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Driven: Big, bold, new Chev Ute

2011-11-30 14:36


THIRD GENERATION UTE: Can the new Chevrolet UTE build on its predecessors legacy...we say absolutely and then some! Gallery

With 180 000 units sold to date and a market leader for over six years, not since Nissan’s 1400 Champ has a bakkie been so influential in building SA. From small business owners through surfers to farmers wanting a small workhorse; it’s easy to see why the then Opel Corsa bakkie met any need.

Now in its third generation, Chevrolet has given its Ute a major makeover, inside and out, for 2012. The bakkies were launched this week with a choice of two engines, (1.4 or 1.8) and three specification levels (Base, Club and Sport). The 1.4 starts at an impressive R115 000 to R161 000 while the 1.8 retails between R148 000 and 173 000.


Launched in Brazil 2010, the new Ute has quickly made a name for itself. In terms of design it's clear Chevrolet took the approach of “go big or go home” with the new bakkie as it bears a resemblance to the outgoing model. It borrows elements from the Spark, Captiva and Lumina, most notably at the front where the little hatchback’s influence comes to the fore.

The new model is higher (127mm), longer (78mm) and wider (54mm) than its predecessor and overall is certainly one of the most striking bakkies available. I’m not sold on the front design, it seems a little excessive as if the chunky headlights and grille belongs to a much larger vehicle and the rear reminds me of Ford’s first-generation Bantam. It’s a chic urban bakkie with an assertive poise that seems to say, “Mess with me bru, and I’ll put you down!”... or at least run to its Lumina bigbrother for help.

Then again, if you’re the type of person who buys a bakkie based on its looks, you'd be better off sticking with a hatchback.

The wheelbase is 41mm shorter and front track 41mm narrower while ground clearance has been increased by 17mm to 170mm. There's no discernible style differences between the two models, apart from the specification logos and fog lights on the 1.8 Sport.

Chevrolet UTE

BOLD, CHUNKY DESIGN: The new Ute is a big, bold brash bakkie especially compared to the outgoing model ,and if nothing else is sure to turn a few heads.

The 1.4 engine produces 68kW at 6000rpm and 120Nm at 3200rpm. Overall the engine is sprightly and easily on par with any hatchback. On the road it handles itself well with applaudable road-hugging poise even at high speeds. Unfortunately there’s a fair amount of road noise in the cabin as speed rises.

You don’t get a sense of driving a bakkie; it was only when looking through the rear view mirror than I remembered the load bay.

A key selling factor of the outgoing model was its car-like drive and handling, the new model simply builds on this and the final product will please any driver.


Gear changes are smooth (though, much like the Cruze, in need of a sixth gear) and overall it's a fun vehicle to drive around. The guys at Chev weren’t exactly going to make journos lug tyres or furniture around so I didn’t have a chance to test out the load bay, which is 25mm wider (1340mm), 2mm shorter (1680mm) and 13mm shallower compared to the outgoing model. The changes sees a reduction in its volume by 0.6% with a payload of 763kg for the 1.4 and 733kg in 1.8.

The 1.8 produces 77kW at 5400rpm and 161Nm at 3000rpm. Overall the power increase sees a negligible gain in performance. It’s difficult to tell the two engines apart though if you’re planning on tugging heavy loads around, the extra 9kW could come in handy. Each engine is mated to a five-speed manual with fuel consumption figures at a claimed 7.2/100km for the 1.4 and 8.1/100km for the 1.8.


Chev’s done away with the spartan look and feel of the previous generation's cabin and opted for a pleasing, feature-filled interior that’s comfortable though basic. The instrument cluster is all new with blue backlighting; the aircon controls seem to be lifted from the Cruze.

Features include the aforementioned aircon, power windows, central locking, power steering and adjustable steering column. Driver and passenger air bags are fitted and for the young at heart the Ute has a six-speaker audio system with various input ports.

There’s a fair amount of head and legroom and quite a few stowage areas, most notably behind the seats. Rear visibility has been improved courtesy of a lower tailgate lip.

Chevrolet UTE

FEELING BLUE: The instrument cluster is decidedly retro with its positioning and soft blue backlighting.

I’m not keen on the radio/CD unit as it’s not integrated but aside from that the interior looks good and is a vast improvement over the outgoing model even if its still decked out in Chev's standard grey-on-black plastic.

The Ute faces long-time rivals in the form of Ford’s Bantam and Nissan’s NP200, though its price and reputation are sure to attract a big following, not to mention the fact that the Bantam has been dropped with no replacement planned.


Chevrolet has continued to grow through its 100 years of operation, even if parent company General Motors existence was shaky in 2008. The Cruze, Spark and Corse Ute have proved that the brand is capable of producing popular products with 28 new models to be launched from 2012.

The new Ute is sure to be volume seller, even if you’re not sold on its looks the price is sure to grab attention of small-business owners and nervous competitors such as Ford, Fiat and Nissan.

If you’re looking for a new bakkie the new Ute will be a great affordable workhorse.

A word of caution to first-time bakkie owners: Much like owning a pool, you have no idea how many “long lost” family members and pseudo friends will crawl out of the woodwork when they hear you own a bakkie. It’s a guaranteed way to lose your weekends to moving furniture around for supposed mates and family.

1.4 Base - R115 600
1.4 Base AC - R123 600
1.4 Club - R136 000
1.4 Sport - R161 100

1.8 Base AC - N/A
1.8 Club - R148 500
1.8 Sport - R173 500

The Chevrolet Utility is covered by a five-year or 120 000km warranty with roadside assistance. An optional service plan is available and service intervals are 15 000km

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