The automotive industry is a tough place – think of the amount of hours and manpower invested, from the intense process of designing, testing, manufacturing and eventually to marketing and sales. But I was reminded at the launch of the Chevrolet Orlando that humour is very much existent in the serious nature of the car business. I’m not implying that the new product is a joke – but the folks at GM sure know how to bring on the laughter.
Tim Hendon of General Motors South Africa was giving a demonstration of the Orlando’s 7-seater capabilities. He managed to squeeze himself into the last row of seats – which will be used mostly, if not only by younger, shorter members of the family. He said it was roomy enough to be transported down to a soccer game with a few mates. But swiftly conceded that he probably wouldn’t be the happiest traveller, sitting there on a long trip to a place like Cape Town – eliciting laughter from the media in attendance.
On that jovial note, our experience of the Orlando began. I haven’t been in the profession long, but I understand that a great deal of pomp and ceremony can always be expected with the launch of a new product. On this occasion, the kind people at General Motors treated us hacks to a free meal, out in a tranquil setting some distance from the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg. We were given massages too courtesy of an on-site spa – but truth be told, driving along the planned route in the new Orlando was relaxing enough.
A colleague and I first tried out the 1.8LS, the entry-level model that falls under the LT. It gives you fabric seats instead of leather, and on the outside, slightly smaller alloy wheels. A decent array of standard kit remains though – air-conditioning, power steering, electric windows and accommodation for your music player, among other niceties. My initial impression was that the Orlando would make a competent, comfortable long-distance cruiser. It glides along smoothly, even managing to tackle the corners with hardly any bodyroll – a characteristic typical of cars with a slightly heavier top.
You would want a durable interior in a kid-carting mobile like this. It feels pretty robust in there, surfaces exude quality and are likely to endure scuff-marks from little shoes and resist damage from curious hands. The driver’s throne is furnished with an armrest – I’ve mentioned in all the reviews I penned on the Orlando, that this feature is both nice and a nuisance. It makes operating the handbrake awkward, but makes for chilled, laid-back driving on the open road.
My prediction is that the Orlando’s looks will be its strongest selling point – it’s just so unlike the usual array of MPVs out there, boasting masculine looks in a segment abound with products that are too bland (Toyota Verso) or too quirky and cutesy (Citroen Picasso).
For the fathers out there, Chevrolet’s new MPV is probably the best way to look butch while juggling the prams, bottles, toys and other items that accompany kids.