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They say if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is most assuredly a duck.
By extension, if it looks like a minivan and seats seven like a minivan, then surely it must be a minivan. Well, not quite.
The Chevrolet Orlando proved to be the exception to the rule. Yes, it's as boxy as any self-respecting minivan and, in spite of its compact, city-friendly dimensions, it manages to do everything expected of a family-friendly hauler.
Just don't draw the short straw and sit (or make an attempt to sit) in the third row. As with all third-row seats, from the Dodge Grand Caravan to the Cadillac Escalade, this row is for just-in-case usage only. I managed to haul my short little legs into the third row and ended up eating my knees for lunch. In fairness, it is functional as long as you're not over 5-6.
The middle row is far more appealing and can accommodate two adults with ease, three if you don't mind being friends. The front row, however, is the place to be -- better legroom, better sightlines and devoid of the claustrophobic feeling I started to experience when I shoehorned myself into the third row.
Where the Orlando does fare very nicely is in its ability to accommodate cargo. With all three rows upright, the capacity is a near-useless 3.6 cubic feet. Dropping the third row flat, a simple affair, opens up 26.1 cubic feet, which is respectable and usable -- the whole area is nicely squared off with minimal intrusions from the suspension and wheel enclosures. Folding the middle row flat, again a painless procedure, maxes out the capacity at 56.3 cubic feet. That's pretty good for a vehicle of the Orlando's proportion and dimensions.
From the driver's perspective, the cabin is well laid out and lined with decent materials, although none are soft-touch with the exception of the door-panel armrests. Likewise, the instrumentation and key controls fall readily to hand, with the exception of the power door-lock button. It sits on the centre stack and not on the door, where it would be easier to reach.
One of the Orlando's neat features is the ability to hide an MP3 player in its own cubby. In an unusual twist, there is a storage area behind the hinged radio fascia. It not only accommodates an iPod with ease, but there's enough room to plug in a USB stick, which is how I transport my music between test cars.
So far so good, but there is a big nit to pick -- Bluetooth is a $460 option on the $22,530 LT1 package tested, and it's not the entry-level model either. It's also bundled up in a package that includes the USB port and a leather steering wheel with audio controls. If Hyundai and Kia can afford to offer Bluetooth as standard equipment on cars costing considerably less, why should this Korean-sourced crossover be any different?
While I'm at it, heated front seats are not available on the base or the LT1. They are optional on the LT2, and only if the $28,730 LTZ is ordered do they become standard equipment. This is Canada. It's been known to get a tad chilly here.
The Orlando's drivetrain is made up of GM's direct-injected 2.4-litre Ecotec four-cylinder engine and the optional six-speed automatic transmission. The engine puts forth 174 horsepower and 171 pound-feet of torque.
With just the driver aboard, the performance is respectable -- it took 10.5 seconds to reach 100 kilometres an hour. While this time is far from pulse-quickening, it's a match for the other competitors in the segment -- the Kia Rondo and Mazda5.
However, as with all three vehicles, when the head count rises the athleticism of the drive begins to taper off. The good news is that for the typical family, the Orlando's get-up-and-go remains acceptable even when loaded with passengers. Mind you, pile a half-dozen sumo wrestlers into the Orlando and may your superior being be with you.
In the handling department, the Orlando is a tight package that feels far from minivan-like. Where it differs from so many other seven-seat rides is in the suspension, which gives the Orlando a planted and agile feel. The amount of body roll is limited and the steering feel is surprisingly sharp for a multi-purpose vehicle.
The Orlando is an adept hauler that caters to a family of six nicely -- it certainly ferried my horde around in fine style. It's comfortable and way more fun to drive than a conventional minivan -- most are so dull they can cure insomnia.
However, GM needs to sharpen its pencil and make Bluetooth standard across the board. In a day and age when more and more jurisdictions are implementing hands-free cellphone laws, Bluetooth is becoming an increasingly important part of any vehicle's makeup.
-- Postmedia News
Type of vehicle: Front-wheel-drive compact crossover
Engine: 2.4L direct-injected inline four
Power: 174 hp @ 6,700 rpm; 171 lb-ft of torque @ 4,900 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-spd manual; optional 6-spd automatic
BRAKES: four-wheel disc with ABS
Fuel economy (L/100 km): 10.4 city, 7.0 highway.
Base price/as tested: $19,995/$24,540
Destination charge: $1,500