ROAD TEST: Chevrolet Utility 1.4 Sport
Besides being something of a phenomenon in South Africa, small and mechanically-simple bakkies like this are normally not very high maintenance - but their target market certainly is.
Not only do they have to haul the loads of the usual butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, but there's a stack of private buyers to satisfy too. You know the guys who don't want to drive a so-called 'girly hatch' or who need a load bay for the quad bikes and scramblers.
Like its predecessor, which was an Opel Corsa for most of its life, the new Chevrolet Utility has to be a car and a bakkie at the same time and it can't afford to be too expensive either.
It also helps if a bakkie like this is good to look at - especially for the 18-inch-rim brigade - but here the new Chev evokes mixed reactions and not everyone is a fan of its massive dual-port grille and boxy rear end. It might resemble a Spark on steroids, but at least it’s sporty and has a solid identity within the modern Chevrolet family.
Unlike the previous model, the cabin also looks like it belongs to this century, with well-bolstered embossed-upholstery seats and a modern-looking dashboard with circular air vents and a Formula One/Star Wars inspired instrument cluster with ice blue backlighting.
Ergonomically it belongs to a past era though, with the audio system controls (the ones you'll likely be using most often) positioned very low on the dashboard while the ventilation controls are high up and just below the air vents. You don't get steering wheel-mounted audio controls on this one either, although the system is at least compatible with modern music devices via USB, aux inputs and it has Bluetooth functionality.
As per the old model, this cabin does allow plenty of stretching space. Behind the seats you'll find 164 litres worth of space to stash tools or luggage and height-adjustment for the driver's seat and steering wheel make it easy to find the ideal driving position. The deep footwell doesn't have a footrest though, meaning you've either got to rest your left foot on the clutch or take a big stretch every time you want to use it.
OLD FASHIONED MOTOR
Unladen, the 1.4 Sport featured here delivers acceptable performance as long as you're prepared to give the engine a good thumping. This eight-valve motor, which was carried over from the previous range and perhaps even the 1990s Opel Kadett, looks like a museum piece next to the engines you'll find in most modern hatchbacks. This has its pros and cons.
The good is that it's a tried and tested engine that will probably unleash your inner backyard mechanic if you give it half a chance and it's also quite torquey from low down. The bad is that it's not very powerful for its size (68kW at 6000rpm and 120Nm at 3200rpm) and it's hardly a fuel sipper.
I drove it for just over 400km on a rural road at normal highway speeds and it drank in the region of 7.5 litres per 100km. It doesn't help that it's so under-geared, the engine screaming along at 4000rpm at 120km/h.
The rest of the driving experience is satisfying enough and the Utility provides a very comfortable ride on just about any surface, even on the short stretch of lumpy farm road I subjected it to. The bakkie's 170mm ride height (17mm more than before) also helps in this regard.
As a load lugger, the Utility has a similar-sized load bin to its predecessor and it's officially rated to carry 713kg, which is a little less than the Nissan NP200's 800kg if you want to nitpick.
This Ute will certainly tick (and load) most of the boxes for those in the small bakkie market, but I'm not convinced that the 1.4 Sport is the best deal here. R163 000 is a lot of money for a small bakkie with an old-fashioned engine. Even the 1.4 Club seems a bit on the steep side at R137 500 but this would be the logical choice if the Chevrolet Utility was on your wish list.
Chevrolet Utility 1.4 Sport (68kW) - R163 000
Daihatsu Gran Max 1.5 (71kW) - R129 995
Nissan NP200 1.6 16V SE (77kW) - R165 900
Chevrolet Utility 1.4 Club (68kW) - R137 500