New Zealand sales of new SUVs, either part or fulltime four-wheel drive, continue to do well, boosted by crossover designs that blur the line between on and off-road vehicles.
The anti-4WD lobby has had little success deterring buyers, and the market is swollen by a burgeoning choice of both new and used import examples.
SUV sales in the first half of 2007 accounted for 18.7 percent of the total new car market, compared with 15.6 percent for the same six months last year.
Holden has been conscious of lost business, with the Commodore-based Adventra failing to capture buyer imagination while the small selling Suzuki origin Cruze has gone from local showrooms. The Isuzu-based Jackaroo was phased out in 2003.
That’s one reason why the new Captiva is important for the Australian brand.
Arch rival Ford’s Territory has been a runaway success, and the Captiva’s mission is to strike fear into rival showrooms, and it has made a good start.
Apart from Honda, Holden has posted the biggest improvement in recent months, increased its share of SUV sales from 3.1 per cent for the first half 2006 to 7.1 per cent so far this year.
Introduced at the tail end of 2006, the Captiva generated 597 sales in the first half of this year, good enough to push the Toyota RAV4 (562) into fifth best SUV.
Though the good looking Territory is very much an Australian car, the world knows the Korean sourced Captiva is a Daewoo, but does it care?
You don’t need to drive too far to realise the Captiva is more than another piece of badge engineering.
It’s built on a GM global platform that has also sired the Saturn View and Chevrolet Equinox in America.
Equally important is the Holden input relating to styling, road manners and the fact that petrol versions use a smaller version of the Melbourne-built Alloytec V6 engine.
The Captiva originated from the Daewoo S3X concept car four years ago, but the 4.6-metre long five-door clearly carries much more Aussie influence than the Korean Holden Barina or Viva.
Australian stylist Mike Simcoe, of Monaro and Commodore VT fame, and Max Wolff, who shaped the SSX concept vehicle, crafted the Captiva’s body shape.
It works well, although the heavy D pillars negatively affect rear visibility and there are no rear camera or park distance control options.
The Holden’s high waistline makes it feel as though you’re sitting low and rather average comfort seats are lacking in shape. But there’s a rake and reach steering wheel, and a good driving position.
Fractionally shorter than the stylish Mazda CX-7, the Holden crossover has a smaller footprint than the Territory which is 219mm longer and 48mm wider. Expect the third row of seats to be better suited to children.
Dedicated all-wheel drive fans see the Territory as a vehicle with a genuine 4WD system, and the Captiva as another part-timer.
A five-speed auto is allied to an electronically controlled AWD arrangement delivering 100 per cent of torque to the front wheels as a default setting but capable of up to a 50:50 split front and rear.
Traction control, an electronic stability programme, descent control system and active rollover protection are standard across the range; right from the entry level five-seater SX which costs $43,990.
Another $3000 buys the seven-seater CX, and the $49,990 LX seven-seater is $1000 less costly than the MAXX five-seater flagship version with slightly different styling. Diesel models carry different pricing structures, and start from $47,490. The whole range is auto only.
The traction control works well when the going gets rough and slippery, and the 3.2-litre, 169kW engine has ample grunt for all conditions although it’s noisy under load and the auto can be a trifle fussy.
Flexibility and response are enthusiastic, even if the 297Nm of torque is unable to match the 320Nm produced by the 2.0-litre, 110 kW turbo diesel Captiva that has more recently joined the line-up.
The petrol Captiva was more economical than the CX-7 reviewed recently, although our overall average of 12.7 litres/100km (22.2mpg) didn’t measure up to the official combined fuel figure of 11.5 litres/100km (24.6mpg).
Holden improved suspension and steering borrows from the VE Commodore, which has to be a good thing. Chassis developer John Taylor worked on the Captiva and was disheartened initially, before he found what could be done.
An unladen weight of 1770kg (1805kg for the seven-seater) is trim given the size and high specification.
Though the speed-sensitive power steering is light and rather uncommunicative, the Captiva turns in to corners eagerly, and the flat cornering and comfortable road manners inspire confidence. The 235/55 R18 Dunlop SP Sport tyres on the spoked alloy wheels are made in Japan.
An independent four-link rear suspension is matched to MacPherson struts up front to provide fine ride comfort.
We loaded our Captiva to the maximum with no effect on the vehicle’s good roadability which is helped by the hydraulic ride control that’s standard on LX level cars.
It automatically adjusts the suspension dampers to maintain a consistent 200mm ride height regardless of how heavily the vehicle is loaded.
Leather upholstery, electrically-operated driver’s seat, sun visors with illuminated mirrors; a leather-bound steering wheel, nicely lined pockets and six-disc CD player are among the LX treats.
However, the base SX has cloth trim, no computer or climate air conditioning, while the plastic-feel steering wheels is a constant reminder you’ve saved some money.
Captiva is a comprehensively equipped machine that is well in tune with local conditions. Early sales results underpin the fact that this Holden hits the mark.