THERE ARE NO direct rivals for the top-end Captiva softroader if you rank as starting points a high output V6 petrol motor, six-speed auto gearbox, seating for seven (at a pinch) and on-demand four-wheel drive system. Add the fact it is of monocoque or unibody construction, and it is separated even further from those more serious ladder-frame, transfer-case enabled options such as the Fortuner and Pajero sport. Your best bet on price and ability considerations would be Kia’s desirable Sorento, which is not offered with the 4WD option if you also want seven seats and a petrol engine. Perhaps Hyundai’s Santa Fe will up the ante when the revised model is announced for SA? Lower-end Captivas with their 2.4-litre petrol engines can shout seven seats and great value against a host of all-comers from Nissan’s X-Trail to Mazda’s CX-7; but head upscale with the LTZ’s levels of kit and the price-value link is more tenuous. What then, are the range-topper’s deal clinchers?
A recent revision has left the rather pleasing bulbous shape with its bold upwardly-rising shoulder line, prominent arches and clamshell bonnet untouched. Instead look out for the new side vents and a grille that reminds of a Big Mac burger gift-wrapped by Chevrolet. The front end is far bolder than before, the foglamps are neatly contained by a sweep of black plastic underliner, polycarbonate lenses now protect the headlamps and, in addition to roof rails, side steps are now part of the trail-blazing image. The LTZ tops it all with attractive 19-inch alloys riding on 235/50 profile rubber. A key feature is the strongly ribbed A-pillar, less successful is the high rear end. But for a 4.7m long vehicle, it contrives to look remarkably compact.
As an exercise in packaging, the Captiva passes the Tardis test with colours. It’s huge inside. That third row of seats pulls up easily from a flat boot floor (covering a full-size spare), and two small people can fit there but precious little luggage in the 103 litres that’s left behind them. Lose the junior soccer team’s full backs and bootspace is a generous 477 litres, flopping the split second row down takes space to 942 litres and if you want to carry ladders and the like, the front passenger seat folds forward as well. Neat.
The quality of materials has gone up a sombre notch or two and the dash design and layout is both more pleasing and functional than before. The controls are easy to find and use, just a tad short on surprise and delight. The LTZ features cowhide where it counts, and while the seats are generous, supportive and electrically adjustable, the stitching and uniformity of finish is not yet top drawer. But importantly it’s easy to use and appears hard-wearing, a vital family-car trait. New bits, apart from additional NVH absorbing material (including a thicker windscreen and more bulkhead padding), include blue instrument lighting and an under-the-skin feature called RVC (Regulated Voltage Control) which attenuates power spikes from the alternator to enhance the life of the switchgear and battery. Add in the climate control, rear park assist, cruise control, RDS enabled CD/radio unit with 8 speakers and Aux inputs and Bluetooth, the electric parking brake which frees space for a wide, deep centre console (covered in LTZ), the many storage binnacles, drinks holders and choice assorted pockets for all except one of the rearmost passengers, and you have a great travel vehicle. And did we mention the four-star NCAP-worthy safety features? At this price point however, the omission of integrated satnav is a negative on the scoresheet.
Large capacity V6 petrols are not the usual choice of planet-savers, unless a Lexus badge is somehow involved. They’re for towing boats and for those who hate the pastoral clatter of a diesel. But this all-new 3.0-litre mill has more of the good and less of the bad than the old 3.2, using a combination of variable valve timing and direct and direct fuel injection to wring out 21 more Kilowatts for a small 9Nm torque sacrifice, while even the claimed 10.6 litres/100km fuel index and 253g/km C02 emission rating is pretty credible and close enough to the [cccc] real-world indicator we achieved on our test route.
It manages a quiet, refined V6 whoofle at idle, powering up to a throatier roar at speed and revving creamily to the redline as a sophisticated V6 petrol should, making about town manouevres an easy deal. Here, dabbling in the rev mid-range it’s well matched to the new 6T40 automatic transmission, but on long slopes on the open road it dithers on downchanges and needs a heavy heel to effect kickdown for overtaking. It’s often better to use the manual override (Driver Shift Control in Chev parlance), tapping the shift lever up or down to keep the V6 on the boil. It’s better than the previous five-speeder, but with six ratios and a long top with three closer intermediates, it’s still no match for the new 7- and 8-speed benchmarks. Still, once on the move the LTZ pulls pretty effortlessly and is rated to tow a (braked) 1700kg.
Stiffer suspension and firmer damping has sorted out most of the body roll woes of the previous generation. It’s a big vehicle, now better contained with an understeer-prone front-drive bias, though the extra heft of the all-wheel drive system comes into play when the front wheels lose more than 12% of grip. The effect is a solid and wieldy drive, perhaps more ponderous than the 2WD-only machines equipped with the lighter 2.4-litre petrol. The electrically assisted steering offers variable assistance with typical dead ahead feel at speed and easy twirling at parking pace, but typically little connection with the wheels themselves. It’s a good tar cruiser, soaking up undulations and rough patches of Tarmac with aplomb and a keen rubbery suppleness, but fast driving on heavily corrugated dirt highlights the compromise inherent in larger wheels and stiffer springs, not to mention a few interior buzzes, principally of the centre console on our test unit. To be fair, the Captiva exhibits perfect manners on good gravel surfaces, and this is where its extra traction and ground clearance are strong selling points.
Most buyers choose the lower-end 2.4-litre, front-drive only, manual transmission Captiva derivatives which offer great value, starting from R300k. At R435k for the LTZ with all the bells and whistles, the benefits of the high driving position and extra accommodation fade against the lure of perhaps spending more and getting more badge status, better finishes or more off-road ability. It’s good but not great in any area, full of neat touches but not class-leading. Not to take away from its abilities and appeal as a family car, it’s priced out on a limb, and the sensible choice is to buy a lesser derivative.