Chevrolet Captiva 1.5T Premier (2019) review

Chevrolet Captiva 1.5T Premier (2019) review

Are there any caveats with Chevrolet’s attractively priced Captiva? Oh yes.

Now that Chevrolet is churning out many new vehicles suited to Chinese car buyers, due to General Motors’ affiliation with SAIC and Wuling, the American brand is adjusting it product attributes for the Thai market.

Take the all-new Captiva, as an example, which is also sold elsewhere as the Baojun 530, Wuling Almaz and MG Hector.

Rather than putting a primary focus on the driving experience, the latest Chevy is probably the antithesis of what people who like to drive can come to expect of.

Surveys carried out by Chevrolet Sales Thailand have indicated that potential buyers in this country don’t place performance (or, in some cases, fuel economy) as a priority when buying SUVs.

Instead, they said Thais want a nice design, spacious interior, as many seats as possible (for the extended family), digital tech and value-for-money factor. These shouldn’t err away much from Chinese palates and, in fact, are quite relevant in this day of jam-packed roads.

Which is why Chevrolet has gone flat out in making the new Captiva a seven-seater with C-segment dimensions but offered at prices practically no other potential rival can match. 

What we’re talking about here is a one million baht SUV with three grades plus or minus 100k. Just to let you know how desperate Chevrolet wants that price-leading position, the first-gen predecessor had prices spanning 1.2-1.6 million baht.

That brings us to the first selling point in the Captiva. With the same amount of space and seven-seat capability, the Captiva is a sounder financial proposition than before. 

And with such generous levels of cabin room, especially in the middle-row seats, other SUVs like the Honda CR-V or Nissan X-Trail won’t be able to have the Captiva beaten. Only pickup-based derivatives can stand a chance.

Like in the previous model, the seats in the Captiva can neatly fold away into the floor alternatively creating outright cargo area. This is certainly something the Toyota Fortuner can’t do. So, in a nutshell, the Captiva is highly practical at such prices.

As how we found out during our first drive with the Captiva in China earlier this year, interior quality is now making strides in Chinese-developed cars. The Thai-spec model, imported from Indonesia where the Almaz is sold, isn’t short of this.

The leather upholstery, door panels and fascia are all nicely finished. Best of all is the Volvo-ish touchscreen that looks great on the eyes and is easy to use. The same goes for the digital instrument panel (available only in higher spec). 

Shame about the steering wheel that’s too tilted away from the driver and has no reach adjustment. And don’t go checking how many airbags are available in the Captiva. Only the Premier spec gets additional side airbags for the front occupants. Yes, you get what you pay.

The same could possibly be said for the powertrain. Initial impressions back then told us that the 1.5-litre petrol-turbo engine might be too lethargic for a 1.6-tonne SUV. It appears this is confirmed after driving the Captiva around town and then to the beachside of Hua Hin.

While downsized turbo engines are here to stay, there’s simply not enough power in the Captiva especially if you’re going to load up the vehicle with people and stuff. A 143hp power output certainly looks second rate to the similarly sized, forced-induced motors from Ford and Honda producing anywhere between 173-190hp. A Chevrolet executive said: “More power means higher costs.”

Apart from performance being slightly ponderous when the driver asks for more tractable punch, the 8-speed manual mode of the CVT automatic is quite useless if you expect instant gearshifts. And because you need to apply more throttle than usual (hoping for more ponies to come on tap), our average fuel economy came to a meagre 11.5kpl (Chevrolet claims 12.1kpl).

This isn’t an improvement from the old model, which may have had a peaky 2.4-litre non-turbo petrol but a fine 2.0-litre diesel-turbo, both fitted with six-speed torque-convertor automatic. Oh, the Captiva doesn’t have an all-wheel drive option anymore and is now more like a front-drive MPV on stilts.

Which is why you shouldn’t expect too much from the handling department. Ride comfort is certainly an important attribute today, which isn’t lacking in the Captiva. But the suspension can get soft at times yielding a soggy feel on uneven roads. As well, the steering can feel vague, even when cruising on highways.

Once again, the predecessor still managed to offer a better balance between handling and ride. The Captiva has certainly shifted its stance from being “decent to drive” to “only good to sit in”. The reality is that many people will like that, but then Chevrolet should have just given the Captiva a different name from the past model.

Both engineers and marketers at Chevrolet have conceded that the new Captiva is trying to present itself with new traits such as styling (decent body design but on too small wheels), space and value. 

But, in our view, the Captiva is not standing firmly enough on middle grounds. It lacks the proper driving bits and safety/driver-assist features of many B- and C-segment SUVs. 

If space and price only really matters, the cheaper Mitsubishi Xpander (another jacked-up MPV but for the lesser B-segment) might simply do the trick. You need to be a true fan of Chevrolet to go for the new Captiva.

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