Published on Thursday 12 December 2013 15:12
Ten Second Review
There has always been a market for inexpensive family-friendly vehicles and the queue only grows if a manufacturer can inject an element of style into the mix. Chevrolet's Orlando isn't a particularly innovative seven seater mini-MPV but its keen pricing and chunky styling will endear it to many.
Okay, so the Chevrolet Orlando could only sound more like a US holiday rental if they dubbed it the Hertz or the Avis. But set that thought aside, approach the Orlando with an open mind and you'll appreciate that this is a significant and promising vehicle. It's no great secret that until fairly recently Chevrolet was on its knees, and it would be understandable if the products it was bringing to market were cheaply developed and hastily conceived. That doesn't appear to be the case with the Orlando. Yes, it rides on much the same General Motors Delta chassis as the Vauxhall Astra but anyone who has driven the latest Astra will mark that as a positive.
There has long been a requirement among cash-strapped parents for cost-effective, safe family transport. Until recently, that niche was filled by the Citroen Xsara Picasso, but since that car was pensioned off, nothing has stepped forward to fill the slot. The Orlando is staking its claim to that piece of automotive real estate.
As befits its role as a cost-effective people mover, the Orlando doesn't pack anything too exciting under its stubby bonnet. Although the 139bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine looks enticing - because it will surely attract heavy discounting and allow Chevrolet to post an eye-catching price tag in their ads - the engines that most UK buyers will want. These comprise a pair of diesels, both of two-litre capacity, producing either 139 or 161bhp.
There are obvious performance versus economy and emissions issue to be weighed here but, fact is, both units do pretty well, the lower powered version posting a 0-62mph time of 9.9s, a combined consumption of 47.1mpg and 159 g/km of CO2 while its more muscular twin cuts the benchmark spring to 9.7sec (and adds 5mph to the top speed at 117mph) but otherwise returns identical economy and emissions. Subjectively, both engines are agreeably smooth and refined - rather more so, intriguingly, than they are in some Vauxhall Insignia models.
The driving position is acceptable with plenty of adjustment, although the chunky rear pillars and tapered side windows mean that rear three-quarter visibility isn't the best. If you're worried about this, best to specify the reverse parking sensors to help you navigate into tight parking spots. At 4470mm long, the Orlando is a mere 3mm longer than a Vauxhall Zafira, and is exactly as long as a Citroen C4 Picasso, so it's fairly easy to get a handle on the size of vehicle you would be edging into a parking bay.
Design and Build
The received wisdom is that any mini-MPV stands or falls by the quality of its seating layout. To this end we've seen all manner of ingenuity, with seats springing from all sorts of orifices but there's only so much you can do with a given wheelbase and the Orlando copies the homework of the current cleverest in class, the Vauxhall Zafira. While it's never going to win any prizes for originality, the Orlando's five seats plus two that pop out of the boot floor work very well. Yes, the rear seats look like something erected from an IKEA flat pack at first, but they're extremely sturdy. With an additional 85mm in the wheelbase compared to an Astra, there's plenty of legroom in the first two rows but the final pair of seats are, as usual, best left for smaller children. In all there are 30 seating combinations and a rear seat mirror will allow you to keep an eye on the kids.
Chevrolet says that in spite of the sweeping roof-line, the designers have succeeded in raising the second and third row of seats, which means Orlando's rear occupants get an even better view forwards. What this really means is that the fuel tank has to be packaged somewhere and, like most MPVs, it's safely positioned under the passenger seats. There are storage compartments situated in the centre console, front and rear doors, rear luggage area and in the roof. There's even a stowage space concealed behind front fascia of the audio system, and its big enough to house your iPod or wallet. There's also a USB port in there for charging on the fly. Maximum luggage space is impressive with the rear seats folded, but there's some intrusion from the rear wheel arches.
Market and Model
Somewhat strangely for a car called an Orlando and built in the US, this Chevy isn't sold in the States and is designed with a European audience in mind. It's built like a European rather than an American product too, with decent materials, tight shutlines and no significant acreage of elephant-grey plastic. As with all Chevrolet models, equipment levels are strong for the money.
The fascia design is reminiscent of the latest Ford models, with a bullhorn centre console in this case topped by an LCD display that houses a rear view camera in upper specification models. The layout of the minor controls will be familiar to Vauxhall Astra drivers and the only slightly jarring material choice is the automatic gearshift gate. Otherwise the dashboard is smartly finished and the multi-function steering wheel makes operating the stereo simplicity itself.
Customers will also be able to choose from four trim levels in the UK with standard equipment on all cars including electronic stability control, six air-bags, air conditioning and electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors.
Cost of Ownership
If you're at all interested in economy, it's worth avoiding the 1.8-litre petrol. Yes, you could fire up Excel, calculate the upfront savings and then figure out your annual mileage and the break even point when the diesel model would be a more cost-effective buy but don't bother. The reason why is that you won't achieve anything like the published economy figures in the petrol-engined car, and that's because you'll need to thrash it mercilessly to get anywhere. It just lacks the torque to make driving relaxing and family driving needs all the help it can get when it comes to stress relief.
Far better to target one of the two diesels. If you do, you'll be rewarded with beefier residual values and cheaper road tax to boot. Both models return an excellent 47.1mpg and emit around 160g/km of carbon dioxide.
Chevrolet has had a rather hit and miss record in its attempt to assimilate itself into the European market. That said, it's hard to see how the Orlando can possibly fail. Not only is it great value for money, but it also has a distinct personality of its own. Quality is better than you might expect and, as long as you choose a diesel engine, ongoing running costs are encouragingly modest - with no penalty if you go for the more powerful of the two on offer. It goes without saying that it's a practical thing but the amount of care that has gone into making this car easy to live with on a day-to-day basis is obvious.
It's undeniably good looking to boot, with its bluff front end, low-rider roofline and chamfered edges. Couple that with Chevrolet's strong warranty and plenty of safety kit and you have a package that family buyers looking for something a bit more covetable than the usual mini-MPV distress purchase will warm to.