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Chevrolet Matiz review (2005 onwards model)
The city car sector is growing both in volume and number of contenders. One of the original best-sellers, the Chevrolet Matiz, has recently been refreshed to face the challenge of the new incumbents.
New Chevrolet Matiz
That’s Chevrolet Matiz, née Daewoo Matiz. The rebranding of the company earlier in 2005 was an attempt to shake off all the negative connotations of Daewoo, and new kit since then has certainly been quite an advance over the dreary old Vauxhall-derived fare. But Daewoo also displayed a little genius in designing the Matiz – taking a concept that was initially meant to be the new Fiat Seicento, and turning it into a production reality. With its jewel-like, UK-developed three-cylinder engine and practical five-door body, it was for a long time Daewoo’s best-selling model, and rightly so. But by the end it felt old, despite the addition of a 1.0-litre four-cylinder engine. Which presented Chevrolet with a quandary – how to replace a car which customers loved, but was likened with the ‘bad old days’ and had fallen off the pace. This is the solution it has arrived at; keep the basic profile and hard points but redesign 80 per cent of the car to bring it up to modern standards. There was never any issue with the Matiz’ practicality or cabin space, considering its size, so these could be retained. A more modern look and a vastly improved drive were required.
Ah, the look. It is unmistakably Matiz. Major panels have changed, there’s a more curvaceous nose and cute circular taillights, plus a characterful step in the doorline. But there’s no doubting this is the same car as was derived from that Fiat concept back in the ‘90s. However, it may not matter. Not only is it a strong design that’s successfully been refreshed, but also continuity in this sector doesn’t seem to be so much of an issue. Small cars can last relatively unchanged for years if they’re cute enough, as proven by the Mini, Peugeot 106, even Ford’s Ka. Chevrolet is confident the Matiz is similarly long-lived, and they could be right.
The tall, narrow, flat-sided body also ensures plenty of interior room. Surprisingly so. I set the high but accommodating front seat to suit, then sat in the back and found impressive levels of room. Lots of headroom but also bags of footroom and – here’s the key – ample legroom. Indeed, a quick comparison with the Kalos supermini found the larger car to be by far the more cramped in the rear, with a barely bigger boot. The Matiz also offers a refreshed dash that’s much too plasticky but OK-looking, with its MPV-like stretch forward to the windscreen and ultra-clear central instruments. The tiny circular rev counter is a delight. All controls are well-placed, making this feel a ‘normal’ car to drive. Two engines are offered, either an 800cc triple or a 1.0-litre four-cylinder. Both average over 50mpg. The 0.8 is only offered in base spec, so no interior-adjust mirrors, clock, fabric trim on door panels (though a CD player and ABS are standard). But who cares, when it’s such a delight! The tickover is a bit thrummy but from then on it’s a silky smooth delight – and refined too.
On the road
It’s a pleasure to use and while it’s very far from fast (18 seconds to 60mph), thrashing the nuts off it is never a chore because it’s always so eager. Your foot is often to the floor and it will slow at even the gentlest of inclines but dropping to fourth – even third – is almost encouraged, so sweet is it. The 1.0-litre is faster, due to both more power and significantly more torque. Get it above 3,000rpm and it, relatively, flies. Importantly though, it’s no less smooth, something the old Matiz 1.0-litre couldn’t claim. It’s louder and less pleasant when revved hard but placid and, when cruising, it’s only at motorway speeds when it starts to make itself heard. Official figures say it’s 4mpg less efficient, but the reality will probably be minimal differences. You simply don’t have to thrash it as hard. Gearing is longer as a result too – though ironically, this sometimes means you’ll downchange just as much as in the 0.8, to hit that magic 3,000rpm figure.
Both Matiz share the same very fast, light but sloppy gearchange, plus short-throw pedals that encourage snappy gearshifts. They also are transformed on the road over before, with a stable, pitch-free ride that’s much quieter and more absorbent than you’d think. Handling is assured too, with less roll in corners and no suspicion that it’s going to topple over, even with such a narrow, city-friendly track. As with refinement, this is the result of determined efforts by Chevrolet, and it shows. It’s up to class standards and a gigantic leap over what went before. And prices have remained on the ball too. At the moment, you can buy a base Matiz for £5,995, with which you’ll get three years’ free servicing and AA cover too. That buys a unique car – name a five-door that’s this narrow, this short, with this much accommodation inside – with a drive so much improved over before. It’s sweet and able, particularly the terrific 0.8, and continues to offer something different in the city car sector. It also beats the C1/107/Aygo trio for interior space, boot space, costs and standard equipment, while also offering a better ride and 50 per cent more windscreen wipers.
We were cynical, and thought the ‘new’ Matiz would just be a softened rehash of what went before. But it isn’t, it’s much more than that, and a much better car as a result. The plasticky interior and familiar looks won’t be for all, but the drive and the price mean it’s worthy of consideration.
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