REVIEW DATE: 01 Feb 2008
The Chevrolet Station Wagon offers estate drivers a lot more for their money. Andy Enright reports
Starting as it means to go on in the UK, Chevrolet has hit the ground running with a car set to shake up rivals in the compact estate segment. The Station Wagon is a small estate that isn't, well, that small. It isn't that expensive either, priced at around £11,500 for the 1.6SX.
Once upon a time 'styled in Korea' meant a car whose looks could curdle milk but the Station Wagon is a different proposition. Credit for the estate conversion goes to the Chevrolet design centre in Bupyong and they've done a very effective job. We can all think of estate conversions that resembled saloons that looked as if they'd reversed into somebody's conservatory but take a walk around the Station Wagon and you'll be amazed at the cohesiveness of the design. Of course it helps that the existing lines of the Lacetti saloon with its rising hipline lend themselves well to an estate conversion but the stylists have attempted to give this estate a little personality of its own.
The chromed grille takes a little getting used to if you're accustomed to the front of four and five-door Lacetti models, while the rear lamps are stacked vertically, thus ensuring a decent wide hatch. The loading bay is generously proportioned, this most modern of estates subscribing to the old school 'more is better' philosophy when it comes to hauling ability.
A recent package of changes aims to further strengthen the car's value proposition. Buyers can now, for example, expect to find little touches like alloy wheels, preparation for trailer connections, rear seat heating ducts, a rear seat coathook and a space saver spare tyre.
"Some estate conversions have resembled saloons that looked as if they'd been reversed into somebody's conservatory. Not so this one."
There's 400 litres of space available with the rear seats in place but a whopping 1,410 litres available should you drop them down. The rear bench features a 60/40 split for added versatility and there's an auxiliary 12v power supply in the luggage bay. Plus there are no fewer than 25 individual storage spaces. There's also generous headroom for the driver and front seat passenger and the legroom in the rear is among the best in class.
The SX model is fitted with a 109bhp 1.6-litre petrol unit. This engine will get the car to a respectable 116mph and yet will also return a combined fuel economy figure of 34.5mpg. There's also a 1.8-litre petrol version available only with an automatic gearbox. What you can't have (yet) is diesel power and until Chevrolet get sorted out on this front, the lack of this could prove something of an Achilles heel in this section of the market.
The suspension has been set up in tune with European requirements. Heavily disguised test 'mules' bashed the UK's highways and byways for thousands of miles in order to optimise the damper, spring, bush and anti-roll bar settings as well as the steering feel. The UK set up is more suitable for high-speed motorway driving as well and body roll has been reduced when cornering. Denis Chick, Manager of Product Communications for GM UK, highlights the culture gap. "Korean drivers prefer a softer ride. We know that Europeans prefer a sportier feel with more precise steering and firmer suspension."
The power steering system has, as a result, been thoroughly revised with a tougher torsion bar and a beefier pump tuned to give more feedback. Wafting through downtown Seoul may be one thing, but when you're in the cut and thrust of a UK city, you need a bit of information coming back through the wheel and the seat of your pants. Piloting a soggy South-East Asian hovercraft around just doesn't ring our collective bells. Therefore we get firmer damping to cut out bounce, stiffer springs and a bigger gauge anti-roll bar. Tyres were also an integral part of the equation and the Station Wagon's tyres feature a stiffer sidewall to complement the sportier suspension.
Chevrolet currently sells in over ninety countries worldwide, one reason why the marque builds one car every seven seconds. In fact, one car in every sixteen sold worldwide is a Chevrolet and over 175 million of them have been sold to date. This hasn't stopped the brand from struggling somewhat in recent times but now, with a more sustainable long-term plan in place, the marque looks healthier than ever. Targeted products that are right for key markets have replaced their old 'one size fits all' philosophy. Hence the Station Wagon's European look and feel.
With a resurgence of interest in compact estate cars, the Station Wagon looks set to capitalise. Although the lack of a diesel engine will strike it off a few shortlists, it's still a compelling proposition. Rivals that offer as much space for the same money aren't likely to be too plentiful. Although it's a resolutely modern offering, the Station Wagon falls back on some very traditional Chevrolet principles.
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