Reinventing the wheels

Two and a half years ago General Motors took the decision to rebrand as Chevrolets cars produced by collapsed Korean manufacturer Daewoo, whose assets GM bought in 2002.

The move had an air of bravado. Much of the Daewoo range was uninspiring and uncompetitive in Europe except on price. Resale values were diabolical. Tying Daewoo to the Chevrolet brand – with all its associations of value and reliability – was going to be a risky move. The cars may have been rebadged but they are still built in Korea and they are still Daewoos under the bonnet.

But the imminent launch of the Chevrolet Captiva is likely to bring about a shift in that perception. The European-
designed, Slovakian-built (and daftly named) C’eed is transforming the status of rival Korean manufacturer Kia in Europe, and Chevrolet hopes the Captiva will do the same for Daewoo.

Chevrolet claims to have invented what we now know as the SUV more than 70 years ago, back in 1936 with the seven-seater Suburban Carryall. The Captiva, too, will look thoroughly at home in the wide-open spaces of North America. It is one of the better-looking and sleekest of its kind but still has the chunky, purposeful styling that exemplifies SUVs. It is, however, anything but a gas-guzzler.

Each Captiva sold in the UK should have a bumper sticker proclaiming “I am not a Chelsea tractor”. All three models exceed 30mpg on the EU combined urban/rural test cycle. And this is one case in which buying the sole, manual-only petrol version can make sense. At £16,995 it is £3,000 cheaper than the cheapest, 2-litre diesel manual model and only an average 5mpg more thirsty. The diesel automatic has about the same economy but is £5,000 more expensive.

It is not, of course, as simple as that. The £16,995 buys only two-wheel-drive and five seats, not the extra two seats that rise from the floor and the selectable four-wheel-drive system of more expensive models. But it also buys air conditioning, alloy wheels, remote central locking, six-speaker CD player with MP3 jack, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and Chevrolet’s self-levelling suspension. In that specification, the new Chevy is a roomy, comfortable, more versatile and individualistic alternative to more conventional “people carriers” such as the Vauxhall/Opel Zafira and Ford Focus C-Max. The entry-level, manual diesel version has the seven-seat option, larger wheels, an electronic stability system, automatic descent control and fripperies such as a cooled glovebox.

The top-of-the-range 2.0LTX-7 has all the bells and whistles, with the increasingly unacceptable exception of satellite navigation. There are leather-trimmed and heated front seats, cruise control, automatic lighting, rain-sensitive wipers, electronic climate control and multi-function trip computer. At this specification, the divorce from Daewoo’s bargain-basement image is total. With a price of £24,920, it should be.

GM stresses that Chevrolet should be seen as its “value” brand, one cut below Vauxhall and Opel. There is a romanticism to the Chevy name, born of a thousand movies and pop songs. In image terms, the Captiva carries no baggage.

Its ride is not the best – GM needs to pay more attention to spring and damper rates – but in other respects it is well up to scratch: built with precision, adequately refined, modern and inoffensive to most tastes. Like the Mini, driving it, you could be prince or pauper.

The test drive

Say hello to: the first of an entirely new family of Chevrolets developed by General Motors out of South Korea’s failed Daewoo. A cross between SUV and estate car, the Captiva is a good seven-seat “soft-roader”.

How fast? 0-60mph in 11.5 seconds (2.4l manual petrol and diesel versions); 12.2 seconds (diesel automatic), top speeds of 111mph (manual diesel), 112mph (automatic diesel), 115mph (manual petrol)

How thirsty? 31.7mpg on the combined cycle (2.4l petrol), 32.8mpg (automatic diesel), 37.1mpg (manual diesel)

How green? 197g/km CO2(manual diesel), 217g/km (petrol), 233g/km (automatic diesel)

How much? £16,995 (five-seat, 2.4 litre petrol, manual) to £24,920 (seven-seat 2l turbodiesel automatic)

You might also like: the Kia Sorrento, £19,995-£24,995; Hyundai Santa Fe, £23,430-£26,040; Toyota Rav-4, £19,040-£27,015

john.griffiths@ft.com

More reviews at www.ft.com/testdrive

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