Sunny Playa Calatagan, is gratification personified after a long journey. Typical of Landco developments like Punta Fuego, the beach is just a few hops away from the parking slot. Not far from the beach club was an arcade for shops and entertainment centers, the first of this kind in lonely south western Batangas. Now, Landco is building a Tropical-Asian themed resort community composed of clusters of houses with fantastic views, no visible utility poles, with a communal open air amphitheater, an old growth bamboo grove for nature trippers and a huge children's playground.
In its element
The Chevrolet Captiva 2.0 VCDi AWD was in its element taking the limestone paths of Baluarte Estates, the only access road to the former estate of Don Manolo Elizalde. Not far is my banker friend who retired to his home near hole number 2 at the Calatagan Golf club. The memories of the good times at the Calatagan Polo Club, where the Ayala crested Azulejos tiles serve as reminder of the Batangas roots of the grand Ayala resort in Sotogrande, Andaluz. Unlike the universal appeal of today's global vacation destinations, Calatagan is an acquired taste. It was km150 from my mid-point stop on my long journey.
Not far from "F"
Meantime, the fuel gauge pointer hardly edged away from "F" the time we left the bus afflicted traffic queues on the congested city. Though the winding roads of the Mt. Tigbalang foothills are far milder than those approaching Tali beach, making use of the manual shift slot of the 5-speed Tiptronic to feed in the precise amount of torque at the apex of the turns proved to be fun as the Captiva hunkered down into the cambered turns, compressing the springs from its SUV high perch.
From kilometer zero, driving the Captiva on the NLEx felt like driving in Germany where cruising at 160km/h at a quiet 2,900rpm in 5th gear is typical for Autobahn motoring. No surprises as the Captiva is sold in Europe as an Opel Antara. Driven at a steady 120km/h at 2,400rpm in 5th gear, diesel consumption is 13.51 km/liter while 14.95km/liter at 100km/h is easy. At 12.26 seconds from 0-100km/h, it matches a typical compact car's acceleration, a must if the Captiva were to wean away sedan-driving owners. Brake response will feel familiar to anyone who just stepped out of a Corolla class compact.
Korea gets the German feel
As GM's global compact SUV, the Captiva is put together in Thailand from parts sourced from GM's Korean factory. Compared to its rivals, the Captiva's dimensions are surprisingly generous; the high ceiling, upright and generous door windows give all passengers a feeling of space, making possible a folding 3rd row for the occasional 6th and 7th passenger. Its curvaceous from all angles as GM took pains to make the Captiva look different in this "me-too" category. Even the ring-tab shaped parking brake is different. Like today's Chevrolets, it'll be hard to trump its showroom appeal as the fabrics and plastics feel good to the touch and the doors close with a precision ker-chunk.
How'd they get away with it?
Chevrolet fitted such a generous array of standard options you'd think GM's warring bean counters, marketing men and engineers all got what they wanted. The console has several storage bins front and rear, a very comprehensive iPod compatible audio system with remote steering wheel controls, trip computer, temp gauge, compass and climate control. Even if its fitted with standard self-leveling rear suspension, a rarity at this price point, the Captiva still has headlight height adjusters. It also has back up sensors, auto wipers and auto lights as standard.
Mercedes like but from a different department
The seats feel like a Mercedes Benz B-170 or Viano; initially wooden on contact but very supportive over 300kms of non-stop driving. The highway ride is rather more absorbent than some of the better known Japanese CUV's. Because of the combined quietness of the body shell and crdi engine, one is lulled into a sense of invincibility as pot holes and bumps lose their sharp hits. As a Euro3 emissions compliant diesel, the 2.0 crdi turbo-diesel crackles at lower rpm's as it ingests the sulfur rich Euro2 local bio-diesel.
Compared to the Petrol
What you gain in economy and speed in the diesel, you sacrifice a bit in interior noise when compared to the even quieter Captiva 2.4 gas. The 5-speed Tiptronic automatic's manual override program, uniquely, respects the ratio chosen by the driver, unlike other transmissions which sometimes override the driver's chosen gear ratio/engine rpm mating. The driver feels more in control and can execute smooth low rpm shifts to the benefit of fuel economy or he can hang on the lower gears in spirited cornering. The weighting of steering has some self centering action just to ensure substantial feel for impromptu off road moments. In contrast, the lighter gas engine variant's steering, despite being 400cc greater in displacement, doesn't feel as "rubbery".
Not impossible to like
Before Landco, the Calatagan tradition was to vacation in the huge estates of "old money" friends. Besides polo and parties, there was nothing else to do in the sleepy town of Calatagan. There was an old lighthouse at Cape Santiago, but no retail therapy. As late as 1999, the nearest Jollibee and forecourt with Petron Blaze was in Lian, 20 kms away. To enjoy vacationing there was an acquired taste. But unlike the Calatagan of old, one need not have the acquired taste of the polo playing elite for the Captiva has car-like fun driving instead of a typical SUV's lumbering truck gait.