Having seen the burgeoning SUV sector producing robust sales growth quarter upon quarter, GM simply could no longer afford not to have a sales presence in this segment.
Built in South Korea, the seven-seater Captiva SUV has a distinctly European flavour to it, despite featuring the quintessential American Chevrolet chevron emblazoned on the grille.
Neatly proportioned, the styling is dominated by a pronounced styling crease which runs aft from the front door at waistline height.
Other styling notables are the mesh inserts on both the grille and within the front bumper. The roofline features a distinctly coupe like slope which runs off aggressively to the rear.
The interior, thankfully, also features a Eurocentric look, with little in the way of traditional, haphazardly appointed and claustrophobic American SUV interior architecture. Instruments are easily legible and the switchgear is ergonomically grouped.
There are also three 12-volt power outlets, one in the front, one for the second row passengers and one in the cargo area. Only the stylistically orientated pistol-handbrake disappoints with its obstinate operation.
Obviously the major boon is Captiva's seven-seat configuration. Both the second and third row of seats can genuinely be folded completely flat (not at a nearly horizontal, obscure angle) to easily facilitate a capacious loadbay of 930 litres.
Dynamically able, on and off-road
Captiva is powered by three powerplant options. Petrol power is via either the 100 kW/220 Nm 2.4-litre four cylinder, or a 3.2-litre V6 mixing in 169 kW and 297 Nm.
The V6 is only available with a five-speed automatic driving all four wheels, whilst the 2.4 drives through a 5-speed manual box and can be ordered in either front- or four-wheel drive.
Diesel power is in the form of 2-litre four cylinder fed by Bosch common-rail system running at 1600 bar injection pressure. A variable geometry turbocharger minimises lag and optimises operational efficiency at all engine speeds.
Producing 110 kW at 4 000 r/min and 320 Nm at 2 200 r/min, this powerplant is mated to a five-speed gearbox and drives all four wheels.
Unfortunately we did not get to drive the diesel derivative on launch, but the claimed power figures are well up to class standard. It should prove popular when it arrives in January 2008.
Dynamically, the Captiva is decidedly European to drive, with on-road handling characteristics being sedan biased. The Gerotek test facility outside Pretoria provided a safe environment to test the dynamic limits of the new Captiva.
Handing was found to be very sure-footed on the high-speed banked oval with the chassis tracking true and remaining unflustered at an indicated 180km/h.
On the mixed wet and dry dynamic handling track the ESP kept things neatly reigned in and, although the steering is hardly alive with dynamic telepathy, the Captiva is quite fun to pilot.
Performance impressions are always compromised at reef altitude, but both the 3.2-litre V6 and 2.4-litre petrol proved to be refined, capable powerplants. Only the notchy shift action of the 2.4-litre five-speed manual gearbox detracted somewhat.
Producing 169 kW at 6 600 r/min the 3.2 V6 should show a clean pair of heels to all segment competitors in a straight line.
Clever and safe
Off-road there was a variety of gadgetry to put to the test. Obviously the Captiva is not a full-blown twin-differential lock off-roader. It does not have low range, ground clearance is only 200mm and the tyres are particularly road-biased, which is hardly surprising considering these vehicles spend perhaps 5% of their working lives actually cavorting off the tarmac.
Captiva features hill-descent control and an active-torque-on-demand system. The hill decent control is activated via push button control and keeps the vehicle at a steady 7km/h when negotiating a steep decline.
Hill-decent control yields some disconcerting sound effects during operation, but worked quite well on the short off-road course we covered. Captiva is the only SUV in its segment to feature such a system.
The active torque on demand system is supplied by Toyoda machine works (and no, it's not a typing error) and is essentially a highly efficient and intelligent torque split control unit for all-wheel drive use.
Reacting to wheel slippage within 100 milliseconds it has the ability to transfer torque in ratios of between 100:0 or 50:50 depending on individual wheel slippage. Both technologies are seamless and synergised well with ESP in the overall driving experience. They work well to endow the Captiva with novice-friendly low impact off-road ability.
Beyond the off-road electronic aids, and the usual active safety acronyms like ABS, ESP and EBD, the 4x4 Captiva models feature low ride suspension that keeps the vehicle level even when laden ensuring predictable handling behaviour.
Active rollover protection (ARP), which is only fitted to the all-wheel drive versions, electronically monitors sudden steering movements indicative of a collision avoidance maneuver. It reduces force to the front wheel on the outside of the avoidance curve to curtail lateral acceleration and speed thereby avoiding pitch and roll.
Passive safety features are the usual fare with driver and passenger front, roofline and side airbags whilst the second row passengers get roofline airbags too. Captiva also features a pedal release system which disengages the pedals to reduce foot and leg injuries in frontal impact scenarios.
The fuel tank is also cleverly placed ahead of the rear axle to keep it out of harms way in a rear impact situation.
Dynamically able, neatly styled and keenly priced the Captiva range looks set to offer good value. Even the standard spec LT models feature dual and side airbags, ABS, Radio/CD/MP3 player and electric windows.
Higher spec LTZ models feature additional equipment such as leather trim, curtain airbags and 18-inch mags.
Priced from as little as R244 300 for the front-wheel drive 2.4 LT and topping out at R329 900 for the 3.2 V6 LTZ, there is now a noteworthy Chevrolet presence in the SUV market.
2.4 LT R244 300
2.4 LT 4x4 R272 300
2.0 D LTZ 4x4 R319 900
3.2 V6 LTZ 4x4 Automatic R329 900
Prices include 3 year/100 000 km service plan. Maintenance plans are available as an option.