In the past, American vehicles have not been so popular here in Malaysia. Also known as muscle cars for their big V8 engines, road tax for these vehicles are astronomical and can only be found in garages of the rich and famous. But there is one American manufacturer that is slowly making its mark in this region with smaller engines that is far more affordable, Chevrolet or Chevy for short.

Between 2003 and 2009 a joint-venture between Chevy’s parent company General Motors (GM) and DRB-HICOM, called Hicomobil, marketed the Aveo, Optra and Nabira here. In 2010, the joint-venture was succeeded by Naza Quest Sdn Bhd as the exclusive authorized distributor of GM products under the Chevrolet brands in Malaysia. Soon, they will be launching two new models that will prove to be quite popular – their Aveo replacement, Sonic, and a 7-seater people carrier, Orlando.

As with other manufacturers, testing their vehicles before releasing it to the public is a norm. But for Naza, they went an extra mile and wanted some feedback from the motoring community as well. This led to a short and simple but exclusive media preview test drive of both the Sonic and Orlando held recently at the Litar Elite Gokart Speedway PLUS.

The Sonic replaces the popular Aveo model and will be offered in two variants – a 5-door hatchback and a 4-door sedan. Both has the same front end design with the nose featuring Chevrolet’s signature split grille with their prominent bow-tie logo in the middle. An aggressive dual headlights completes the attractive front end look.

For the hatch, a somewhat coupe look is portrayed with the handles for the rear doors placed slightly hidden at the C-pillars. The sporty hatch look is further complemented with an exposed taillights. The sedan, said to target newly weds and small families, has a more elegant look to it with the rear end that makes the whole car look like a smaller version of their popular award-winning Cruze sedan.

Offered only in their range-topping LTZ trim, the dominantly Black and Grey interior is actually quite decent. The main highlight of the interior is the awesome looking instrument cluster said to be inspired from superbikes. The rpm metre is in analogue with the rest in digital on a seemingly floating cluster. Other features include a single disc, MP3 player with USB connectivity and 6-speaker sound system, tilt-adjustable steering and adequate storage space with 468 litres of boot space in the sedan and 253 litres in the hatch plus more if the 60:40 split rear seats are folded down.

Safety features include dual airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and brake assists.

Naza Quest Sdn Bhd Product Manager Suhani Misnan gave a pep talk about the two vehicles before letting us get a feel of it on the slighty-less than 1 km go-kart circuit to test acceleration and handling with brake test done on a wet and soapy surface.

The Sonic LTZ sedan and hatchback comes with a small 1.4 litre Ecotec, Variable Valve Timing (VVT), 4-cylinder engine that produces a measly 100 hp at 6,000 rpm and 130 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm. It is coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission with gearknob-located Driver Shift Control manual selection.

While these performance figures may seem small, it does move the little car quite well during the test eventhough it was noisy at higher rpms. It handled the curves nicely but that’s not a surprise considering the fact that it uses a front MacPherson struts and rear torsion beam suspension system. The brakes, however, are brilliant as we tested it on a wet and soapy surface, slamming hard on it after accelerating to about 50 km/h.

Prices for the two Sonic versions have not been announced but rumour has it around the RM80,000 range. It will be announced during its official launch said to happen at the end of this month on the 29th of November.

Now we proceed to the second vehicle that was tested during the media preview. Unlike the Sonic, the Orlando is not a new automobile. It was first introduced as a concept vehicle at the 2008 Paris Motor Show with intentions of going into production in America in 2009 but, in 2010, GM reversed their decision.

On the local front, Naza Quest Sdn Bhd had made an announcement early last year that they will be launching the Orlando in the second half of 2011. It’s clear that that did not happen but, after the test drive preview, I was told that it will be officially launched here sometime in the middle of next month.

The Chevrolet Orlando is a 5-door, 7-seater compact MPV manufactured by GM Korea under the Chevrolet division for world-wide markets. It has distinct and recognizable look especially with their ‘global face’ of a split-grille and bow-tie logo flanked by two huge headlights. Some other media people did say that they didn’t like its look but I thought oppositely. I was actually attracted to the Orlando’s bold appearance with a low swept roofline complemented by muscular, crossover inspired protruding wheel arches housing a sporty 17-inch 5-spoke alloys wrapped in 225/50 series tyres.

The decent looking interior is very spacious with ample space even at the third row of seats. It supposedly highlights a Corvette-inspired dual cockpit and has plenty of storage solutions with cleverly located latches for small item stowage and cubby holes everywhere throughout this people carrier. There’s also an ingenious storage area hidden behind the front fascia of the audio system that can be revealed by flipping up the face. It’s enough to store items such as an mobile phones, sunglasses, wallets and also a USB port that is ideal for recharging an MP3 player or iPod.

Safety features include high strength steel safety cage, dual airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD, Brake Assists Control, Electronic Stabilisation Control (ESC) and Hydraulic brakes.

Misnan explained that 90 percent of the Orlando is taken from their Cruze sedan. This means that the Orlando is built on the same platform as the Cruze’s chassis with a stretched 2,760 mm wheelbase. Even the powertrain is the same – a 1.8 Litre producing 141 hp at 6,200 rpm and 176 Nm of torque at 3,799 rpm mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission shiftronic gearbox.

With their Cruze currently leading the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC), the Orlando, having shared most of its systems with the Cruze, should be quite a nice ride, I thought. I was right. It went around the track beautifully. I could say that it handled better than the Sonic but with power and chassis from a WTCC winning car, it was expected. The traction control did help out tremendously when a corner is taken a tad too fast. And again, braking test on wet and soapy surface was really good.

Although I didn’t get to test this, 0 to 100 acceleration is said to be at 11.5 seconds, top speed is claimed at 190 km/h and fuel consumption is supposedly 7.6 Litres / 100 km. Being a preview, the asking price was not announced but is expected to be in the RM140,000 range.

With the official launch of the Sonic set on 29th November and the Orlando sometime in the middle of December, more details on specifications and exact asking price will be revealed, so stay tuned and look out for our coverage.

 



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