The Littlest Chevrolet
If you’ve seen pictures of Tata’s new and remarkably cheap Nano microcar you might be surprised to hear a vehicle not that dissimilar is already sold in Europe and other world markets under the Chevrolet badge.
Of course the Chevrolet Matiz (it is also sometimes known as the Spark) isn’t nearly as cheap to buy (or basic) as the Nano promises to be, and is a little larger overall, with a proper front end rather than the one-box design of the Indian midget.
It sits firmly below the Kalos (old Aveo hatch) in Chevrolet’s resolutely Korean-derived range here in the UK and is a reasonable success with city-dwellers thanks to its cute appearance. It is particularly distinctive from behind with its oversized circular rear lights, but looks pretty good from any angle, although you have to get inside to understand just how small and narrow this car is.
Like its stablemates the Matiz owes absolutely nothing to the heritage of Chevrolet except its bow-tie badge, despite what the advertising copywriters would have consumers believe. It is really nothing more than a Daewoo.
The previous generation Matiz didn’t have a Chevy badge but was similarly small and cute. It was the car that briefly put Daewoo on the sales map before concerns about the financial stability of the company and some questionable marketing decisions tarnished the marque’s name in Europe and much of the world.
Chevrolet’s Matiz is available with either a 796cc engine three-cylinder engine or, for the more power-hungry consumer, a 995cc four-cylinder for the top-of the-range SE. In its automatic transmission version with the smaller of the two engines it has the distinction of being virtually the slowest-accelerating car available new on the UK market today, with 0-62mph achievable in a glacial 21.9 seconds.
Inside it is resolutely plastic, although the mid-mounted instrument panel is a neat touch. There is just about enough room for four-reasonably sized people with no luggage space to speak of, or alternatively two people and a fair amount of cargo thanks to the hatchback configuration.
With discounts it is available new from around £5,500 ($10,700) – a far cry from the $2500 target price of the Indian Tata, although that company has conceded an export version with more equipment and safety features would be three times the price of the most basic Nano.
Personally, my main gripe about the Matiz (and its larger brothers for that matter) is that Chevrolet badge. Absent from the UK market for many years, to me it still has an image of something very big and very American – everything the little Matiz isn’t.
Chevrolet doesn’t have this niche in the European market to itself, as there is tough competition from fellow Koreans in the shape of the Hyundai-Kia group.
Kia has done remarkably well with its Picanto – just available in a new facelifted version which has perhaps slightly less styling character than the original model. The Picanto is another narrow four-door hatch which is overall a little larger than the Matiz, with engines up to 1100cc. As with the Matiz, it has an attractive design and is a competent enough city car.
Sister company Hyundai currently is exhausting stocks of its player at the bottom end of the market, the rather old-fashioned and stodgy-looking Amica (also known as the Atoz Prime in mainland Europe). This microcar, like the Tata, is made in India and is in the process of being replaced by the new Hyundai i10, which looks suspiciously like a Picanto with a slightly different nose.
As fuel prices continue their upward spiral and the authorities in Europe think up increasingly draconian new ways to tax new cars – everything from a sliding road tax based on carbon emissions to street parking charges varying with the dimensions of the vehicle – these little cars seem set to increase their share of the market, no doubt joined by newer players from India and China in due course.
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