Hello Bijoy uncle, what’s up?’I don’t need voice recognition software or a caller identification feature in my phone to tell me who was on the other line. The only adult, apart from a stunningly good looking airhostess neighbour, who can get away by calling me uncle is Jiby Maliakkal.
‘Fine Jibs, how are you doing?,’ I tried to be pleasant. Though what I really wanted to reply with was a nice blend of choicest abuses in the four languages that I can speak.‘How’s the Captiva? Can I buy it for my mother?’ Jiby was being Jiby – direct, to the point. Now, Jiby knows his cars. Not so long ago he was a demonically fast rally driver and even won a national championship round. But every time he or any of his long list of well-to-do friends or their mothers bought cars he would play the professional and call me, the one who is supposed to know all these things because of the nature of ‘uncle’s’ job. But I was in the middle of the Auto Expo press day and was busy filing yet another story on the Nano (trust me, everything got published) and I really didn’t have time for another Which Car? question. ‘Is it better than the 2-litre CR-V?’ Now, there was an issue – the 2-litre CR-V in question was still under a satin wrap at the Honda pavilion at the Auto Expo. But I was fresh from a 3,800 km drive across Ozland in the Captiva and thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to recommend a few. So I avoided the comparison which Jibs brought in.
‘Go ahead and buy, it is well built and runs on diesel… and mom is not going to drive it, right?’ ‘Niet’ ‘Then buy it,’ I reasserted, as I was eager to get get back to more Nano-writing. And I promptly forgot about the whole episode.
Needless to say Jiby, who rallied a Honda City VTEC, who drives a Honda Civic (which he bought on my recommendation… ahem) was converted into a Chevy bowtie worshipper. Sure he did call me once and cribbed about the on-road price of the Captiva, but he was a happy soul indeed.There, I made the fundamental mistake of recommending a car over another before test driving one of the contenders. Or did I? Is the cut-price, smaller engined, 2WD CR-V a better car overall than the new kid Captiva which, at least on paper, has the attributes of the CR-V with diesel power to boot? It was time to find out whether I would earn the wrath of a good friend or not.
Looks and Design
The Honda is the modern machine here. You may not like the twin-beaked nose job, but it looks smashing in most colours and the curved greenhouse is becoming the norm rather than the exception. Add to that exceptional quality of paint and brilliant fit and finish and we are dealing in luxury car territory. Sure, compared to the last generation CR-V, the new one cannot be termed an ‘honest’ design exercise. It is as if Honda was forced to carry forward some of the key elements from the older model. So you get the tall-set tail lamp cluster which now bends to be part of the form. The CR-V looks big and brilliant in premium pearl white with matt black plastic bits adding to the show. The Captiva on the other hand looks big in any colour. It is more in-your-face – a classic case of brawn over suave. Yet there is something extremely likeable about the car, and it looks capable. Trained eyes will spot a bit of BMW X5 here and pieces of X3 there – looks like Munich is running short of lawyers. Then there are original bits like the indented bonnet with its edges lifted off to blend with the wings – nice. In short, the Honda looks more like a luxury piece of kit while the Captiva plays the rugged role. Can’t help but give half a star more to the Honda here.
Honda raises the bar and how. Quality of almost everything that goes into the CR-V passes what Honda calls the Lexus test. Alright, I made that up – but it is not an improbable assumption by any means. The switchgear, lights, plastic surfaces, leather seats, electric motors for the eight-way adjustable leather seats… you name it, the CR-V oozes quality. The dual climate aircon and the console mounted gear shifter get special mention here. It makes you feel good and it is difficult to make anyone feel good after doling out close to Rs 20 lakh. Front seats are supremely comfortable and a good place to spend whole days driving. Thankfully we have a hand brake lever where it is supposed to be, unlike the previous model. The rear bench backrest is a bit too upright for comfort though but there is more legroom than you would expect, plus the seat slides a little back too.
The Captiva is loaded… with plastic. Vast amounts of the stuff. It does not lack on the instrumentation and amenity front – just that it fails to inspire you the way the CR-V interior does. The information display screen looks tad gimmicky with a digital compass of all things. And I personally would like to have aircon information right next to the aircon switches please. There is a storage bin right in the middle of the central console – pretty useful but sore to the eye nevertheless. Everything is solidly bolted on and meant to go with the rugged exterior theme. I personally dislike faux wood on SUVs but the Captiva manages to carry it off well. Where the Captiva scores big time is in the fact that it is a genuine seven seater – with a proper third row of seats. Sure, knee-space is premium on the third row and only Alsatians and children won’t complain. Jokes aside, we Indians love travelling together and if a vehicle of this class cannot carry two small families to the nearby hill station it will be considered a terrible waste. So there, what the Captiva loses out to the CR-V in finesse, it recaptures by being practical.
Engine and performance
Aha! Diesel vs petrol. Turning force vs sheer performance. Common rail vs i-VTEC. Grunt vs refinement. Cheese vs chalk. Now that brings us to the question – the all important one – why are we comparing these cars? Because they are competing on the price front and the refinement of the petrol powertrain is not important for those who toss the keys to a chauffeur in any case.
The CR-V motor is refinement personified. It displaces 357cc less than the 2.4-litre model and develops only 141.5 bhp. More importantly it takes 6000 rpm to eke out that power from the motor while a total of 159 horses could be liberated with the bigger engined car 200 rpm earlier. But all that is on paper – in real life, the CR-V behaves impeccably and delivers performance on demand despite the bulk it has to move. There is no automatic gearbox available for the two-litre model but the six-speed manual is more than adequate to transfer power to the front wheels. Gearshifts are silky smooth and ratios are well suited. We had to head out to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway to actually get into sixth gear though. A bit of an overkill for this engine? Not really, since you can get exemplary economy on highways if you can cover good distances on sixth gear cruise mode. Our combined cycle figure stood at 9.55 kpl (it can be much better if your normal drive does not involve acceleration runs or much traffic).
The VCDi 16-valve diesel that powers the Captiva benefits, as the name indicates, from a variable geometry turbo and develops close to 150 bhp at just about 4000 rpm. As you would expect from a diesel, it is the torque figure that is impressive, at 32 kgm available at around 2000 rpm. Compare that to the 19 kgm at 4200 figure of the CR-V and you see where the Chevy trumps. This powertrain may seem a bit small as far as diesel SUV powertrains go – but remember, the Captiva is not your average body-on-chassis leviathan of an SUV and also the fact is that modern diesel engines can produce more torque and power despite smaller displacement numbers.
As far as driveability in traffic goes, it is the CR-V that is better suited. The light-as-a-feather clutch is easy to operate and the car is never really out of the power range. As engine speeds climb the CR-V feels more and more like a car and you start missing the automatic box. It is amazing how Honda has mastered the art of refined engines – something mainstream European car makers can really learn from.The Captiva clutch needs time to get softer and there is not much power below the 1500 rpm mark despite the variable turbo. You struggle initially to get to terms with this powertrain as it is a bit of an effort to keep it on the boil and scout for openings in traffic. Our way to combat this issue was to leave the car in second gear almost all the while – even while taking off from signal lights. But once you cross the 1500 threshold there is no stopping the cascading torque wave that the VCDi motor produces. Power delivery is seamless and the car is a phenomenal highway cruiser. Well, that is something we learnt in the continent crossing that we did with the Captiva for the anniversary issue.
You would expect the petrol power of the CR-V to make it quicker than the Captiva and it is – mostly. But when it came to the crucial 0-60 run, the Captiva turned on those turbos early enough to pip the CR-V and post a 5.91 second time as against 6.05 seconds. The happy to rev i-VTEC won the honours with almost a second to spare in the sprint to 100 kph though. Both cars can touch speeds slightly in excess of 170 kph, with the Honda reaching the mark earlier. But what our testing data revealed is how stunning the Captiva diesel is when it comes to useable mid-range. It was quicker than the petrol motor over the 80-120 kph and 100-140 kph runs with the difference being a life saving 3-4 seconds for the latter! Absolutely critical when you are on Indian highways and trying to overtake lumbering trucks.
Ride and Handling
I don’t know when phrases like ‘true car like handling’ became a virtue of an SUV – but it has happened thanks to monocoque machines that share platforms with cars. The CR-V is based on the new Civic and no wonder then that it handles like one, right? A simple strut setup for the front and a unique double-wishbone setup for the rear ensure that on-road handling of the CR-V is better than some established cars despite the higher centre of gravity et al. That does not mean that you can charge into tightening corners at three digit speeds – a heavy dose of understeer and a dive off the cliff to sign things off will be the end result. But if you drive the vehicle the way a heavy SUV is meant to be driven – by shedding speeds much before the apex and powering out at the right time – then the experience can be rewarding. The suspension understands what ‘comfort’ is all about and you will emerge fresh even after a ten hour drive. Do you miss the all-wheel drive option? Well, not in the weather we tested it but it could have made it a better all-weather car indeed.The Captiva rides better than the CR-V on all conditions and even without the help from four-wheel drive it handles the rough better (GM-DAT builds a diesel version with all-wheel drive but that option would have made the Captiva even more expensive in India). The diesel motor never allows the car to settle down on winding roads though, as you will be fighting a fair share of torque steer. On expressways and highways, as the speeds build up, the Captiva matches the CR-V when it comes to road manners. Though 90 per cent of the prospective owners of these cars will never do any off-roading with these two-wheel drive machines, we couldn’t help subjecting them to some torture.
The CR-V loves loose gravel and it has enough ground clearance to handle rough roads. But if your idea of rough roads is the one connecting Gramphoo and Tabo in the Spiti valley, then it is the Captiva that is more capable. Not that the CR-V won’t make it, but you will feel decidedly uncomfortable doing it while you will enjoy taking the Captiva through such a mess. While suspension setup is pretty basic, the Captiva benefits from automatic ‘level ride control’ which uses a regulatory pump to keep the ride level same irrespective of road conditions and load inside the car. Decent if not spectacularly ‘car-like’ road behaviour and exceptional all-road ability swings the momentum in the favour of the Captiva here.
As you can see, these cars are oh-so-different-yet-so-alike. Both cars tip the Rs 20 lakh scale as they hit the road. The exceptional and bigger Ford Endeavour (now with a meatier engine) and the classic Mitsubishi Pajero 2.8 are worthy competitors to these soft-roaders. If what you are looking for is the SUV image and don’t want to lose out on any of the comforts of a sedan, then this entry level CR-V makes sense. But the advantage of diesel economy, the third row seat and general ability to go almost anywhere makes the Captiva the better overall buy. Time to hit the phone and tell Jiby the good news then.