A Seven-Seater That Makes The Grass Look Greener

2012 Chevrolet Orlando

Let's do a quick recap of famous people, places and things that bear the name Orlando. There is the hunky Hollywood star Orlando Bloom, the not-so-hunky actor Tony Orlando, and there was even a 1992 chick-flick entitled, you guessed it, Orlando. While the name doesn't really imply anything uniquely Canadian, the new 2012 Chevrolet Orlando does because this is one Orlando that's only available in Canada, at least within the confines of North America.

Even though the 2012 Chevrolet Orlando isn't available in the U.S., it has been released worldwide under General Motors' global strategy. The Global Delta platform was designed to be a mass-appeal front-wheel-drive vehicle, and the masses find it appealing if you go by how well the Cruze, which shares the platform, is selling.

Our sources say a U.S. team was involved with the Orlando project at one point, but pulled out last year, leaving nothing behind but the name selection. With the retro-styled Chevrolet HHR bowing out, the Orlando is slipping in as an MPV with current styling and contemporary features, and it also adds a third row to accommodate up to seven people. It sounded to us like a win on paper, and then we heard that a base Orlando LS would start at $19,995 CAD!

As a Canadian, let me explain why that's worthy of an exclamation point. At current exchange rates, that equals $20,733 USD. However, Canadians always pay more for vehicles. If we use the departing Chevy HHR as an example, its base price is 8.5% less in the U.S. when the currencies are at par, which lets us guess that, were the seven-seat Orlando sold in the States, it would start at an impressive $18,295 USD.

2012 Chevrolet Orlando side profile view2012 Chevrolet Orlando front view2012 Chevrolet Orlando rear view

When we arrived at a hotel in Toronto for the vehicle launch, there were Orlandos lingering out front in all four trim levels and various colors. The Orlando's broad grille and prominent Chevy bow-tie have this kind of brash statement attached to them, as if to say "We're back," while the aggressive wheels-out, body-in stance appear both contemporary and rugged. The roofline is fairly low, and around back the Orlando's beefy C-pillar and over-sized taillights appear decidedly upscale.

Brand Manager Paul Hewitt gave us all of the basics about this super-functional vehicle, and then spoke about what it's meant for the turn-around of a company that just emerged from an economic dungeon a few short years ago. His brief pointed to an impressive list of features, but price was at the top of our bullet points. Even with a few options, the base model LS quickly exceeds the next trim level up in price. The GM staff expect the $22,295 CAD (estimated $20,399 USD) 1LT trim to be the hottest seller off the dealer floor.

2012 Chevrolet Orlando Ecotec engine2012 Chevrolet Orlando shifter

However, this was a road test, which would cover in the realm of 500 miles in and around the upper-class cottage region of Muskoka. We partnered up and headed out on our journey to leave the city behind in Chevy's new cruiser. Our route was outlined in a guide book, which left us feeling almost naked without navigation since it is only available as an option on the $29,735 CAD (estimated $27,199 USD) top-line Orlando LTZ. Although our Orlando was equipped with OnStar (as every GM product is now), optional navigation was not fitted to any the LTZ Orlandos, so we had to kick it old school with the map and mileage checkpoints.

The weather did not cooperate with driving rain pounding our windshield for most of the journey, but at least it provided a test of how the Orlando performs in the wet. It performed great in the rain with its sure-footed StabiliTrac traction, not once invoking ABS under braking. Steering is fairly direct with adequate feedback, and handling was the same thanks to MacPherson struts and impressive chassis torsional stiffness. The ride itself was smooth, with no tense moments over the winding roads or wallowing in the occasional rough patches we encountered. We found road noise to be very livable, even slightly better than others in the class.

2012 Chevy Orlando dashboard2012 Chevy Orlando stereo2012 Chevy Orlando stereo storage

The dash of the Orlando is very current but utilitarian at the same time. GM interiors can sometimes try too hard to be hip and come off as unusual instead. Not so with the Orlando. It has an import flair to it and large intuitive controls. The stereo is integrated into the dash, even though audiophiles will always criticize OEM designs that prevent future upgrades. But upon closer inspection, the radio not only has the functionality you want like Bluetooth, MP3 and USB playback, but it also has this bat-cave flip face function where you can stow your MP3 players and smart phones. With those items out of the way, not only are distractions avoided, but you don't have to fumble with your iPod anymore since it's controlled from the deck.

Beyond the funky system, the interior's fit and finish is impressive. An array of quality plastics is complemented by some brushed aluminum-look accents in addition to a dramatic piano black insert that stretches from door handle to door handle. The analog cluster is easy to read and lit in a gentle blue tone that compliments the center-mounted cluster, which displays the radio setting along with temperature and time.



During the long trip, we decided to spend our restless moments in the second- and third-row seating. The theater-style seating has progressively higher platforms so those in the back can stay involved in the conversation (and also be monitored with the flip-down child mirror). Each row is comfortable with ingress and egress past the 60-40 split second row into the 50/50 third row being a snap for a 5'10" adult. Slamming those two rows to the floor is also simple and provides a whack of cargo space equaling 56 cubic feet, or around 1,600 liters as they say in Canada. The 5-door configuration was actually more functional than we expected as the big, wide-swinging doors provide more access to the third row than competitors using sliding doors, but admittedly are not as convenient to open in parking lots or tight spaces.

Under the Orlando's lid is a direct-injected 2.4-liter Ecotec engine that basically gets the job done. At 174 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque, the four-cylinder is mated to either a 6-speed manual or optional $1,450 six-speed automatic (standard on the LTZ). While all of our testers were equipped with automatic transmissions, it was tough to say if the auto tranny helped or hurt the Orlando's performance. The engine made more noise than we expected, but didn't seem to go as fast as all that noise implied. The transmission also held some gears for an extremely long time up hills when we noted the tach was pinned at 5,500 rpm, almost as if it were scared what would happen if it shifted. Although there is a high-torque diesel overseas and a turbo rumored to be on its way, the current Orlando can't be judged on its performance merit – it kind of defeats the purpose of this vehicle.

2012 Chevrolet Orlando rear view

At the same time, the engine and transmission do perform another task together very well, and that is exemplary fuel economy. In a place where gas is over $5/gallon, Canadians are happy to hear this family hauler will get 10.6 L/100km (22.5 mpg converted) in the city and an impressive 6.9 L /100km (34 mpg converted) on the highway, with even better economy when equipped with the manual transmission (23/37 mpg converted). Since the gas fairy miraculously filled the 65-liter tank of our tester up while we slept in our hotel beds, we weren't able to assess what kind of real-world mileage one can expect, but the needle never moved much and the official numbers are the best around for a non-hybrid seven-seater. Considering the Ecotec has a long lineage of successful engines, we expect it to keep running for a long while, and the 5-year/160,000-km (100,000-mile) warranty definitely backs that.

When reviewing a vehicle like the Orlando, it's important to put yourself in the mindset of its potential buyer. If you don't have a wife, imagine you had one. No kids? Envision three. More importantly, think about having one income to support a family and the vehicle you could afford to make that happen. In that sense, the Orlando appears to knock one out of the park in terms of value, functionality and features. And its squared off, almost upright muscular stance is far from wimpy, so you won't have to hear the minivan rhetoric. It works on all of those check-points, and now belongs to an elite club including the Mercedes-Benz B200 and Acura CSX... vehicles that Canada get and the U.S. doesn't.