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).

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.