It is rare when Canadians get a unique vehicle. Common sense and good business practices tell companies to go with the numbers. Economies of scale mean we get what the Americans want. In most cases that vastly larger market determines our product choices.
But the brass at GM Canada were able to convince the managers and money-counters in Detroit that Canadians would embrace a vehicle that might not sell well in America – a seven-passenger compact MPV.
Canadians love their compact cars. Civics, Corollas, Elantras and GM’s own Cruze are much more popular here than south of the border, where larger cars rule.
Compacts are especially popular in Quebec, more than in any other market in North America on a per capita basis. GM thus used the 2011 Montreal Auto Show to test the waters by introducing the Orlando,a new entry in the mini-minivan or MPV segment.
It was shown as a concept at the Paris Auto show a year earlier and has been sold throughout Europe since.
The Chevrolet Orlando is built off the same global platform used for the massively successful Chevrolet Cruze. It offers three rows of seats in a compact vehicle pitting it against the Kia Rondo and Mazda5.
As with those others, and minivans in general, designers have little freedom in shaping a vehicle developed largely around the "box" principal. But upright sides and windows make for more interior space. This is even more critical in a compact vehicle with less metal and glass to play with. Contemporary would best describe this particular box.
It’s the inside that matters
The big deal about the Orlando is its interior. While it casts a shadow not much larger than a Cruze, the tall roof takes people and cargo capacity to a different level.
With the third row seat in place there is only room behind for small, narrow packages. But fold that seat and the cargo area becomes cavernous. With either or both sides of the 60/40 split second row seat folded down, even more space is freed up.
The rear doors are conventional – hinged rather than sliding. All outboard seating positions in the front and middle rows have lots of head and legroom. But the middle of the second row and both spots in the third row are best left to smaller occupants.
Similarly entry and exit are easy for those same outboard seats and a bit of an exercise for the others. Thanks to the tall roofline and plenty of glass visibility is excellent in all directions.
One neat touch is the ability to lock out the power windows and activate the rear door child safety locks with a button on the driver’s arm rest.
The Orlando offers tremendous flexibility and a wide variety of storage solutions, including one hidden behind the radio faceplate in the instrument panel that’s large enough to accommodate a wallet, iPod or pair of sunglasses.
The Orlando gets its motivation from GM’s ubiquitous 2.3-litre Ecotec four-cylinder engine. In this application it produces 174-horsepower, enough to save embarrassment at traffic lights and up long hills, but barely so with more than a couple of big people and/or some cargo aboard.
My test vehicle was equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission which performed flawlessly as expected from a GM transmission.
In many ways the Orlando is a throwback to the days of the original minivan – the Chrysler T115. That original people mover established a category that became a major factor in the industry. Like it, the Orlando is a compact four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive vehicle with a voluminous interior, three rows of seats and reasonable fuel economy and performance.
While the Orlando shares some of those original features, it is a thoroughly modern example of the genre. The engine has all the latest tricks and features, the automatic transmission has six gears and there are a host of other electronics which weren’t available back in the day. It is also sized like that original, unlike the big boats that wear the "minivan" name today
Priced to be competitive
The base (LS) Orlando sneaks in under $20,000 – barely. But that price includes an extensive standard equipment list: power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, three row seating, ABS, electronic stability and traction control, AM/FM audio system with CD and MP3 capability and aux input and a tilt wheel.
Six airbags, ABS and electronic stability control are all standard on all models and there are adjustable head restraints in all seating positions
You won’t see many base models on the dealer lot or road, especially with a manual transmission. The expected volume seller is the LT1 at $22,295. It adds air conditioning, tinted windows, cruise control, upgraded trim, power heated mirrors, telescoping steering wheel and height adjustable front seats.
To this my tester added alloy wheels ($510) and a $460 "vehicle interface package," along with an automatic transmission ($1,450). What it did not have, even at this price point, was heated front seats. The bottom line for the test vehicle was $24,815.
You can option an Orlando north of $33,000 starting with the leather-lined LTZ trim level but I wouldn’t recommend it.
The ride/handling compromise is reasonable, if a bit on the soft side. Developed for and sold in Europe, the ride is compliant without being too soft and there is more agility than you’d expect from a van wearing a Chevrolet badge.
Built in South Korea, the Orlando offers six and seven-passenger capacity and good fuel economy at an affordable price. But it may be a tough sell against Chrysler’s heavily-discounted, larger minivans if cubic space is a major priority.