After launching the first locally built 4WD in Australia; Adventra, Holden has followed up with the Captiva. It uses a 169kW, 3.2 litre version of the same Alloytech V6 and a 5-speed automatic but in a totally different configuration.
Captiva mounts the V6 east-west and drives the front wheels first, activating 4WD only when there is a need, in the much same way that CRV, RAV4 and Santa Fe do. In fact, the Hyundai is perhaps Captivas closest competitor.
Both offer 7 seater options and the petrol V6 Captiva will also be followed by a diesel variant in 2007. While Holden couldnt confirm nor deny, its likely to be the GM/VM 2-litre, which is said to produce 112kW and 310Nm.
This is the first Global GM product that the Holden engineers have had such a big hand in developing. On the back of their successful VE Commodore and its international derivatives, one gets the impression that Holden engineers have won huge credibility throughout the GM family.
This is lent further weight when you discover that two Korean-based Australians, Mike Simcoe and Max Wolff, designed the Captiva. The worldwide suspension settings for the Captiva were those that other Australian-based engineers put forward. Even the Germans take the same suspension settings for their Opel versions.
Alltogether, thats quite a coup when you consider how much bigger Opel, Vauxhall and Chevrolet are, compared to Holden, and how many more Captivas they will sell throughout the world. The engines too are made in Australia, next to the 3.6-litre Commodore version.
So, although the Captiva is assembled by GM in Korea, there is a major Aussie influence, which is good for us in several ways. Not least of which is the handling and ride that is so well set up for the roads downunder.
Having driven through the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) and NSW on winding coarse chip and gravel roads and on the poorly patched Hume highway, we discovered that we share many things in common with our western cousins; the road surfaces for one.
They too have lots of tight and twisty roads, with off-camber corners and tricky bumps, likely to knock you off-line. The roads we drove were so similar to NZ roads that the different flora and fauna lining them seemed quite out of place. Having a large lizard sunning itself on the road is so unusual that we almost hit it, while we were staring.
An echidna was not so lucky; the Captiva in front tipped it over, catching the tips of its spines. I bet it was pretty dizzy by the time it stopped rolling but hopefully it wasnt too badly hurt. The dead roos on the sides of the road were a further reminder that we werent in NZ.
Dozens of sulphur crested cockatoos perched on trees lining parts of the trail and other more brightly coloured parrots flew across our path as we belted along the private gravel roads.
There are two quite different Captiva models and we will take both of them in New Zealand. The Captiva MaXX is smaller and sportier, with different frontal styling and a shorter rear overhang, although based on the same platform and cabin structure.
MaXX is the European (Opel/Vauxhall) version and will be the highest specified model and, as a five-seater only, will be priced at $50,990. Due to a different exhaust system it has two fewer kiloWatts (167kW).
The slightly larger (Chevrolet/Holden) Captiva SX and LX models, which we drove, are basically what the rest of the world has and, while longer than MaXX, the SX is also a five-seater; it just has a bigger boot, whereas the LX has seven seats. The SX starts at $43,990 and the LX comes in, just under the MaXX version, at $49,990.
So, just like Honda has two different Accord models, Holden has two Captivas. In each case one is a smaller, sportier Euro.
That said, the Captiva LX is quite competent, on its 18-inch alloys and Dunlop SP Sport tyres. It handles remarkably well on sealed roads and on the gravel too. The SX has an edge in gravel but understeers just a little on the seal, with its 17-inch Kumho Radial 798s, also fitted to alloy wheels.
Theres another 17-inch tyre option on the SX; the Hankook Dynapro HP, which is a road-biased tyre that is closer to the Dunlop in performance. The key thing is that the suspension and drive-train works really well, quite apart from the respective strengths of the tyres.
Unlike other FWD-based auto-on-demand 4WD systems, the Captiva doesnt seem to lose grip before activating 4WD. It seems to be naturally better balanced on gravel than other vehicles with similar systems and the activation of 4WD is less noticeable.
It uses an electromagnetic pilot clutch to activate 4WD, which is then further controlled by a multi-plate wet clutch apportioning the torque. It is perhaps the speed with which the pilot clutch activates or some pre-cognition in the ESP (stability control); better sensing the onset off a loss of traction, which seems to provide handling more in keeping with a permanent 4WD system.
Whatever it is, it works well, giving a greater level of confidence on gravel than some of its competitors. The body is tight too; it really got a workout over the bumpy roads and nary a squeak was heard.
Its a good looking vehicle, one that, not surprisingly, has a lot in common with other Holden designs. It shares a few styling cues with other SUVs, particularly around the trailing edge of the bonnet and front guards. It reminds us a little of Touareg, actually no bad thing.
Inside, the Euro and Aussie Captiva versions have very different dash styling and a different steering wheel too. Interior room is very similar but MaXX is a few millimetres smaller, more so in the rear and has a smaller boot.
The SX and LX are differentiated only by detail changes, due to different equipment levels. LX has an extra screen for the trip computer and other information. It also has leather upholstery, curtain airbags, power drivers seat and a host of extra standard features.
All Captivas have ESP, which includes active rollover protection (ARP), a hill descent function and traction control. They also have ABS, with brake assist, dual front and front-side airbags and front seat-belt pre-tensioners.
While we havent had a chance to drive Captiva on local roads or off-road yet, we were favourably impressed by our first drive and look forward to including it in our upcoming comparison test, which will feature in the 2007 NZ4WD Annual..: