Boxy shape hides spacious seven-seat cabin

Boxy shape hides spacious seven-seat cabin

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Our story today about the demise of the Chevrolet HHR and its effective replacement in some North American markets by a Korean product reminded me I had recently spent a week in Orlando and not yet written the postcard.

This new line, fired into one of Europe's most competitive segments, seven seat MPVs (multipurpose vehicle = minivan in Euro-speak), is one of a slew of models already on the way, or coming, to enhance the competitiveness of GM Europe's 'value' brand.

As the brand's marketing head honcho noted in a recent j-a interview, Chevy had been in only 30% of the European segments, small and medium cars plus SUVs (it has its own Captiva but also makes the Antara for Opel/Vauxhall), but that is changing fast with the Orlando and redesigned Aveo on sale now and the Cruze hatchback, Aveo diesel, Volt and Camaro all due later this year. And there's unconfirmed talk of a Cruze wagon.

Living in the sticks of Middle England, it's interesting to see how press launch Marketing Talk plays out. The local Vauxhall shop has a high profile, with weekly advertising and occasional letterbox fliers, and occupies a you-can't-miss-it site on the main drag. Chevrolet? Not in Dealer Row off the main road. I had to look it up. Apparently there's a dealer in a neighbouring town 20 minutes drive away. He doesn't advertise locally. Hence the fact I saw only one or two bow-tie badges in a week.

Given the generally favourable comments of those that saw the Orlando during my time with it, Chevy UK might think of boosting its profile in the regions a bit; if you're pitched a bit below, why not share some sites with Vauxhall? The new MPV may have to battle hard against the likes of the Citroen C4 Picasso, Peugeot 5007, VW Sharan, Ford S-Max, seven-seat Nissan Qashqai, Vauxhall's own Zafira, et al, but three trim levels, one petrol engine, two diesels, five- (petrol) or six-speed manual and decent optional six-speed autobox with the top diesel provides a decent market spread from 16 and a bit thousand pounds to a little over 21. And undercuts the opposition a little before the haggling starts.

The boxy shape looks to have the aerodynamics of a greased brick - like some of its competitors - but the car is very practical with easy access to all three seat rows and even row three is not too cramped for adults going short distances. Kids love the high position of the centre row; 'theatre' style layout means it's a little higher than the parents' chairs. You get a convex mirror to keep an eye on them, ISOFIX seat mounts to keep 'em in, and the rear row flips easily into the floor while the centres collapse down to tuck behind the front pair. Not as good as the Zafira's all-stow arrangement but then, the 'premium' brand has to have something to offer.

Luggage? We have a standard measure otherwise known as the tandem buggy. It just dropped in with five seats in use, forgeddaboutit with seven up but that applies to most models this side of a US-size minivan; there's still room for a supermarket shop or soft luggage.

Trim quality is more than acceptable (we had heated leather) and equipment grades competitive. The only concession to 'value' branding we noted was a lack of keyless entry/start, even with top LTZ trim. And an out of date satnav map.

The 163PS turbodiesel is lively and, like so many of this ilk, works especially well with the six-speed auto thanks to the low-rev torque available. Economy is about what you'd expect for what is a large family vehicle - we saw c34mpg in the 'urbs. CO2 emissions of 186g avoid the high-penalty top road tax bands here in the UK.

Chevy has its work cut out muscling into European sectors sibling Vauxhall and rivals like Ford, VAG and PSA have long considered their own. Such well-sorted product as the Orlando suggests they're trying very hard. And the replacement of domestic products with models like the Cruze and upcoming new Malibu in the US suggests a certain amount of respect is also held for the Korean arm in Detroit. Though the guys at Holden will be quick to point out Australian R&D helped...

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