This is no rebadged Daewoo, unlike the other European Chevys...
Spot on. The new Captiva is the first all-new model since GM bought up Daewoo and relaunched it under the Chevrolet brand. In a model line up whose staples include the bland Nubira and Matiz city car, the Captiva stands out like an 18-year-old at a Daniel O'Donnell concert. Like the rest of the Chevy range, the Captiva represents incredible value for money. But unlike its cheap and not terribly nice siblings, the Captiva is actually quite good. It's big (about the same size as the outgoing BMW X5), can accommodate seven seats although five seats are standard and will start at around £16k in the UK. Forget buying a house, you could live in one of these.
Which bit of the SUV acronym applies: sporty or utilitarian?
A bit of both. The chassis will form the basis of the new Vauxhall Antara due in the UK in mid-2006. It's relatively lightweight at 1585kg, which makes for reasonable performance from the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine. It has a decent mid-range surge, thanks to 233lb ft of torque. The 2.4-litre petrol, which kicks out 140bhp and 162lb ft, feels gutless in comparison. The utilitarian bit is a little shaky. Yes it's got four-wheel drive and yes it has more ground clearance than an estate car but it's not a mud plugger. The all-wheel drive system does without a transfer box and the underside is left exposed. The flipside to this is better on-road dynamics and 37mpg from the common rail diesel engine.
Glad to hear it's fought the flab.
The Captiva feels nimble, thanks to that lighter-than-average chassis. This is a big car yet it never feels like it. Unfortunately the promise is never quite realised thanks to slow-witted steering and soft damping. You can feel the potential but there's a suspicion that GM is saving a tauter set up for the Vauxhall version. The soft suspension endows the Captiva with a comfy straight-line ride, but pronounced roll through corners. It's very refined, the cabin is quiet even at high speeds and road noise is kept on the outside. Get playful, however, and squealing understeer sets in early.
Is it any good off-road?
Think 4x4-lite. It might lack clever diffs and a limpet-like grip on the planet but it can still cope with a trip into the muddy stuff. That soft ride means it can barrel along at relatively high-speeds without the ride getting choppy and the short front and rear overhangs means it can traverse a hillside without leaving large collections of plastic behind.
What's it like inside?
Built like a challenger tank, so it's functional rather than fancy. It's comfortable, everything works and the spec is generous, given the bargain price. And the plastics are unexpectedly classy. Getting into the third row of seats is tricky but once in there's enough legroom for adults, although you wouldn't want to spend a long time in them.
The new Captiva is a massive step in the right direction for Chevrolet. The only glitch is the wait - the new car won't arrive here until the spring. GM neglected to check that the chassis could be converted easily to right hand drive. As it turns out the steering mechanism fouls on the engine block and the exhaust needs re-routing. The upshot is a six-month delay as the car is certified and crash tested at huge expense to GM. The same hitches affect Vauxhall's version, too. Chevrolet needs the Captiva in showrooms right now, with the new Land Rover Freelander and Honda CR-V imminent. But the Captiva could still prove a headache for both. It's good value, well built, comfy and massive inside. It's a promising start for the all-new Chevy range.