Clear winner : Chevrolet looks to have a success on its hands in the SUV market with the diesel-engine Captiva

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You walk into the room, and a hidden sensor analyses your body temperature and automatically adjusts the air-conditioning. Another unseen computer scans your brainwaves to fade up both the correct amount of light and perfect music for the occasion and simultaneously orders the food you’ve been dreaming of all day.

Clearly, this is an imaginary scenario but one that serves to introduce the question of whether technology is better left behind the scenes or should be up front and in your face.

Its relevance to this road test is the notion that Eastern cultures regard technology rather differently than do those in the West. For instance, ask a Thai about the above situation, and he’d most probably say that instead of all the “hidden” action, he’d prefer a humanoid robot to approach him and ask the questions one by one. There is more visual drama in that picture.

The same concept surely applies to automobiles. Take the newly launched Chevrolet Captiva and the Honda CR-V. The Captiva is Chevrolet’s newest weapon in the sport-utility-vehicle (SUV) market. It comes with seven seats and a choice between a 2.4-litre petrol engine and a 2-litre diesel commonrail version.

However, the Captiva comes with an abundance of “hidden” technology, such as hill-descent control, self-levelling suspension and an electronic stability programme. You won’t find any of those on the CR-V. But on the inside, the Captiva’s aesthetic appeal has not been given high priority. The instrument cluster is a dull combination of silver and black, and the audio system is not particularly inspiring. The CR-V, on the other hand, woos you with flashy buttons and lights.

But enough about the CR-V. Tested here is the diesel-engine version of the Captiva – the only version that comes with all of the electronic driving aids mentioned above. First, the diesel Captiva definitely looks like the more sensible choice. While the 2.4-litre engine must rev high to get the SUV’s body moving, the 320Nm of torque from the 2-litre diesel engine comes in as low as 2,000rpm.

On the move, the diesel unit, although small, manages to push the Captiva to high speeds fairly well. Acceleration is not lacking at lower or mid-range speeds, but problems start to show at speeds above 120kph. The speedometer needle moves slowly, and getting above speeds like 140kph is a time-consuming task. The Captiva’s five-speed gearbox is useful for saving fuel and cruising, although it seems to lose out when overtaking, because you don’t get kick-down when you floor the petrol. Downshifts, however, are smooth and almost unfelt.

Except for this, there is not much to complain about in the Captiva’s ride quality. The rear seats are very comfortable, and cracks and bumps in the road are dealt with easily. Nothing but a muted “thud” comes through into the cabin – a very European quality that reminds you this is a global product. Body roll is almost non-existent, and the times when it does show up, it does so very majestically.

The Captiva could definitely be considered a chauffeur-driven SUV.

I have even more praise for the Captiva’s suspension. In the driver’s seat, you can really feel how composed the Captiva is for a vehicle of its size and ability to seat seven people. Road-hugging is impressive, and corners feel welcome, with he Captiva seeming to glide into them.

The self-levelling suspension operates with a compressor that ensures that the Captiva’s rear end maintains a certain level. The level is settled after the vehicle has been on the move for a while. It clearly shows that Chevrolet is serious about selling to customers who want to use the vehicle for carrying loads.

The Captiva’s brakes feel a little wooden, but there’s no lack of stopping power. Although the fairly weighty steering does not seem to transmit much data from the road, it is firm enough at high speeds.

In my concern for the Captiva’s impressive driving characteristics, I have not yet mentioned the vehicle’s appearance. Quite simply, the Captiva could be the best-looking SUV on the market. And although that is a very subjective view, it’s undeniable that the strong shoulders on the bonnet and roof rails produce massive macho-aggressive appeal. The rear tones the effect down a little, with round lights that give it a cartoonish character. The side profile is that of a big SUV, and little fake grilles on both sides give the impression of power. The same effect is intended from the dual exhaust pipes, although their position leaves them often unnoticed.

On the inside, the Captiva stays simple but with premium quality and a blend of black and silver. The centre console features a driver-information centre that displays fuel consumption, distance travelled, available fuel, outside temperature, climate-control details and a compass. A six-disk in-deck MP3-compatible audio system is also featured, although its “simpleness” makes it look a little bland.

Automatic turn-signal mode eliminates the need for the driver to switch off his turn signal when overtaking. Other luxuries include a rain sensor, automatic headlights and cruise control.

Storage in front of the second-row passenger seats uses cool air from the air-conditioner to keep refreshments chilled. The third-row seats come with air-conditioning vents and can be folded down flat when not required.

The second row can also be folded down flat or even hinged upwards for more space, while the third-row seats are best left to the children.

Chevrolet just may have struck gold with the Captiva. It is definitely a serious contender in the SUV segment and even good enough to threaten some sedans. The Bt1.56-million price tag may be a little too far from the Bt1.276-million cost of the 2.4-litre petrol version, but there is no doubt the diesel is a clear winner.

During the process of the test drive, one Chevrolet employee asked me whether I’d accept a Chevrolet umbrella as a bribe to write a good story about the Captiva. After having driven the vehicle, I concluded that no bribe was needed. The truth already made a good story.

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Specifications:

Chevrolet Captiva 2-litre diesel

Engine: 4-cylinder 2-litre commonrail

Displacement: 1,991cc

Bore and stroke: 83mm x 82mm

Compression ratio: 17.5:1

Maximum power: 150hp at 4,000rpm

Maximum torque: 320Nm at 2,000rpm

Transmission: five-speed automatic

Suspension (front/rear): MacPherson struts with stabiliser bar/four-point multilink beam, coil springs with

stabiliser bar

Steering: rack and pinion,

power-assisted

Brakes (front/rear): ventilated discs/discs

Dimensions (mm)

Length: 4,635

Width: 1,850

Height: 1,720

Wheelbase: 2,705

Track (front/rear): 1,562/1,572

Wheels (front/rear): 17-inch alloy

Tyres (front/rear): 235/60 R17

Fuel-tank capacity: 65 litres

Price: Bt1.56 million

Distributor: Chevrolet Sales Thailand

Tel: (02) 791 3400

Vijo Varghese

The Nation

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