2021 Chevrolet Captiva
– Tons of practical cabin space
– Economical to buy and run
– Quiet, comfortable ride
– Not particularly quick
– Some hard-plastic cabin trim
– No all-wheel-drive option
We were prepared to hate this car. It isn’t the most attractive thing around, the specs aren’t great on paper, and it’s co-built by a Chinese manufacturer whose own efforts are painfully disjointed. As soon as we drove it, our suspicions were confirmed. But that was on the first day. By the second day of testing, we had warmed up to it far more than we ever expected. The all-new 2021 Chevrolet Captiva is quite enticing once you figure out how to handle it.
The Captiva is a bit of an enigma. Over the years, the badge has been interchangeably used by General Motors on different vehicles around the world. In turn, this latest version is actually a rebadged version of the MG Hector, also known as the Baojun 530 and Wuling Almaz in other Asian markets. Built in China under a GM-SAIC joint venture, it is truly a global car, if the globe did not include Europe or North America. It is actually a great move by GM to bring this crossover to the Middle East, given the uncanny success of developing-market cars such as the Toyota Rush and the Renault Duster here.
The new Captiva has an odd profile, as if a tall body has been placed on a small chassis. The rear wheel-well gap is bigger than the front ones, and the wheels themselves appear relatively small. But then you see the reasoning — the rear sits higher so that it doesn’t sink too far down when loaded up with seven passengers (a third-row split bench is optional). And the wheels are actually standard 17-inchers, about as far as you can go on an economy car so replacement tyres don’t cost too much.
Looking up the dimensions, the Captiva is as big as far pricier crossovers such as the 5-seater Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 as well as the 7-seater Nissan X-Trail, but competes in price and performance with far smaller vehicles such as the Honda HR-V and Hyundai Creta, aside from the obvious Toyota Rush.
Look closer and the fit-and-finish is actually very good. There are also interesting details such as the slit-shaped LED running lights that also hide the indicators, while the real headlights are lower in the bumper. There are standard indicators on the mirrors that power-fold in our top-spec Premier model. Roof rails are also standard. And four of the five available paint choices are standard metallic.
Stepping inside, the cabin design is very modern. Even if littered with largely hard-plastic surfaces, the Premier gets wonderfully leatherette-padded dash trim bits and armrests. The seats are hard-wearing two-tone fabric. The door handles look like sculptures, and an iPad-style 8-inch touchscreen sits on the dash. The optional 7-inch gauge-cluster screen is integrated in such a way between the physical gauges that is all appears to be one big screen. The screens, button stylings and minimalist centre-console make it feel more premium than equivalent rivals, even if there are no actual fancy features.
Speaking of features, you do get all the basics in the Premier, such as an unbranded 6-speaker stereo (4-speaker in lower models) with Bluetooth, Apply Carplay, USB ports on all three rows, power windows, small sunroof, smart keyless entry and start button, power driver’s seat, cruise control, electric parking brake, halogen headlights and, oddly enough, lights that turn on in the direction you are turning. These cars come with far more luxury-oriented features in other markets, but we believe GM limited the features to keep the price-point affordable. Chevy’s own range has the larger Equinox should you want more luxuries.
Everything works well, but there are a few misses. The basic a/c has fancy electronic controls and rear vents, but no auto climate-control option, and the performance in peak June summer is average compared to many top players (although you’ll probably find it perfectly adequate if you currently own a Mazda or a Fiat). We also would’ve liked an auto-headlights function, more so than the turning-lights option. It comes with hill-start, ABS, ESP, tyre-pressure monitor and 4 airbags at most (2 in the base model), but curtain airbags are not offered in the GCC, even though they’re available in other markets.
The Captiva is immensely spacious, with great headroom and generous legroom in the second-row seat. Slide the 60:40-split second-row bench forward, and the third row can even fit average-sized adults without crushing their feet. Access to the last row is fairly convenient. Fold down that last row and the boot space is as good as in crossovers one class above. There is no shortage of cup-holders and storage spaces either, in any row.
Powered by a 1.5-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder driving the front wheels via a CVT automatic, it makes 149 hp at 5200 rpm and 255 Nm of torque at 1600-3600 rpm. Not big numbers, so the powertrain doesn’t feel adequate initially, with a lazy response in stop-and-go traffic thanks to a combination of the CVT’s “rubber-band” effect and good old turbo lag. However, slip the transmission into “sport” mode and it suddenly feels spritely, revving higher with the same throttle inputs and generally responding far better. It’s not a quick car by any means — we timed the 0-100 kph run in 13.1 seconds in a June afternoon — but if you manage your moves right, it’s quick enough for the daily grind.
And that’s the impressive bit about the Captiva — it’s a rather excellent daily driver once you quell the speed demon in you. It is very comfortable, with supple suspension (the Premier gets independent multilink in the rear) that isn’t excessively bouncy and a quiet cabin that’s as good as the class leaders. The engine also calms down very nicely at highway speeds. Combine that with an as-tested fuel consumption of 9.8 litres/100 km (10.2 km/litre), and you have a rather compelling case to upgrade from that overpriced Toyota Yaris of yours.
The Captiva even handles well enough to corner at “sporty” speeds even with just 215/60 tyres, although you need a fair bit of confidence to pull that off — the steering is light and lacks even the slightest hint of feedback, while the brakes are adequate but respond unevenly as the speed changes so you have to adjust your pedal inputs. That last bit of refinement is missing, but few are likely to notice. Body roll isn’t excessive and understeer appears cleanly at the limit.
Just to clarify for anyone thinking they can go camping with any random “four by four,” the Captiva is not offered with all-wheel-drive, although it does have decent ground clearance so you shouldn’t have to worry about damage on gravel trails and sandy parking lots.
The Captiva is basic transportation at its finest — affordable, comfortable and impressively practical without appearing insultingly cheap and cheerful. Look beyond the obvious and it has so much more to offer than its direct rivals.
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