2012 Chevrolet Captiva- Forbidden Lust

DSCI1313It’s been said that money can’t buy happiness…. or love.  And it certainly can’t buy you a new Chevrolet Captiva.  This otherwise unassuming compact SUV is probably the strangest anomaly in the US auto industry.  It’s designed for the American market and imported here, but even if your last name is Trump, you can’t buy one.  Look on the Chevy website and there won’t be a mention of it.  It’s not promoted at any American auto shows.  The Captiva is sold solely to rental fleets and not to the public- the only new vehicle out there that can make this bizarre claim.  So what gives?  Why would Chevy go to all the trouble to build a car that no one can purchase?  The answer to that question is complicated and has the makings of a telenovela- involving new relationships, breakups, and even a death.

DSCI1306The Captiva’s messy lineage began as a true world car in 2006- it’s a German Opel design that is engineered by Daewoo in South Korea and built in Mexico.  The platform is shared with the European market Opel Antara, Asian market Daewoo Winstorm (which sounds more like a porn star name), and Holden Captiva in Australia.  In the US, it  sold as the modestly succesful Saturn VUE from 2008-2010 until the entire Saturn brand was discontinued- cutting this young vehicle’s life short on American shores.  Two years later, like a zombie from “The Walking Dead”, it came back from the grave with a Chevy badge.  Confused yet?

DSCI1314The reasoning behind the revival does make some business sense.  The GM plant in Ramos Arizpe had not been operating at full capacity since the demise of the Saturn VUE.  Chevy’s similarly sized and homegrown Equinox has been selling beyond expectations and GM didn’t want it sold to rental agencies.  Fleet sales offer minimal profit and hurt resale values.  The Captiva was already developed, had an assembly plant ready, and could take the pressure off the Equinox- voila!  A new car is born!  Admittingly, I do think of the Captiva as being a bastard child that has been orphaned…repeatedly.

DSCI1308Personally, there was some confusion when I saw my first Captiva a year ago in the wild (aka- on the street, or in that case, LA’s 405 freeway).  It was visually identical to the VUE, wore a Holden nameplate, and there had been no official announcement from GM that it were to be built.  It’s common to see cars visiting from Mexico in LA that are not available in the States and that was my initial assumption. But that particular Captiva had California plates.  It took some soul-searching and intense Googling to find the truth

It is possible to buy a used, well-abused Captiva and it does make me wonder what trouble future buyers will encounter when there is no documentation or references to their car when it was new.  Who knows, it could be a collector’s item one day?

DSCI1307If you’re familiar with and liked the look of the last Saturn VUE, you’ll be drawn to the Captiva’s style.  It is a handsome machine with upright and unmistakable SUV proportions complimented by tasteful touches of chrome and smooth flowing lines.  The clean design of the grille and headlights were especially appealing, and the rear taillights that flow from where the greenhouse and D-pillar meet while framing the back hatch were also pleasing to the eye.  Large wheelarches, rugged plastic cladding, and beefy side mirrors add a pinch of masculinity.  The only questionable touch are the fake side vents on the front fenders.  They look tacky on any car, but especially gimmicky on an SUV.  At least they do incorporate the Euro-cool side turn indicators and serve some purpose.  Overall, while not attention-grabbing, the Captiva is a very attractive design and the look is cohesive.

CAM00032The polished look continues inside with smart color coordination and a purposeful presentation.  Although most of the cabin is cloaked in somber black textures, the two-tone seats and sprinkling of faux-chrome around the air vents, gauges, steering wheel spokes, and the door handles break up the monotony.  Unfortunately, the material quality doesn’t match the sleek look and there’s more cheap plastic in CAM00046here than Beverly Hills.  The dash top was covered in a soft touch material, but the doors, console and dash bottom were brittle plastic.  The one swath of grey trim around the radio and center vents looked to be from a Tyco product and the plastic around the steering column was flimsy and a relic from cheap 1990’s Opel products.  The three center air vents did look overdone initially, but proved to be effective at getting air flow to the back seat.  Even though not flimsy, some parts creaked and made popping noises while driving.

CAM00042Ergonomically, most of the Captiva’s interior is sound.  The rubber surrounds on the column stalks and some of the universal symbols on the buttons screamed “I’m from Europe!” and added a continental flavor.  The gauges, although lacking a temperature gauge, were clear and crisp.  The column, while feeling flimsy, telescopes and tilts adding to driver comfort.  The radio is shared with many GM products, which is good news, feauturing a large volume knob and user-friendly controls.  Secondary radio buttons on the steering wheel control carry just the essentials; volume, tuning, and presets, and were easy to learn by touch alone, as were the cruise control buttons.  The ventilation system is the classic, simple three rotary knob design.  But there were a few gripes- the rear wiper controls are oddly placed low in the dash and require too CAM00045much driver attention to find, almost like Daewoo threw them on as an afterthought.  The info screen providing trip info is helpful, but the buttons to browse through the menus are located out of sight at the bottom of the dash near the driver’s left knee.  And lastly, the storage compartments in the console are examples of bad engineering- the top stoarge bin looks like a Pep Boys accessory and is shallow, and the lower one is deep andCAM00039 houses a USB attachment that was a long reach even for my long limbs.  On a bright note, the storage bin lid was perfectly positioned as an armrest.  The Captiva does offer an electronic parking brake, a high-tech feature for a modest car, and although kinda snazzy, I have personally never liked them.  To activate it, the car must be at least be turned on which could pose a hazard during a roll away situation.

CAM00043Driver visibility is good with a high perch over the road and those beefy side mirrors give ample visibility to the rear.  The rear hatch’s rear window is a little too narrow, creating some guess-work when parallel parking, but otherwise, the glass area in the Captiva is generous.

Front seats lack side bolstering  but are still very comfortable on longer trips.  Asymmetrically, the driver seat is power-operated CAM00040and the one for the passenger is manual.  Space up front was abundant, with sufficient leg room and head room even for tall passengers.  The back seat is tight when it comes to leg room, yet the tall roofline still provides considerable head room and the rear seats recline for added comfort.  Entry and exit were easy up front due to wide opening doors and the higher ground clearance.  The back CAM00036door opening was a little narrow at the bottom, but not terrible.

When it comes to cargo hauling, the Captiva is adequate.  There’s 29 cu. ft. of available real estate behind the rear seats and 56 cu. ft once they’re folded down.  It’s not bad, but the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4, and even the Mitsubishi Outlander can carry CAM00035more.  However, to make up for the lack of numbers, the rear seats are easy to fold down and do not require removing the head rests, and once folded, create a completely flat and usable floor.  The wheel wells are shallow and don’t impede into precious space, and the deep storage bins to the sides of the trunk are a thoughtful touch.  The loading height is high and could be awkward with heavier items.  Under the floor, the Captiva does house a compact CAM00037spare tire that is easier to retrieve than the ones hung from below the vehicle, like in many other SUV’s.  Overall, the Captiva is capable at carrying gear with ease and is versatile, but it doesn’t outshine the competition.

CAM00041Two powertrains are offered on Captivas: a 2.4 liter four-cylinder and 3.0 liter V6.  Our’s came equipped with the 2.4 liter ECOTEC engine, that is shared with the Chevrolet Equinox and base models of Buick Regal and LaCrosse.  It’s a modern unit with dual-overhead cams and direct injection, and while essentially the same powerplant offered in the VUE four years ago, the higher compression ratio and dished pistons add 13 more horsepower than that car, totaling 182.  It won’t ever set the roads ablaze with its acceleration, but it did a decent job of freeway merging and hill climbing.  It rarely felt out-of-breath and was plenty adequate when driving around the city.

DSCI1300The biggest issue with the engine involves the noise.  It wasn’t solely the loudness that was the issue, but the quality of the sound.  Step on the throttle and it sounded as though there were loose nuts and bolts bouncing around the engine case.  At cruising speeds, it wasn’t too much of an issue, but any accelerations sounded like the car was howling in pain.  Wind and road noise were also noticeable at higher velocities, but dissolved behind the engine tune.

DSCI1304Adding to the misery was the only transmission available on any Captiva, a six speed automatic with overdrive.  Shifts were smooth under normal driving, but the main complaint was the transaxle’s indecisiveness.  It would continually hunt for gears and would sometimes seem confused.  Step on the accelerator lightly, and it would eagerly downshift, only to upshift a moment later, before downshifting yet again; all without the driver moving the accelerator pedal any,  Donwshifts were occasionally harsh under passing situations as well.

DSCI1309European origins don’t always guarantee Euro road manners, and the Captiva is an example of this.  The steering feel from the traditional hydraulic power assist is vague and non-linear.  There’s a lot of unneccessary steering wheel play on-center.  The cute-ute holds the road decently but any sharp turns are accompanied by loads of body roll.  There is nothing here to add to driver confidence or enjoyment.  Although SUVs were never intended to be sports cars, some like the GMC Acadia or Ford Escape, can still be fun in the twisties.  In the urban jungle, the Captiva, even though it is only 180in. in length, was troublesome while negotiating Seattle’s streets.  The turning circle, at 40ft., is huge compared to the tidy 34ft. a Tucson or RAV4 can accomplish, and actually requires more space than the much larger Chevrolet Tahoe to do a full circle (the Tahoe can squeak by at 39′).  I found myself several times having to reverse, or run over curbs, while tackling neighborhood roundabouts.  Not only was it embarrassing, but led to the frustrating question “why can’t this compact SUV do this?!”

Ride was yet another weak point, it was jittery on all but the smoothest freeway surfaces.  Potholes and road imperfections would echo through the body of the car with a giant “THUD!”  The contemporary independent front and rear mutilink suspension just always seemed busy at trying to keep things under control.

Despite all of the shortcomings, our tester had an arduous 28k miles and there weren’t any noticeable defects or issues.  The rubber moldings around the switchgears had come loose, but were easy popped back in place, and there were a number of creaks coming from the body, but everything worked as it should.

The EPA rates the Captiva at 20mpg city, and 28mpg highway.  In a mixture of city, mountain, and freeway driving over the span of 240 miles, we received a decent average of 23mpg.  Not bad, yet not great compared to some other similarly sized SUV’s.

DSCI1311Although not availble to the public, GM does offer pricing to fleets.  The base LS trim Captiva starts at $23,435 and comes well equipped with the common power accesories, satellite radio, Bluetooth, cruise control, OnStar, and air conditioning.  Ours was the LS with 2LS package, adding fog lights, heated mirrors, power driver’s seat, and automatic climate control, bringing the total MSRP to $24,505.  It’s a fair price and is in line with the Captiva’s main competitors.  But remember, you can’t purchase this car new, and the only option is a used, second-hand rental, like this one.  Luckily for the used car buyer, the depreciation on the this car is tremendous given its limited availability and fleet heritage.  A used example, such as our 2012 model with 28k miles, has a retail price of $16,742 according to Kelley Blue Book.

DSCI1305The Chevy Captiva makes a good overall first impression; attractively styled, a pleasant interior, and an appealing amount of space.  But driving it and spending some time getting acquainted to the car reveals plentiful shortcomings.  It may not be a big loss though, as Chevy had no real sales goals with it and its main purpose is to be a sacrifice for the Equinox and save that car from an unavoidable destiny at the rental car lot.  Regardless, there’s still disappointment because I was initially excited to rent the Captiva due to its good looks and unique place in the automotive world.  Ironically, those are the only reasons I can recommend the Captiva after spending a weekend with it- along with the low resale value or if you happen to love your Saturn VUE and want another one.  Sure you can’t purchase one brand new, but would you want to?  2.0/5.0 boomerangs


3 Responses

  1. Great review. I wondered what was going on in the minds of the VW designers when they put together the new Passat. But can it compete with the likes of more stylish models from Kea or Hyundi with great styling AND great capabilities on the road?

  2. That’s a good point. Based on looks alone, the latest Hyundais and Kias leave the majority of VW’s in the dust. They are eye-catching and very daring, and the Passat looks dull in comparision. However, the Korean entries just don’t match the driving experience of the VWs. It’s a matter of preference and if you like a solid driving car- then the VW’s are great, but if you want style and value, it’s hard to beat the Hyundais and Kias. I have a feeling that many people, like I once did, will ignore the Passat based on looks alone

  3. […] Caprice until GM cracked down on that practice. Also, rick, you need to read this review: https://roorentalcarreviews.com/2013/…orbidden-lust/ ____________________________ Reply With […]

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