Win Some, Lose Some with Chev

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THE NEWS that actress Jessica Simpson plans to have breast reduction surgery will have many a red-blooded male crying into his empty tequila glass.

But before we panic needlessly it's prudent to remember that less can sometimes be more, and that a subtle approach can make more of an impact than a bold one.

In Chevrolet's recently updated Captiva SUV the less-is-more aphorism can be taken literally, in that its flagship 3.2-litre V6 engine has been downsized to 3-litres but gained in power output from 169kW to 190kW. Torque, alas, has taken a dip from 297Nm to 288Nm but Chev tells us that overall it's a better and more modern unit with fuel-saving direct injection. The addition of a sixth gear to the automatic gearbox (one more than before) is also intended to reduce the frequency of petrol station visits.

However, the engine still feels "old school" from the point of view that turbocharged petrols and diesels are becoming increasingly de rigueur in modern SUVs. While there's a certain appeal to the linear power delivery and sonic charm of a large-capactity V6, the range-topping Captiva 3.0 LTZ's quite thirsty by modern standards. Our test vehicle averaged 12.5 litres per 100km in mostly open-road driving, with most turbodiesels we've driven achieving well under eight litres in similar conditions. The Chev might have been even thirstier were it not for its on-demand four-wheel drive system which employs front-wheel drive only in normal driving conditions.

The engine's reasonably strong but not as gutsy as its outputs suggest, and it could do with more low-down pulling power. Its maximum torque comes in at a high-revving 5 800rpm (the former engine's max twist was at a more sedate 3 200rpm) with the result that, in an attempt to stay in the powerband, the auto 'box is kept busy shifting through gears like Lady Gaga through costume changes.

The power's there when you need it but the frequent gearshifting makes for a rather busy and frenetic driving experience.

The new engine was part of a recent facelift and upgrade to make the Captiva SUV more, well ... captivating, with particular attention paid to improved refinement and sound deadening. I find it's a success in terms of being vibration- and rattle-free and feeling generally robust, but the engine's quite loud (though some people will appreciate the V6 howl) and there's also some wind noise around the driver's window. …