The Chevrolet Utility 1.4 Sport rocks up and Ryan Bubear puts it through its paces.
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Looks. They mean a lot, and not just to lingerie models.
Yes, cars can be curvy or exotic or large-bottomed too. Or even ruggedly handsome, although lingerie models probably shouldn't be. Thing is, the new Chevrolet Utility has been taking a fair amount of heat for not being as easy on the eye as its predecessor, the Corsa Utility.
But the Chevy shouldn't be wasting its time trying to win Miss Utility beauty contests, should it? It may not be the prettiest vehicle on the road — and since the estimation of beauty is an exercise based largely in subjectivity, some may even disagree with that statement — but there's no denying that this sub-one-ton bakkie has a purposeful appearance. And buyers in this segment either do like what they see or don't place too much emphasis on aesthetics, considering the fact that some 1846 units were sold in South Africa in February 2012, and another 1708 in March 2012.
Yes, the Chevy Utility has picked up where the Corsa left off, jostling with the Nissan NP200 for the position of best-selling small bakkie. In essence, it's selling rather well, despite the grumbles about how it would look in a swimsuit next to its older, shapelier sister.
The latest Utility boasts an all-new platform, but isn't all that much bigger than its Corsa-based predecessor. It is ever-so-slightly longer and wider than the previous model, and benefits from a higher ride height too, but its payload capability has remained pretty much the same — a rather useful 733kg to 763kg, depending on the model.
More than a nip and a tuck
It has inherited facial features typical of its larger Chevrolet siblings, and the frankly massive trademark dual-port grille means there's no mistaking to which family the Utility belongs. Round the back, the tailgate is noticeably shorter than that of the Corsa Utility, which results in a substantial improvement in rearward visibility. Look in the rear-view mirror and you can actually see the cars on the road behind you. Handy. Importantly, this tweak has no impact on loading ability.
The Utility is offered in three trim levels — Base, Club and Sport. Two petrol engines — a 1.4 and a 1.8 — are currently available, and both are mated to manual five-speed gearboxes. As yet, there is no diesel-powered option, but a 1.3-litre oil-burner is rumoured to be on its way to SA by year-end (perhaps something similar to that doing duty in the new diesel Sonic?). The two petrol lumps are based on those from the Corsa era, but now produce a smidgen more power and are ever-so-slightly greener. The 1.4 manages 68kW and 120Nm, while the 1.8 churns out 77kW and 161Nm.
We had the 1.4-litre Sport on test. This top trim level has a number of distinguishing characteristics, including front fog lights, dark masking for the headlights, and a polished aluminium roof-mounted spoiler. Power (and heated) side mirrors, electric windows (with one-touch operation), on-board computer, and 15-inch alloys (as well as a full-size spare) are also unique to the Sport model.
The 1.4-litre engine pulls better than the figures above suggest, and is actually quite punchy through the gears. The manual 'box works well, although it could benefit from a slightly smoother action and perhaps even an extra cog to quieten things down on the freeway. The ride is remarkably comfortable, considering the Utility's primary role is that of a workhorse. In fact, it soaks up rather serious undulations in the road surface with absolute aplomb.
The brakes take a bit of getting used to thanks to a longer than average pedal travel, but stop the little bakkie with ease once they've been worked out. For the record, Base and Club models have to make do without ABS and EBD, which are thankfully standard on the Sport. However, all models come with driver and front passenger airbags.
Fuel economy was the one area where the 1.4 Sport disappointed during its week on test. Chevrolet claims a combined consumption figure of 7.2 litres per 100km, but we could do no better than 9.2, despite a fairly balanced mix of freeway and inner-city driving. But thanks to the 56-litre tank, a trip to that ghastly place — the petrol station — would only be needed after some 600km, even at our bloated economy figure.
Inside, the Utility does a good job of living up to its name. The dashboard, steering wheel and door trim are all fashioned from hard-wearing, seemingly robust materials, and one gets the impression they would be able to withstand the rigours of everyday commercial abuse, as would the embossed seat covers. The higher trim models retain this durable feel, but add a splash of comfort thanks to a handful of features that would be considered luxuries on most hard-working bakkies — things such as automatic headlights and a six-speaker audio system (including auxiliary input, USB port and Bluetooth).
The instrument cluster sports a mix of modern and almost old-school characteristics, with the on-board computer's digital read-out and new-age blue backlighting contrasting with the speedometer and tachometer's retro 180 degree sweeps. A rather useful 164 litres of storage space is tucked away behind the front seats, and the interior also benefits from height adjustable steering and seating, the latter improving general visibility even further.
An interesting feature sees one of the two electric windows slide down a couple of centimetres each time a door is opened. Shut said door, and the window promptly winds itself up. Basically, this serves to release air pressure from within the small cabin, making it far easier to shut the door properly at first attempt. Simple, yet rather effective. I'm a big believer in the expression "it's the small things that count" when it comes to day-to-day living with a vehicle, and the Chevy Utility scores well in this department.
The Utility is practical, easy to live with, and the Sport models are actually fairly well specced. It's honest and does pretty much what it says on the tin. But the debate over aesthetics is likely to rage on...
So, consider this: Would you ask a lingerie model to haul 700kg of rubble along a bumpy road? Whether you think the Chevrolet Utility is good-looking or not, there's no doubting its ability to perform such a task.
Yes, beauty truly is in the eye of the key-holder.
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Click through to page 2 for specs and pricing.