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2012 Chevrolet Orlando

Orlando blooms: GM jumps into mini-minivan market Add to ...

Apparently there’s money to be made selling 5,000 examples of just about anything on wheels in Canada judging by General Motors recent jump into the mini-minivan niche with its new Chevrolet Orlando.

Until recently, this niche was targeted by just two makes, Mazda and Kia – both of whom have sold more than that magic number so far this year.

Like its current rivals – Ford’s similarly-sized C-Max won’t get here until late next summer, but there are other vehicles that crisscross over the segment – the Korean-built but Euro-style Orlando takes advantage of Canadian’s penchant for purchasing practical small vehicles. It isn’t even being sold in the U.S.

But whether the Orlando and C-Max expand this niche, which is hot in Europe, or divide it up into unprofitable shares remains a story that will unfold over the next couple of years.

The Orlando is being offered in three varieties beginning with the LS at $19,995, and followed by the $22,295 LT we’re looking at here, and the top-of-the-heap LTZ priced at $29,735. The test vehicle came with $1,450 automatic and $510 worth of 16-inch alloy wheels upping the total, including delivery charges, to $25,750.

The compact, but still seven-passenger, Orlando has an interesting exterior form that attempts, rather successfully, to marry multi-purpose-vehicle and crossover looks. At 4,665 mm, it is 120 mm longer than the Rondo and 80 mm longer than the Mazda5, but a significant 486 mm shorter than a Dodge Caravan minivan and a tad larger than the average compact SUV/crossover.

Filling it to its maximum seating capacity will call for some sacrifice from those in the back, three of whom will have to wedge themselves on the centre bench and the final pair, who had better be kids, in final row. Access is via conventional swing-open side doors as it is with the Kia Rondo, with the Mazda5 providing sliders.

There’s a good-sized hatch out back but only minimal cargo space available behind the 50/50-split third-row seatback, a reasonable amount with it folded, and 1,594 litres with the 60/40-split second-row seatbacks folded. That tops the Rondo’s 1,546 litres and the Mazda5’s 857 litres.

Up front, the Orlando presents its driver – comfy enough in a seat clad in sturdy cloth with big-ish side bolsters – with a steering wheel with a hand-friendly feel and an instrument display and a centre stack with audio controls up top; below is a sloped extension that houses the climate controls and gear lever and segues into the console.

The large outside mirrors could have been mounted a bit further forward and their control switch a bit further aft, power window controls are on an upswept panel under your left hand, headlights are okay as are the windshield washers and the climate and audio systems do their respective things effectively. It’s reasonably quiet at speed, some tar-strip tar slap aside.

Equipment on the LT includes air conditioning, auto headlight control, heated outside mirrors, cruise control, outside temp readout, clock, a tilt/telescope wheel, a driver info centre and all the usual power assists.

Propelling the Orlando is a 2.4-litre, twin-cam, inline-four rated at 174 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque, which on the test car powered the front wheels through a six-speed automatic (a six-speed manual is standard fare).

In normal around-town driving, the Orlando steps off from a stop with reasonable enthusiasm, and the transmission finds appropriate gears as required to keep you in touch with the traffic flow.

It’s adequately quick with an 0-100 km time of 10.4 seconds (as tested by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada as part of its Canadian Car of The Year competition), just two tenths slower than the Mazda5. Passing or merging acceleration from 80 km/h to 120 km/h requires seven seconds, a bit better than the Mazda5, which it near enough matches in 100 km/h braking performance.

Fuel economy numbers are 10.6 litres/100 km city and 6.9 highway, which fall between the Mazda5’s 9.5 city/6.7 highway and the Rondo’s 11.5 city/7.7 highway. I averaged 8.4 litres over the test week, which included a pair of 200-km four-lane highway drives (on which I saw 7.4 litres/100 km) with the rest mostly rural back roads.

The Orlando may be mini-minivan but it has full-size minivan handling, feeling more ponderous in its moves than its size might suggest. Not as much like driving a garden shed down the road as bigger vans, but still showing reluctance, despite a suspension that feels firm, to change direction in a hurry and exhibiting plenty of body roll when you do ask it to.

It doesn’t do anything untoward as far as could be determined on public roads, goes where it’s pointed and tracks tidily on the highway. But it definitely doesn’t fall into the “fun-to-drive” category, which, of course, nobody who buys one will care about.

As a hauler of mall-rats or minor hockey team members, or stuff from the garden centre, it also has enough style to look decorative in a suburban driveway. And since it doesn’t cost a bomb and drives okay, the Orlando is a worthy competitor in what has the potential to become a busier market segment over the next few years if the car company trend-guessers have got it right.

Tech specs

2012 Chevrolet Orlando LT

Type: Compact minivan

Base Price: $22,295; as tested, $25,750

Engine: 2.4-litre, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 174 hp/171 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city/6.9 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Mazda5, Kia Rondo, Ford Transit Connect, Toyota Matrix, Golf Wagon, Kia Soul

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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