Updated family 4x4 is big on refinement, space and standard kit, but it’s lacking that all-important bargain price.

What is it?

A fresh crack at the family 4x4 market from General Motors’ budget brand Chevrolet: this is the facelifted Captiva, which goes on sale in the UK this May.

The Korean-built big brother of the Vauxhall Antara, the Captiva has been on sale in Europe since 2005 – and it’s been relative success compared with the Vauxhall. Selling on the strength of being ‘a lot of SUV for the money’, the Captiva offers seven seats, a big boot and plenty of standard specification for relatively little.

With this mid-life tweak, Chevrolet has improved the Captiva’s performance, refinement and overall desirability. The car gets a new 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine offered in either 161- or 182bhp tune, as well as front- or four-wheel drive, five- or seven seats, and six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

What’s it like?

Judged on looks alone, you’d expect the facelifted Chevrolet Captiva to handle like a Porsche Cayenne. So pronounced is the styling update that this family 4x4 has been through, from gaping grille through flared wheelarches to bulging bonnet, that from some angles it’s unrecognisable from the dowdy old model. And yet this budget SUV could hardly be less Cayenne-like if it were a £7000 shopping hatch.

Our test car was a mid-spec ‘LT’ model powered by the 182bhp engine, with on-demand four-wheel drive. In stark contrast to the outgoing diesel Captiva, it was particularly refined. New hydraulic engine mounts, better-bushed suspension subframes, thicker door seals and improved sound deadening have made the interior of this car several decibels quieter on the move. It’s probably more hushed than a diesel-powered Honda CRV now.

We can’t report a commensurate improvement in material cabin quality though. The Captiva’s interior is spacious and storage-rich, but although well-chosen seat fabrics and dash trims lift its impression in places, elsewhere shiny, thin, scuffable plastics make the car feel decidely low-rent.

Higher chassis rates and bigger wheels have done little for the Captiva’s dynamics. Intended to contain body roll and make the car more wieldy, they actually just take the shine off the old car’s pliant ride.

The Captiva has all-independent suspension, but handles more like an old-school large 4x4 than anything else. Winter tyres didn’t help provide our test car with the utmost in steering precision, but even on regular rubber we suspect you’d feel every kilogram of this car’s near two tonnes in the dull weight of its helm, and in its general unwillingness to change direction.

For the most part, this is still a comfortable, refined and spacious family car however, and in 182bhp form, doesn’t lack in-gear urge. Performance is strong enough to feel flexible on country roads and authoritative on the motorway, and 40mpg economy is achievable at a modest cruise.

Should I buy one?

Not unless you can get a big discount. In the UK, you won’t get a Captiva with seven seats and four-wheel drive – both of which you’d surely want from a family 4x4 this big – for much less than £28,000. That’s because Chevrolet’s UK range doesn’t allow you to have the Captiva’s entry-level engine or equipment spec in combination with seven seats or four-wheel drive.

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And the trouble with that, for Chevrolet at least, is that you can have a Hyundai Santa-Fe with seven chairs and four-driven wheels for almost £4000 less. And although it’s got a more utilitarian flavour, the Hyundai’s an equally refined and spacious car.

Chevrolet’s front-wheel-drive five-seat Captiva is better value, but still isn’t market-leading on price. And that’s why we’d say, until the firm does something to make its family 4x4 more keenly priced at least, that you shop elsewhere for an affordable SUV. Improved as it is, the Captiva still isn’t good enough to consider without a bargain pricetag.

Chevrolet Captiva 2.2 VCDi AWD

Price: £27,695; Top speed: 124mph; 0-62mph: 9.3sec; Economy: 42.8mpg; Co2: 174g/km; Kerb weight: 1953kg; Engine type, cc: 4cyls in line, 2231cc, turbodiesel; Power: 182bhp at 3800rpm; Torque: 295lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Dark Isle 26 February 2011

Re: Chevrolet Captiva 2.2 VCDi 4x4

I'm sorry, but I think that's really ugly.