Holden are on maximum attack; new Astra SRi Turbo and diesel models released earlier in 2006 started a rush of new vehicles for Holden. Then came the epic all-access launch of the new VE Commodore range, unleashing a carpet bombing of media coverage and marketing in all mediums for the Aussie carmaker.
Following VE came press engagements in Adelaide for Commodore's long wheelbase luxury versions, WM Statesman and Caprice in September and HSV variants joining the fray after their New Zealand press launch this week.
In-between the craziness of Holden's VE circus, somehow they found time to unveil yet another addition to the line-up last week, the Captiva SUV. Available in three specification levels, the range adds even greater firepower to Holden's growing arsenal as it offers two distinctively different vehicle choices within the one nameplate.
Both the Captiva in entry-level SX and luxury spec LX guise were designed by Holden designers on assignment at GM Daewoo Auto Technology (GMDAT) design centre in Bupyeong, South Korea.
Whereas the range-topping Captiva MaXX has been penned in GM's Brusselheim Vauxhall/Opel design studio, giving it a slightly more distinctive appearance.
It's no coincidence the SX/LX exterior styling bares styling cues found on VE Commodore and WM models, Captiva designers Mike Simcoe and Max Wolff played integral roles in giving the new Commodore it's visual appeal.
Overall dimensions are close to BMW's X5, with Holden's familiar bar grill and large lion insignia bordered by Statesman-like projector type headlamps. The side view utilizes the Holden family's hockey stick design rear quarter glass, this sits above a styling crease that blends sweetly into a discreet fender vent (side repeater on SX). The LX version receives side repeaters in the wing mirrors and 18-inch alloy wheels over the SX's 17-inchers. The slightly awkward tail lamps in our opinion, were the only blemish of the otherwise stylish design.
Inside SX provides comfortable seating for five, the LX adds leather and a third row to squeeze in an extra couple of passengers, the sixth and seventh positions benefit from good sized seat backing and legroom is better than most seven-seaters. You do sit eerily close to rear of the vehicle however, and headroom for adults is within millimeters of the rear tailgate glass. As is all too often the case with seven-seat SUVs, with all seven seats upright luggage capacity is greatly diminished.
A tumbledown second seating row provides relatively easy access to the rear seats, no worries for the more mobile nippers that those seating positions are primarily designed for though. All seats, including the left front passenger can be folded to accommodate longer items such as surfboards and the like. Only available five-seater spec the MaXX is 67mm shorter than the SX and LX variants at 4570mm
The cabin fit and finish on all models impressed. Korean built vehicles tend to suffer in their choice of plastics and quality fit and finish, the Captiva clearly gains from Aussie guidance and is a benchmark in Korean interior design.
Holden have the Ford Territory firmly set in their sights, but Captiva lacks the class leading handling of the Ford, though a sportier suspension package and quicker steering may deliver a more rewarding open road drive in the Captiva MaXX. Due to limited numbers at launch time no drive of the MaXX was possible.
More aggressively styled with edgier headlamps, bright chrome accents, and more macho fender vents the MaXX has looks to turn heads, but it's the interior that truly gives the MaXX the European feel and edge.
Quality leather seating is more heavily bolstered and features attractively ribbed, French stitching. Throw in a triplet of prominent, scalloped heater vents and there's an Alfa Romeo-esque class and Italian flair to the interior. The dash is more ergonomic too, and misses out on the fussier digital info display found in the Aussie designed models.
Only one engine/transmission combination is currently available, Holden's own 3.2 litre Ecotec V6 and five-speed AWD automatic transmission. It produces 169kW @ 6600 rpm in SX and LX guise, a differing exhaust design drops 2kW of power in the MaXX but torque is the same across the range at 297Nm @ 3200 rpm. The V6 meets Euro IV emissions requirements.
The V6 delivered strong performance, the engine and transmission is kept busy up hills and required some high revs to 'MaXX'imise performance out of corners. Not a major issue for most, but we wonder if the torquey diesel alternative expected in the first half of 2007 could be the pick of power units.
The AWD system under normal driving conditions operates in front wheel drive only; as wheel slip is detected drive is transferred through both an electro-magnetic and wet clutch system to send torque to the rear wheels. The system works seamlessly and provided good grip on the dusty outback roads we drove the vehicle on.
Active and Passive safety features highly on the Captiva. Standard on all models is Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Brake Assist (BAS), there's also Decent Control (DCS) and Active Rollover Protection (ARP) for those who wish to get a bit more adventurous than just using the vehicle for the school run.
Front, side and curtain airbags help protect the first two rows of occupants in the event of a collision, unfortunately the seven-seat LX doesn't offer airbag protection for the two most rearward positions.
Price-tags start way under that of the Ford Territory, SX $43,990, LX $49,990 and MaXX $50,990 but it will take more than sharp pricing to defeat the roomier SUV class-leader. An acclaimed diesel power unit couldn't can't come soon enough to aid that effort.
But with improved build quality over previous GMDAT products, stylish looks and excellent safety features, the Captiva has what it takes to go blow for blow with the most popular Japanese or Korean products in the SUV category such as Hyundai's Santa-Fe or Nissan's Murano.
Let the battle commence!