The launch of the Chevrolet Orlando was one of my first assignments as a motoring scribe.

I had a fair reference of what a good MPV should be like, as I drove a Renault Modus at the time. I concede. Maybe it wasn’t so fair.

The Orlando appealed to my masculine side. This bold-looking Chevrolet didn’t succumb to the idea that models in this segment needed to look soft and effeminate. It was in-your-face and I reported that that Chevrolet was on the ball with the Orlando, in the sports magazine I wrote for then.

Nearly three years after its introduction, the Orlando isn’t a common sight on South African roads. The soccer daddies don’t seem to be rushing into General Motors dealerships to get their hands on this seven-seater.

Chevrolet Orlando Side Left - Surf4cars

Kicking-off (and screaming)

Any car that lands in our basement gets inspected and prodded by almost all our staff, before I set off to assess it for the week.

Having two children, our general manager Kevin Bainbridge looks for practicality. He immediately berated the frustrating third-row of seats, which required wrestling with the parcel shelf before being able to fold them flat for gain maximum cargo space. And with the two seats folded up, there’s no place to store the solid bar with its retractable canvas.

This week-long test wasn’t off to the best of starts. But redemptive to the Orlando’s cause is the ample legroom in the second seating row, large door pockets and many cup-holders. That rear parcel shelf matter reared its head, when I found myself fighting with it to accommodate baggage while playing taxi for a friend.

Chevrolet Orlando Rear Left - Surf4cars

Team effort

In the case of the Orlando, familiarity bred content. Three years on we still found the interior contemporary and pleasant.

The switchgear and most components would be familiar to current General Motors product owners. And there’s also that “dual cockpit” cabin architecture, which ensconces driver and passenger in their sections. Cross-sharing isn’t necessarily a bad thing and the Orlando feels like a quality product.

We’re still fans of that three-spoke steering wheel employed on nearly every General Motors offering. It fits snugly in the hands and boasts audio controls and cruise control functionality.

The radio face lifts up to conceal a deep cubby, ideal for phones and wallets. But there’s no opening for a cable, so you’re likely to damage your iPod or phone cord, over constant use.

Chevrolet Orlando Interior - Surf4cars

Commentators’ view

We tend to covet that commanding, SUV-like feel and the Orlando’s tallness – as well as the lofty seating placement – delivers this.

Large windows ensure superb visibility and there’s also a nifty child-monitoring mirror, just below the rearview mirror. You needn’t look back to keep an eye on the behaviour of Little Timmy.

Overall the driver is afforded a confident and assuring position. The front chairs are wide and accommodating of larger frames, we like the addition of a left armrest for the captain of the Orlando.

Power penalty

One of the biggest points against the Orlando is General Motors’ miserly way with engine derivatives.

You can only have the 1.8-litre petrol variant, mated to a five-speed manual transmission.

Euphemistically, you would describe it as leisurely. And if you’re feeling frank you’d describe its lethargy with a few tasteless expletives.

At our altitudes it’s gutless and devoid of fizz. On the freeway you’re better off breezing gently with the cruise control set to 120km/h, in the middle lane. Constant shifter work is need to keep that wheezing engine on the boil.

We wish they’d offered one of the turbocharged petrol engines found in other General Motors products here.

Chevrolet Orlando Rear Right - Surf4cars

Reserve player

Buying a car is a holistic process and given the attractive sub-R280 000 asking price, you could be able to forgive the Orlando’s shortcomings.

If what you’re after is an average seven-seater car, it just might do. Standard kit is plentiful.

There’s climate control, cruise control, alloy-wheels, USB connectivity, a decent sound system, steering wheel audio controls and an air of plushness to the interior of mixed GM parts.

Chevrolet Orlando Side Left - Surf4cars

The score

The Chevrolet Orlando is a good MPV, not a great one. Little factors – like the dearth of powerplant choices and that fiddly third seating row – give the impression that not much thought was put into it.

Mommies and daddies out there want to know thought was invested in their daily convenience on the school run and shopping trips. Which is why, rivals like the Mazda 5, with its sliding doors and larger cargo space will seem like a more appealing proposition.

Then there’s the lingering sense that General Motors scored an own goal with the Orlando. Buyers can’t have the Zafira from sister division Opel anymore, ostensibly for the reason it would steal sales from this MPV.

Perhaps things would have been different for General Motors in this segment, if they had kept that more well thought-out offering in existence.

Brenwin Naidu

The Technical Stuff: 

Model: 2013 Chevrolet Orlando 1.8 LS

Price: R278 000

Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder

Power and Torque: 104kW and 176Nm

Fuel Consumption: 9.4l/100km

Test Mileage: 250 kilometres