Chev Utility punches above its weight

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Third-generation GMSA utility has the styling to match its newfound Chevrolet identity.

It’s one of boxing lore’s most famous stories. Heavyweight legend Muhammad Ali had recently changed his name from Cassius Clay, and his opponent for a 1967 fight, Ernie Terrell, had infuriated Ali by persistently calling him by his old name.

In the brawl that followed, Ali pummelled the hapless Terrell for the perceived disrespect for 15 rounds while screaming: “What’s my name, fool? What’s my name?” The ref stopped the fight before the final bell to rescue the punch- (and ear) drunk Terrell from further punishment. But Ali had made his point: no one ever called him Cassius Clay again.

General Motors South Africa haven’t gone to similar extremes to get people used to their compact bakkie’s new name and, even now, after driving the Chevrolet Utility for a week I still catch myself referring to it as the Opel Corsa bakkie (so far no one’s pummelled me for it). The big-selling workhorse has worn a Corsa badge for such a long time that it’ll take a while before the new moniker sticks, but the new badging at least comes with distinctive new styling to clearly identify this vehicle from its predecessor.

DON’T CALL ME CUTE

Gone is the trendy cuteness of the original Corsa bakkie, and the recently-launched third generation of GM’s compact pickup arrives with a meaner and pugilistic new look that could have been inspired by Ali himself. The stylists have given the bowtie-badged bakkie an American muscle-truck facade with an oversized grille and headlamps that seem almost out of proportion with the compact body.

The Brazilian-designed, South African-built bakkie features a new platform that’s longer and wider, although the load box retains the same payload capacity as the previous Corsa at between 703 and 763 kilograms, depending on derivative. That’s a little less than the 800kg offered by the Chev Utility’s main rival, the Nissan NP200.

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Flagship Chevy Ute Sport is kitted with 15-inch alloy wheels.

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However, since we’re comparing the tale of the tape, the Chev hits back with its superior towing capacity of 1200kg compared to the Nissan’s 650kg.

We put the Chev to the workhorse test and it proved spacious enough for carting a big pile of garden rubble to the dump, and also to lug my motocross bike to a dirt-riding venue. The tailgate had to be opened to fit the motorcycle, but this wasn’t a problem as the bike was securely tied down to handy hooks inside the load bay (these are in addition to external hooks for a tonneau cover).

There’s also very decent space behind the seats inside the cabin, large enough for my motorcycle kit bags and a helmet. I hadn’t previously considered a three-quarter-ton bakkie as a useful workhorse for my dirt-biking hobby, but I was pretty impressed with how roomy – inside and out – this Chev turned out to be.

The front-wheel drive Utility enters the market with a choice of either 1.4 litre or 1.8 litre petrol 8-valve engines mated to a manual 5-speed transmission, with a diesel version to follow later this year.

NIPPY AROUND TOWN

The 1800cc Sport version I tested offers useful 77kW and 161Nm outputs, making for nippy about-town performance made more accessible by a slick ‘n easy gearshift, and power steering. On the open road the Chev’s able to maintain the 120km/h speed limit quite easily, with only the steeper hills requiring a downshift to fourth gear.

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Cabin is almost car-like in appearance, although hard plastics mar the overall feel.

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The engine makes quite a loud drone though, and some extra sound deadening would be welcome. Fuel consumption averaged 8.9 litres per 100km, which is acceptable if not brilliant.

Bakkies are becoming increasingly car-like in the look and feel of their cabins, and while the Chev Ute has a lot of hard plastics the styling of the dash is suitably modern and un-workhorse-like.

There's also a good stock of bells and whistles. There are three versions of the Chev Ute 1.8: the standard one selling for R137 500, the Club priced at R148 500 and the Sport retailing for R173 500, which all come standard with dual airbags and height-adjustable power steering, a 5-year/120 000km warranty with roadside assistance, with an optional service plan available.

The vehicle tested here is the flagship Sport, which is powered by the same 77kW/161Nm four-cylinder petrol engine as the other two derivatives, but comes with extra features such as electric windows and ABS brakes, electric (and heated) side mirrors, and an onboard computer, along with cosmetics such as front fog lamps, a roof spoiler, and 15” alloy wheels.

The audio system features integrated Bluetooth, a USB port, and iPod connectivity.

All very tricked-out and car-like, but driving-wise this Chev's working purpose becomes much clearer. With no cargo in the back to load up the suspension, the ride's as bouncy as an over-zealous lap dancer, and the bakkie also gets easily bullied by crosswinds causing it to wander laterally in the lane.

VERDICT

Muhammad Ali would've been a boxing legend whatever his name was, and it seems the same goes for GM's bakkie.

As the Corsa it was South Africa's best-selling compact bakkie for over half a decade and now, newly reinvented and renamed, the Chev Utility continues to rule the ring.

Last month it was the country's fourth-best selling vehicle overall. -Star Motoring

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