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Chevrolet knows its audience. They’re the sort of people who like to get plenty for their money, so the first- gen Captiva was right up their street. It was big - seven-seats big - attractively priced, and didn’t look too bad. Sure, it possessed a fair few rough edges and could never be described as a dazzler in any area, but it was competent and sold pretty strongly. Better, in fact, than its twin brother, Vauxhall’s Antara.
But now, it’s much better. Not just a little bit better, but a lot. Central to this is the new 2.2-litre VCDi. It replaces the 148bhp 2.0-litre unit and is available in a choice of two tunes: 161bhp or 181bhp. We drove the more potent version, which backs up that healthy power output with 295lb ft of torque. That’s enough to drop the 0-60mph to 9.3secs - almost two seconds quicker than the old car. It’s also cleaner and more efficient - a combined mpg figure of 42.8 is on-the-money for this class.
Better still, it’s a good engine to use. The old one, well, let’s just say the clatter and roar never found favourwith us, but this is smoother and, like all diesels, does good work low down. Nor is there any need to put the engine under much stress, since six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes have replaced the old five-speeders - keep it burbling away between 2,000-3,000rpm, and it’s perfectly happy.
This is sounding positive, then - there’s also substantially revised suspension, with stiffer springs to sharpen up the Captiva’s road manners. That works, but the flipside is that the ride isn’t as relaxed as it should be for a car of this class, and the overall driving experience is still pedestrian.
At least there are no concerns about safety, as the Captiva sports a veritable acronym soup of driver aids as standard - TCS, BAS, ESC, HAS (think traction control, brake-assist, stability control and hill-start). For those who buy these cars, such collections of letters are probably more important than the fact the handling’s, well, a bit handier.
But we can all appreciate a good-looking car, and with that gigantic new grille, resculpted bonnet and larger wheels, the Captiva’s a handsome thing. Shame the cabin can’t escape the whiff of flimsy plastics, but there’s decent storage, the seats stow without fuss, and there’s a lot of kit as standard, including Bluetooth and a plug-in for your iPod.
But the pull of the Captiva has always centred around its value - the top-spec LTZ we drove comes in at £30,295. That’s Freelander and X3 money. The equivalent top-spec Hyundai Santa Fe which is this car’s most natural rival is £24,630 - £5,665 cheaper. Maybe Chevrolet doesn’t know its audience that well after all…