in the opposite to expected direction. We also found the vents difficult to aim directly at the driver’s face.
Build quality on the test car was mixed – the doors shut well and the paint was fine but the margins (that is, the gaps between panels) were uneven.
With a fuel economy on test of 10 litres/100km, good packaging versatility and a $44,990 price tag, the 60th Anniversary diesel Captiva is a competent buy. We’d like to see running suspension changes to improve the ride, and some minor interior design changes, but overall this is a much more convincing family car purchase than the V6 petrol engine Captiva – and many other petrol engine competitors.