2014 Chevrolet Captiva Sport 2.4 LT 2WD (USA)

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Ah, the Chevrolet Captiva, I hear you say. Cue a bit of searching through the memory bank, and you will probably come up with a mental image of a Crossover that does not look like the one in the pictures that accompanies this report. And then you will start to wonder if you recalled correctly the vehicle that bears the Captiva name. You probably did, even though it is not exactly a big seller, so you don’t see them on the roads that often. So what’s a Vauxhall/Opel Antara doing depicted here, you may well wonder. When those equally slow selling models were launched, at roughly the same time as the (whisper it, ex Daewoo), Korean built Captiva, GM decided to offer the Antara body style to American buyers, badging the end result as the Saturn Vue. Not that many months later, towards the end of 2009, in the post credit crunch crisis, GM was forced to kill off the Saturn brand completely, and with it went the Vue, and a considerable write off of costs associated with American-ising the Antara and setting up a production facility for it in Mexico. In an effort to get some of that money back, and also to provide a slightly smaller CUV in their product line than the recently refreshed Equinox, the US spec model staged a reappearance late in 2011, for the 2012 model year, now with Chevy badging, and the result, confusingly, was christened the Captiva, or more correctly, the Captiva Sport. Duly reincarnated, it has only ever been offered to fleet customers. Since that time, it seems to have become the doyen of Small CUVs in the American rental fleets. That was back in 2011, so it’s quite a surprise that I’ve not driven one until now. But when I arrived at Hertz’ LAX facility early on a Saturday morning, to find it very sparsely populated with cars, a nearly new Summit White LT model in the Gold Choice section seemed like a better bet than the 2 year old Malibu that initially had my name on it.

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I had driven a Saturn Vue, back in late 2009, and recalled that it was a decent enough product in many ways, but there was one major difference between that car and the Captiva Sport. Whilst the Vue had a 3.6 litre V6 and All Wheel Drive, this Captiva came with GM’s 2.4 litre 4 cylinder Ecotec engine, and front wheel drive. I have to report that the loss of 2 cylinders, 1.2 litres and 74 bhp is more than noticeable. It makes quite a difference to the driving experience, and not in a good way. At anything other than very moderate revs, it is quite a coarse unit, and it gets really pretty vocal from mid way through the rev range. Putting out 180 bhp, the Captiva Sport is no ball of fire, but nor is it embarrassingly slow. It is not particularly economical, either. The trip computer suggested that I was averaging around 21 mpg (US), though when I computed a consumption based on miles driven and fuel I put in, I got to around 24 mpg US (which is 28.67 mpg Imperial), which is not so bad for a car of this size and weight. All Captiva are fitted with GM’s six speed automatic transmission, with the added feature of an “Eco Mode” selected by pressing a button to the right of the gearlever. It operates quite smoothly, shifting between the gears as required.

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Despite the word “Sport” in the name, you are not going to select one of these for its real fun to drive characteristics, and with that lack of expectation in mind, you may not be too disappointed. Certainly, the steering is better than in many of the Captiva’s competitors, as it actually had quite decent feel to it and the weighting was apposite, unlike the sensationless experience of many rivals. However, there is quite a lot of understeer, from even quite modest speeds, as a trip up on the canyon roads quickly revealed.  The pay off, to some extent, is that the Captiva rides quite well, handling the varied surfaces of California’s roads as well as can be expected. I had no issues with the brakes. An electronic handbrake is fitted, operated by a small button immediately behind the gearlever, replacing the rather bizarre pistol-grip lever that I encountered in the Vue. There were no real issues with visibility, thanks to a decent glass area, and some well sized door mirrors.

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The interior of the Captiva Sport appears little changed from that in the Vue. Whoever designed the dashboard and control layout definitely went down the unfussy route, and it is all the better for that. A simple hooded binnacle covers the three main instruments of speedo, rev counter and smaller fuel gauge that is set between them, and there is an on-board computer display also set between the dials. The centre of the dash is dominated by three circular air vents which sit on a moulded plinth which then tapers down slightly for the colour display screen for the audio unit. Beneath this are a row of buttons for functions such as the rear wash/wipe and the hazard warning lights and then there are three rotary dials for the climate control settings. Lights are operated by a rotary dial on the left of the dash, and there are twin column stalks for indicators and wipers that look familiar to anyone who has driven an Astra or Vectra, but in this vehicle, as was the case with the Saturn, the one-touch operation that takes some getting used to, has been replaced by a conventional operation. Two very small button groups on the steering wheel hub operate cruise control and audio repeater functions. It all proved very easy to use. Where it falls down is that whilst neat enough to look at, no real effort has been made to endow the Captiva Sport with anything beyond a rather ordinary sort of feel. The main mouldings all fit together well enough, but they are made from the sort of hard plastics that most manufacturers now eschew in favour of something that is softer to touch. There is a gloss black inlay in front of the passenger, which on closer inspection turned out to have a sort of faux wood grain to it, and there are silver grey inserts around the lower inner edge of the steering wheel, the gearlever surround and the door grabs, but there is nothing in here to surprise and delight or even show that you are buying anything other than a cheaply produced vehicle.

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That conclusion made it all the more surprising when I found that the seats were leather, as was the steering wheel and the gearlever. The driver gets electric adjustment for the seat, so it proved easy to get it into the correct position relative to the major controls. The steering column adjusted up and down only, lacking the in/out reach adjustment that would have been welcome, but even so, I was able to get comfortable, and to stay that way. A combination of a relatively large amount of glass (by modern standards), helped by the extra light from the glass sunroof of the test car, and the slightly higher than normal crossover driving position all helped.

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Rear seat passengers will benefit from the fact that the floor is completely flat, with no transmission tunnel to get in the way. Legroom is not overly generous, unless the front seat occupants have their perches set well forward, and as this is not that large a vehicle, three adults would definitely fit across the width of the Captiva, but it would not be all that comfortable. Headroom is not an issue, though, thanks to the taller SUV-like styling of the Captiva. You can alter the angle of the rear seat backrests, using the same lever that is used to drop the seats forward. The boot is about the size that you expect in a vehicle of this size and type. Not especially deep from the window line to load floor, it is a nice regular shape, and generous enough front to back, especially when you remember the relatively compact overall dimensions of the vehicle. As with all US rental cars, there was no parcel shelf fitted, and a perusal of the specification data suggests that Chevrolet charge extra for this feature even on non-rental cars. There were a pair of very deep recessed cubby areas on either side of the boot, to the rear of the wheel arches, meaning that the main load room area was a regular shape. There was no real extra space under the boot floor, with a large styrene moulding covering the spare wheel. More space can be created by dropping the asymmetrically split rear seats. The backrests simply drop down onto the rear seat cushion, creating a completely flat load area. Inside the cabin, the front passengers do quite well for space for odds and ends. The glove box is a good size, and there is a small but deep cubby under the central armrest. There are twin cupholders in the centre console, and if you push the plastic lever in one corner of this unit, the cupholders slide back to reveal and extremely deep extra cubby, which is where you will also find the AUX ports for connecting your external devices. There is a small recessed area in front of the gearlever, and there are moderately generous door bins on all doors, as well as a net on the passenger side of the centre console. Rear seat passengers get just the door bins, and tiny pockets on the back of the front seats, as well as a pair of cupholders in the obverse of the central armrest.

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Despite being a Fleet only vehicle, Chevrolet offer the Captiva with the full array of different trim versions, just as you would find in a car aimed at retail sales. Entry level cars are the LS, offered in 2 sub-categories of 1LS and 2LS, and then there is an LT as per the test car and top spec LTZ.  All models come with the 2.4 litre petrol engine and a 6 six speed automatic transmission. Front wheel drive is also the standard, though until the 2014 model year you could also specify All Wheel Drive. LS models are easy to tell apart as the lower half of the front and rear bumpers is black, whereas on the LT and LTZ they are in body colour, and look all the better for so being. There are no fripperies included in the basic 1LS, though it does come with GM On Star, roof rails, cloth seats, satellite XM radio with single slot CD, Bluetooth, MP3, USB and AUX ports (if you can find them!) with repeater controls on the steering wheel, air conditioning, cruise control, lumbar adjuster for the driver’s seat, power-adjustable door mirrors and roof rails Upgrade to a 2LS and you get front fog lights, heated door mirrors, an 8 way power adjustable driver’s seat, automated climate control. GM’s fleet web site prices it at $25,145, as opposed to $24,360 for the 1LS. Listed at $25, 915, the LT adds 18″ chrome clad alloy wheels, chrome door handles, and the availability of quite a lot of features as options, which included – as fitted to the test car – the electric sun roof, leather seats and leather wrapped gearlever and steering wheel. These features are all included in the Convenience Package, which comprises heated leather seats and gearlever, auto-sensing wipers and a remote start feature which is included in the LTZ as is the electric sunroof, a 10 speaker audio system and rear parking sensors. The LTZ lists at $29,495. From what I could discern, the V6 engine and AWD option that were around until the 2013 model year are no longer available.

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I struggled to think of the overall assessment of the Captiva Sport. For sure, the 4 cylinder engine is a bit uncouth, and something of a let down after having experienced a more refined V6 unit in the same body, the economy was nothing startling, and the interior, whilst easy to use, was rather cheap feeling, so on these grounds, the vehicle ought to get the thumbs down. And yet, for those who want a relatively simple, unfussy crossover of this type, it does get the job done. You can’t buy a new one as a retail customer, so that means that any secondhand purchase is always going to be tempered with a question as to what its first fleet owner did with it. Ex rental cars are not always the best buys given the abuse that many suffer, but if it was cheap enough, you might just be attracted. And when you turn up to rent a car, and one of these has your name on it, should you rush to the counter and ask for something different? Possibly, would be my answer. With vehicles like the Mazda CX5 and Ford Escape offered in the same group, I’d pick either of them every time, but as an alternative to a RAV4? Not so clear cut.  I would certainly go hunting for one in LT (or LTZ) spec, though, so you get a few niceties to the interior to compensate for the limitations of the 4 cylinder engine.

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