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South Africa is the land of the work horse – with vast distances to cover and an ever growing economy relying on the trade of resources and products, we need a means to carry it all.  Sure, there are trucks and trains, but those are commercial, what about the man on the street?  For decades the Nissan Champ was the half-ton champ, if you’ll excuse the pun – and since its demise many a brand have tried to fill its place.

The Chevrolet Utility – formerly known as the Opel Corsa Ute prior to its rebranding – is one of the remaining two competitors in the segment.  But does the workhorse live up to the legendary Champ of years gone by?

Although its hard-edged fascia would suggest otherwise, it’s a cheerful vehicle to drive.  The Ute offers no false pretences as to its budget origins, nor does it attempt to appear classier than it is.  No place is this more apparent than the interior design, dominated by hard, durable plastics that would no doubt stand the test of time in the company of a workman.  But it’s cleverly packaged, with plenty of storage nooks for measuring tapes and the likes, and an easy on the eye – and hand – layout that offsets the abrasive materials used in its construction.

It covers all the basic amenities too, featuring electric windows, height adjustable steering (reach wasn’t an issue thanks to a well positioned and easily adjustable seat), speed-sensitive door locking, air-conditioning, as well as featuring rather decent safety features including dual-front airbags and ABS with EBD.  Particularly impressive was the audio system, featuring 4 speakers and an easily operable radio setup that includes CD, USB, auxiliary and Bluetooth inputs.

The Sport trimmed model on test had additional front fog lamps, 15-inch sport alloys, power adjustable mirrors, automatic headlamps, automatic window-closing linked to the central locking, and an assortment of ‘sport’ decals both inside and out. Whilst the power windows and mirrors were a welcome feature, I’d happily forego the badging and alloy wheels in favour of a slightly cheaper model in Club trim, which lops R26 000 off the R191 700 price tag of the 1.4 Sport.

Nevertheless, badging and fancy trim aside, the 1.4-litre engine up front dishes up 68kW and 120Nm regardless of the trim attached.  Mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox and driving the front wheels, the sport badging was nothing more than aesthetically appealing, as the engine couldn’t be less sporty if it tried.  What it is, instead, is consistent – soldiering on in a repeatable manner day after day after day.

The power delivery is nothing spectacular, neither arriving in a dollop nor building up to something potent.  The 1.4-litre engine loathes being wrung out too, despite its peak power figure occurring at 6000 rpm.  Instead it operates best through to around 4000rpm, delivering a go-steady pace that can’t be rushed nor slowed, regardless of the load.  The short gearing, no doubt to aid towing ability and load-carrying, is simple and honest.  Well-considered shifts are met with an easy throw and an even simpler clutch – a sincere, well-metered one that takes cleanly and evenly; impossible to stall, and light enough to be comfortable even in traffic.

The Utility’s agreeable nature shines through on longer commutes over varying road surfaces, where its slightly firm ride remains comfortable over imperfections.  Any surface, any conditions, and even when heavily laden, the Ute responded in a pleasant manner by absorbing bumps and staying stuck to the surface at hand – plodding along unwaveringly in the face of any obstacle it encountered.

The light steering is a touch vague off centre, and although it features a relatively decent turning circle, on the open road it responded in a relaxed manner to inputs – steady rather than fidgety, but always easy on the arms and offering some feedback as to the road surface below.

The overwhelming sense of easiness with which the little half-ton handles all conditions was a pleasant reminder that motoring doesn’t have to be complicated to be comfortable.  Despite its blue-overall appearance and capability – able to carry 713Kg/1100-litres in the load-bin and tow 550Kg, unbraked – it’s easy-going nature was hard to ignore, making every journey a pleasant one and letting me arrive at my destination cheerful and relaxed.

But the simple nature, derived from the slightly archaic engineering and design of the Utility, did have its downsides.  Although the 1.4-litre engine is pleasant and capable of driving comfortably regardless of the load attached, it’s a thirsty little thing; consuming 8l/100km and necessitating the 56-litre fuel tank equipped.

Other foibles included the Tonneau Cover’s tendency to leak during Joburg’s torrential afternoon downpours – a small problem, but one to consider unless you’re intending on opting for the solid canopy or doing without it altogether.

The Chevrolet Utility has moved with the times in acquiring additional features to keep the customer happy, but its simple, honest nature is by far its greatest attribute.  Regardless of anything, the Ute soldiers on – and whilst it might not be as simplistic and popular as the Nissan Champ once was, it’s the work horse of modern South Africa today, deservingly so.

The Stats:

Engine Capacity:

1389cc

No. of Cylinders:

Inline 4

Max. Power:

68kW @ 6000RPM

Max. Torque:

120Nm @ 3200RPM

Gearbox:

5-speed manual

0-100 time:

12.8 seconds

Top Speed:

160km/h

Dry Weight:

1137Kg

Fuel Tank Capacity:

56 litres

Fuel Consumption (Combined cycle):

8.0l/100km

Drivetrain

FWD

Price (as tested):

R191 700,00

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