At the recent launch of the new Honda Civic, an unexpected name kept coming up among the assembled motoring journalists. A vehicle currently “doing the rounds” of the road-test circuit, it seemed, had been surprisingly well received, even by the younger and more performance-leaning crowd. That vehicle was the new Chevrolet Corsa Utility Sport, the 1.8-litre version, which is why we’ve arranged our own test period with this new-old machine.
To be honest, the Chevrolet Corsa Ute has been actively off my radar ever since it first launched. Something about rebadging a market favourite, in this case of course the Opel Corsa Ute, to bolster an iconic brand struggling to gain a foothold in the lucrative SA bakkie segment just got my hackles raised in silent protest.
Either way, it seems to have worked. Although not yet up to quite the same level as the old Opel, the “all-new” Chev Corsa Ute has adopted many of these customers and competes well with the established names right off the bat, in terms of volumes sold.
And although sheer volume might be enough to get you noticed, they aren’t what get people talking about a new car. Yet on paper, there really didn’t appear to be much to write home about. The 1.8-litre petrol four-cylinder is of the prehistoric variety, with a single overhead camshaft and just two valves per cylinder. As a result, it adopts an old American trick, the ability to deliver the absolute minimum amount of power conceivable for a given engine size.
In this case, that equates to just 77kW and 160Nm. And while the Corsa is light unladen at just under 1050kg, it’s still unlikely that 77kW can be made to sparkle. And it turns out to be exactly the case.
It doesn’t help that I’ve just stepped from a 6.0-litre Lumina SS-V, but the Corsa Sport is underwhelming from the word go. The engine does make a compelling if somewhat coarse noise to goad you into action, but it never ever really gets to any action when you take up the challenge. There’s pretty much no bite whatsoever.
What this range-topping model does get is better interior equipment, like powered windows and mirrors, as well as some extra safety features namely ABS with EBD. There’s a Bluetooth-ready frontloading audio system, auto locking, and oh yes even an on-board computer in this spec. So basically a whole bunch of nice-to-haves, but no real deal clinchers in my opinion.
The looks of the thing will divide opinion as absolutely as a Senna-Prost debate, although hopefully most will agree that the faux-aluminium roof spoiler of this sport model might be a touch too far. I’m not a fan of the new Chevy family face adorning this half-tonner, it’s a bit too overdone for a vehicle of this class, which really needs to mostly be tough. The large expanses of plastic exposed out front just seem to suggest a certain level of flimsiness.
On the road it’s quite a lot like driving the old Corsa Utility. Which is a big surprise, right? There’s really only so much you can do with a deliberately archaic platform to work on we guess, but the old Opel Corsa had a somewhat more vibrant and livelier edge to it than this new one, which despite the aesthetic additions remains quite sombre and dreary underneath.
Although a pleasant enough steer, this plain-Jane character mean there’s really nothing to specifically recommend the new Corsa Utility over the old one, so owners of Opel-branded models can simply stay as they are, and NP200 drivers needn’t be jealous either. I’ve no problems at all with workhorse vehicles such as these ones being plain and rough, after all for a workhorse that is character. But a model with Sport splashed up the side and that outrageous spoiler you expect more from, a touch of magic, an inkling of excitement to spark surprising conversations about the car such as those I had on that launch.
And while, somehow, the Opel Corsa Sport did manage to engender some of these heightened expectations, this Chevy model really doesn’t. Stick to the 1.4 and 1.6-litre versions instead, they’ll not be much slower across the ground and at least are more honest about their humble but critical roles.
Fun value: 10/20
Looks pretty mean
Old-tech engine – decent low-down torque but no power anywhere.
Key Facts: Chevrolet Corsa Utility 1.8 Sport
Engine: 1796cc petrol four
Power: 77kW @ 5400rpm
Torque: 161Nm @ 3000rpm
Kerb weight: 1,047kgs
Transmission: 5 speed manual
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