The GM Delta II platform, now with more people-moving features!
The Chevrolet Orlando is definitely a friendly car. Or crossover. Or multi-activity vehcle. Or whichever mix of all three you choose. It’s also a bit of an oxymoron in that it’s built in South Korea, is named after a city in the U.S. and has Canada as the only North American market in which it’s sold. But that’s for another conversation.
It’s friendly-looking from the front thanks to the angled head lights and turn signals that when lit, help give the impression that the whole car is smiling at you. Not in the demented way that you might see on the Mazda5, but in a cheery, almost cute Japanese-anime kind of way.
The rest of the vehicle is fairly soft-looking; yes, the side windows taper a little at the back but the whole stance is pretty neutral and wagon-like. It looks somewhat youthful from the back, thanks to the disproportionately-large tail lamps and the reverse light which is one, big spotlight that may actually sting the eyes if you stare at it too long. Of course, you should be in your car with reverse selected when it’s on and from that vantage point, what it does is clearly light the driveway or parking space behind you as you back in. Which is nice.
Inside, the broad dash and upswept center console all help make the cockpit an airy, welcoming place that’s easy to live with. Ditto the comfortable first- and second-row seats—on a long drive, where seat weaknesses often become manifest, we had no complaints. The third row is a different story, but then, third rows in small crossovers like this often are; they are easy to fold for a reason, that reason being they’re meant for short journeys to hockey practice or amusement parks, or somewhere else where the kids need to bring their friends. In the Orlando, they aren’t hugely roomy (and there’s very little cargo space behind them) but they do benefit from the stadium seating set-up, whereby each successive row going back from the front sits a little higher than the one before it.
We did have a few complaints from second-row occupants not because the seats were uncomfortable, but because the side windows are small and it’s a little dark back there—of course, part of this can be blamed on the black seat fabric (grey is the other option) but those windows are small. And if you want to add light by way of a sunroof, you’re out of luck; you can’t get one on your Orlando, no matter which of the four available trim packages (LS, 1LT, 2LT and LTZ) you order. The tapered windows don’t do much to reduce your over-the-shoulder blinds spots, either—just makes sure you take your time with the wing mirrors before you set off.
One of the best creature-comfort features is how Chevrolet has managed to harness one of the traits that made the Hudson Hornet such a peach in its day, that being the sensation of stepping down into the car. You lift your foot over the Orlando’s door-sill, half expecting to have to pull the rest of yourself up with it, but you don’t; it’s as if you’re always standing on a surface that sits slightly higher than the floor of the Orlando. This makes it easier for smaller people to get into the car, as well as gives back-seat passengers more room for their feet underneath the seats in front of them. However, the offshoot of this is a slightly higher seating position, which had my leg jammed in between the keys dangling from the ignition and the center stack. Not a problem at first, but one that gets a little uncomfortable as the drive gets longer. The addition of some soft-touch material on the side of the console would really help here.
Actually—and this comes as little surprise considering the low starting price ($22,295, for the 1LT) —there are a lot of places in the car that could use some higher class materials as opposed to the plastic used instead. There’s a lot of it here—on the a-pillars, the door sills, the center console and stack, the upper dash—and I would hate to see what would happen to it all after a few trips to the campground, the neighbour’s cottage or hockey practice. Again, it’s mostly forgivable considering what you pay but as more and more manufacturers like Dodge with the Journey or Mazda with the 5 begin to up the ante when it comes to materials used, Chevy might have to take note. And it’s not that they can’t, either; the Cruze and Sonic both have perfectly passable interiors so it would be nice to see more of that DNA in the Orlando.
That being said, you do get a hefty list of features for the price—the 1LT comes with Air conditioning, power locks , XM radio, six-speakers and tilt/telescope steering wheel
Along with two cup holders, there’s also a small storage unit mounted in the center console which, when I first considered it, is quite small and left me wondering what I’d do if more room was needed. However, I eventually answered my own question after discovering the storage unit mount behind the face of the audio system. Now, items like sunglasses, MP3 players, phones (our Orlando came with the $460 vehicle interface package, giving us USB connectivity, Bluetooth and steering wheel-mounted controls for all of the above) that used to accumulate in the center console could now be safely hidden from view behind the radio. Smart stuff, that. Factor in the storage pockets in all four doors, and you should have space enough for all your day-to-day needs.
So that’s all the on-the-surface stuff. What does the fact that this people-mover is based on a car chassis mean for the Orlando’s dynamics?
Well, good things, mostly. It’s got a lively steering rack that makes manoeuvering around small areas and urban environments a pretty relaxing affair, and the MacPherson struts up front and compound-crank rear axle (one of the best features of the GM Delta II platform on which it’s based) make for some nice, smooth forward progress. Large bumps are swallowed up with more gumption than I thought they’d be, which is a good sign for a taller vehicle like this one.
The 2.4-litre EcoTec four-banger makes 174 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque in this application, which is not bad considering the car’s 1,596 kilogram curb weight but becomes just a little wheezy when you start to add passengers. The most we had at one time was five, so I wonder what it would feel like with the full seven. That being said, if the little engine was working hard to pull everyone around, I wouldn’t know it; it’s quiet inside the Orlando—along with the engine noise, road noise is almost nil. In fact, with the exception of a few sports around the doors where the seal could be bumped up a little, even wind noise is low.
Our car had the optional $1,450 six-speed automatic transmission, and far more than just a means of having the car shift on its own, the version here has a plethora of electronic additions to make for more efficient progress. Basically, the system can actually adapt to driver inputs as well as the terrain you’re on, whether it’s hilly, flat cruising, or in the city. It helped us achieve fuel consumption figures of 9.9 litres per 100 kilometers in the combined cycle as per the on-board computer. You can also choose to shift gears on your own, which I didn’t do all that much of but was actually pleasantly surprised by how quickly the cogs were swapped considering it’s a basic slush-box.
So it may not be the most exciting of rides, but I think I like the Orlando, or at least the idea of it. It’s most definitely a practical car that knows its place, knows that it’s there to move the family (and friends, on occasion) around safely and comfortably. Then, take in to account that it’s competitively-priced to match competition from the likes of the Kia Rondo, Mazda5 and Journey (of those three, only the Journey starts lower), and you got an tantalizing option on your hands.
But please, Chevrolet, for 2013, please try to soften up the interior surfaces just a little.
2012 Chevrolet Orlando — Specifications
Price as tested: $24,815
Body Type: 5-door, 7-passenger crossover
Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
Engine: 2.4L EcoTec inline-4
Horsepower: 174 @ 6,700 r.p.m.
Torque: 171 ft.-lb. @ 4,900 r.p.m.
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Curb Weight: 1,596 kg (3,519 lbs.)
Observed combined fuel consumption: 9.9 L/100 km (23.8 US mpg)