Decades ago, automakers here in Brazil usually launched a new car every two or three years with rival unveilings well spaced apart. Now, two new models are making their debut in the same week, just 24 hours apart: the redesigned Chevrolet Cobalt and Fiat Palio, both destined for sale in other emerging markets as well.

The Italian automaker has considerably updated a car that, in 15 years, has sold 2.5m units in Brazil, plus over 300,000 exports, mostly to Latin America countries. [It’s predecessor was also built in India but will soon be axed there – ed.]

The second-generation Palio has about 3,200 new components, a totally revamped interior with more room for all passengers (cabin volume is almost 10% larger), new styling and and more standard equipment but remains very competitively priced, starting from R$30,990 (US$17,000), ie, no price change for the one-litre ‘popular car’ entry level version.

Fiat increased the wheelbase by 5cm/1.96 in, height by 6cm/2.36in and width by 3cm/1.18in making the car more competitive with VW Brazil’s tall body Fox. Palio boot volume is unchanged at 290l/10.2cu ft.

Fiat offers three flexible-fuel engines (one-litre/61cu in/75bhp; 1.4-litre/85.4cu in/88bhp; and 1.6-litre/97.6cu in/117bhp, all when run on Brazil’s 100% ethanol brew) and three trim levels.

The strong-selling, previous generation, one-litre Palio Fire (dating from 2003) remains in production, a long time Fiat strategy here (with several models including the ancient Uno Mille in production, with updates, since 1984).

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The intermediate version of the new Palio is the ‘Attractive’ 1.4, beginning at R$ 34,290/$19,000, but with options added to align specification with the Chinese JAC J3, equipment-wise, it is still priced higher than the new rival (stickered at R$37,990/US$21,000 for the sole, fully-equipped version offered here).

JAC has yet to adjust the J3’s price as a result of the government’s September excise tax (IPI) hike for all imported cars apart from those of Mercosur and Mexico origin [due to free trade agreements – ed] which was subsequently postponed to December following a court ruling.

Weighing 1,007 kg/2,218 lb, the Palio with 1.4-litre engine has barely acceptable performance for the class while the one-litre model is sluggish, in strong contrast to the lively 1.6.

Fiat plans to sell at least 9,000 Palio units monthly of which 60% will be the new models. The remaining old model is about 10% cheaper.

Cobalt follows proven formula

Chevrolet Brazil has picked up the now-defunct US nameplate Cobalt for its new ‘cheap and spacious’ compact sedan which replaces the adapted GM Europe platform-based Vectra and Astra sedans, both now out of production.

The Cobalt is billed as a C-segment sized car at a B-segment price – R$39,980/US$22,200 for the base LS to R$45,980/$25,200 for the top LTZ, borrowing trim level designations from the US and Korea. Renault pioneered the cheap-but-spacious concept with the locally-made Dacia Logan followed by Nissan with the Versa [aka Tiida].

The new Chevrolet’s greatest appeal is size: 2.62m/103.1in wheelbase (just 1cm/0.39 in less than the Logan’s) and 1.74m/68.5in wideth (same as the Dacia) resulting in cabin volume up 7% compared with the old Astra sedan and 4% over the Vectra. Boot volume is amazing: 563l/19.9cu ft, bigger than many larger-sized sedans.

To achieve this, GM do Brasil started with a new, simplified and flexible architecture. The Cobalt, although designed and developed in Brazil, is based on South Korea’s Aveo/Sonic platform and there are exterior design and cabin detailing similarities, such as the motorcycle-style instrument cluster.

GM will sell this Cobalt in 40 ’emerging market’ countries where buying power is considerably lower than in western Europe, the US or Japan.

It is a really roomy sedan with large doors and its well-calibrated suspension settings were a highlight of just-auto’s test drive. The 1.4-litre/85.4cu in/102bhp engine pulls well with a half-loaded cabin but is far from satisfactory under full load. Next April a 1.8-litre/109.8 cu in/114 bhp engine will be available, together with a six-speed epicyclic automatic transmission.

GM expects to turn out 3,500 units a month.