Any rivals who take the Chevrolet Orlando for granted may be in for a shock

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We could get convoluted here and trace the Chevrolet Orlando through Chevrolet’s US history back to 1910, but the truth is that Chevrolet as we know it now in the UK has, in effect, been formed from Daewoo. That company arrived in the UK in 1995 — famous for not selling cars through traditional dealerships, you might remember. It soldiered on until 2001, when GM took it over.

Daewoo’s previous mid-size MPV was the Tacuma, later rebadged in the UK as a Chevrolet. Given that it’s the fourth biggest-selling car brand in the world, Chevrolet endures an image that is remarkably low-key and, dare we say it, confused in the UK. Tell someone in Britain that you’re testing a new Chevrolet and they’ll wonder whether it’s a 5.7-litre V8 or an old Daewoo hangover. Old typecasts die hard, but Chevrolet is working hard to ensure that, eventually, the impression will be of neither.

Chevrolet endures an image that is remarkably low-key, and confused in the UK

In Europe, General Motors would like Chevrolet to become what Skoda has become: a purveyor of good-value cars that give the impression that they share engineering integrity with supposedly superior marques. With the Orlando there’s reason for optimism. A seven-seat mid-size MPV is the sort of car that should seem right up Skoda’s street but it is, curiously, one that its range lacks. If the Orlando is competitive, it could do Chevrolet some serious favours.

The Orlando comes in three trim levels - LS, LT and LTZ - and power options are a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated petrol unit and a 2.0-litre diesel, originally developed by VM Motori as a variant of the 2.2-litre diesel unit that Hyundai uses. Hyundai dropped the idea of it, and GM took it over; it’s offered in the Orlando in 128bhp or 161bhp forms. There is the option of an automatic gearbox on the 161bhp diesel.

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Chevrolet Orlando side skirts

From now on, new Chevrolets like the Chevrolet Orlando will not be rebadged Daewoo designs. The Orlando is based on the same platform as the Cruze family car, which, in turn, means that it’s a modified version of the latest Vauxhall Astra’s architecture.

But while European Chevrolets have shorn themselves of their engineering influence from the US, their design is still on the partly American-inspired bold side of things. Those big, filled wheel arches, prominent snout and square-cut rear are more reminiscent of two-box rather than one-box US minivans and Chevrolet says, not unreasonably, that there’s a hint of crossover about the Orlando.

There’s no spare wheel, just a kit. Yet there’s ample room beneath the body.

Most of our testers were not impartial to the Orlando’s looks. The Vauxhall Zafira, Renault Grand Scenic and Ford Grand C-Max don’t exactly major in design flair. Whether you like it or not, we’re pleased styling is now higher up Chevrolet’s list of priorities.

The confident styling can make the Orlando appear bigger than it is. At 4.65m in length, it’s one of the larger cars in this medium-size MPV class, certainly, but it’s only 10cm longer than a Ford Grand C-Max or Renault Grand Scenic.

Chevrolet says it has a ‘body in, wheels out’ design philosophy. No arguments here; the arches are prominent and the wheels fill them easily.

To take some of the blockiness of the doors away, they feature a gently rising strake on the bottom half. The window line is quite deep, giving a large glass area. Only the third row seats approach a closed-in feel.

The split-zone rear lamps are massive, with a hint of Ford S-Max about them, while a silver-effect rubbing strip is one of the SUV-inspired design touches. There’s a similar one at the front, too. Both are for effect only. The prominent ‘bow tie’ badge on the even more prominent grille leaves you in no doubt as to who makes this car.


Chevrolet Orlando interior

There’s no five-seat option with a Chevrolet Orlando, so it goes head to head with the biggest of its rivals as a seven-seater only, in a two-three-two layout.

Those rearmost seats are, as is usual, best used for kids or smaller adults on short journeys only, but the second row has good headroom and leg space, although it doesn’t slide. Neither can, as in the Grand C-Max or Mazda 5, the centre of the middle-row seats be folded away to make it a more luxurious-feeling four- or six-seater.

The rear parcel shelf is a bit fiddly. It feels like an afterthought.

But don’t think that interior innovation has been forgotten. The middle row can be tipped and rolled forwards at the flip of one button, there’s a centrally mounted mirror for front-seat passengers to keep an eye on those in the rear, and the dashboard contains one of the finest interior features we’ve seen in a long time: up flip the stereo/nav controls to reveal a fabric-lined cubby with aux/MP3 sockets inside it, allowing music players and/or phones to be stowed inside, charged and utterly hidden from view when the car is unattended.

A pity, then, that the stereo controls themselves are some of the least intuitive on the market. With time, of course, you learn to live with it and navigate your way around, but only in the same fashion as you learn to live with losing your front teeth. You can do it, but it’s nicer if you don’t have to.

Still, the rest of the front cabin layout is convincing enough. Driving ergonomics are beyond serious criticism, save for a gearknob that’s too large, and the design gives it a generally classy ambience. That’s not classy “for a Chevrolet”, but generally so against its class rivals. It’s a shame, then, that one or two hard surfaces don’t withstand the scrutiny of a harder prod or scratch, but in general there’s much to be impressed by in here.


Chevrolet Orlando

Chevrolet has sourced a very respectable 2.0-litre common-rail diesel engine for the Orlando.

We tested a more powerful diesel engine with a manual gearbox and barely 1000 miles on the clock, and high internal friction might have contributed to the slight turbo lag that we felt in the lower intermediate gears during our acceleration tests. The 10.2sec 0-60mph we recorded could probably be bettered in something with a few more miles on the clock.

Whether you’re hurrying the car along or not, however, one thing you won’t have to put up with is shoddy mechanical refinement

The engine’s generous mid-range shows itself more clearly in acceleration from 50 to 70mph in fifth gear. A Grand C-Max 2.0 TDCi takes 8.8sec to crack that task and a 1.6-litre diesel Peugeot 5008 needs 9.8sec, but the Chevrolet does it in 8.3sec. Building speed in this car is easily achieved and seldom requires a lower gear, thanks to that 266lb ft of torque.

The 47.1mpg we recorded during our touring economy test matches Chevrolet’s overall claim exactly, suggesting that, if you’re prepared to keep to a 70mph motorway cruise, you’ll get commendable fuel efficiency from the Orlando. Up your motorway cruising pace to less aerodynamically efficient levels, though, and you’ll be lucky to better 37mpg.

Whether you’re hurrying the car along or not, however, one thing you won’t have to put up with is shoddy mechanical refinement. The 2.0-litre diesel is much more refined than you might expect – quieter and smoother, even, than GM’s own 158bhp 2.0 CDTi engine in some cars we’ve sampled. It remains relatively quiet and smooth even at high revs, and although it does begin to get breathless above 4000rpm, you’ll hardly ever need much more than 3000rpm in daily driving.

The less powerful 128bhp diesel inevitably sacrifices some of that pace, but it doesn’t feel unduly slow, even when the car is fully laden, and is only marginally less usable than its higher powered cousin. As a result, it is the best-seller in the range. 

However, the 1.8 petrol, although offering a low entry price, is weak and noisy. If you plan to fully load your Orlando - and presumably that's the point - we would strongly recommend steering clear of this engine.


Chevrolet Orlando cornering
The Orlando is a particularly secure, composed car to drive by the standards of its peers

Saddled with relatively unsophisticated torsion beam rear suspension, rolling on Korean-brand tyres, measuring over 1.6 metres in height and weighing in at one and three-quarter tonnes, the square-cut Orlando is fated to come unstuck, figuratively and actually, with its handling – right? Not so. If anything, Chevrolet has engineered a little bit more outright grip and composure into the chassis than most owners will ever need.

The car feels a little bit stiff-legged on first acquaintance, riding broken surfaces with the occasional thump. On smoother surfaces the car rides more quietly and with some compliance, striking an agreeable compromise between body control and ride comfort. It doesn’t soak up urban road scars as well as some seven-seaters – and you could consider that a significant shortcoming in a people-mover – but the Orlando’s driving experience has its redeeming features.

One reason why the steering is so pleasingly weighted is that it’s hydraulically assisted. The petrol version gets electric assistance.

Whereas the petrol-powered Orlando gets an electro-hydraulic power steering system, the diesels are fitted with fully hydraulic steering assistance, and although there is an efficiency penalty, we welcome the older-tech set-up. It gives the helm a smoothness and consistency that’s notable by its absence in many budget family cars, and that allows you to position the Orlando in a corner with accuracy and feel through your fingertips when you’re trying to deploy too much of the engine’s torque through the front wheels. What that all means is, without passengers on board, the Orlando’s relatively deep dynamic reserves will allow you to hurry it along a B-road with much more confidence than you’d enjoy in a Citroën Grand Picasso or Grand Scenic. And even when it’s fully laden, seven up and fitted with a fully loaded roof box, that same stoutness of dynamic reserves will allow the Chevrolet to handle twisting and undulating country roads much more precisely than some of its rivals.


Chevrolet Orlando

Traditionally, cheap entry prices may have been a strong point for a car like the Chevrolet Orlando, but the whole owning experience often fell down at resale time. The evidence suggests, however, that things should be rather better in this case.

The Orlando is still marginally cheaper, like-for-like, than its nearest rivals, but sales are likely to be limited by supply, which will do residual values no harm. After three years, it should retain close to the 40 per cent of its list price - a typical figure in this class. CO2 output is not its strongest suit, but the benefit-in-kind tax for business choosers is offset somewhat by the lower list price.

The entry-level LS model isn’t especially well equipped

Economy of the diesels is nothing to write home about either. In the 1.8 petrol that dips down considerably, although the benefit in kind level is the same. That could add up to quite a saving if you can live with the petrol engine.

The entry-level LS model isn’t especially well equipped. For example, it only gets a tiltable steering column, while other models get steering that adjusts telescopically as well. There are no alloy wheels or iPod connectivity, either. Top-spec LTZ models comfortably undercut rival range-toppers from Ford, Peugeot and Renault and are fairly decently equipped with 17-inch alloys, climate control, and automatic headlights and wipers. Satellite navigation is a reasonably-priced option, too.

The Orlando steals a march on rivals by having a five-year 100,000-mile warranty.


3.5 star Chevrolet Orlando

We weren’t expecting too much of the Orlando before it reached us. Chevrolet still has work to do in the UK to convince the buying public that its vehicles are up to European standards, and we don’t think it’s unfair to say that the Orlando is the first that truly is.

The Orlando has a thoughtful and appealingly well-finished interior. There’s a decent amount of space in the middle row and, although they don’t do any especially clever tricks, they’re simple enough to fold out of the way if you want your Orlando in full ‘van mode’. That square shape ensures plenty of luggage space and helps to provide decent enough space for taller kids in the third row.

A surprisingly capable car at an unsurprisingly competitive price

Equipment on the LS models isn’t exactly lavish, but you get all you need on LT and LTZ models with the added bonus of a five-year warranty. And the Orlando comfortably undercuts rivals. What’s is impressive, though, is the thoughtfulness of the dash, especially the hidden compartment for MP3 players and phones. Ergonomics are good, although the stereo is a little fussy, and the general ambience is better than you might expect for what is still a budget-priced MPV.

The Orlando also has noise levels that are well within the limits of acceptability (in the diesels, at least), and it supplies a driving experience that is refined as well as, at times, engaging and borderline entertaining.

Niggles? Surprisingly few. Some rivals have more innovative seating arrangements and economy is not the Orlando’s strongest point, but neither is a major issue.

The Orlando is an utterly recommendable car.

Chevrolet Orlando 2011-2015 First drives