Much like a surfer on a very windy day, Chevrolet Philippines, with The Covenant Car Company, Inc. (TCCCI) at the helm, is riding the wave of nearly continuous new model introductions for the past 4 years.
First came the Cruze, a compact we thoroughly enjoyed when we first drove it in 2010, and key to the company's futures in the ASEAN automotive scene. Then came the Spark, a mini hatchback that, by my estimation, is the most fun you really can have for that price range, not to mention style and everyday usability. And then, to signify that they still had more up their sleeves, they launched 4 models in quick succession in the Orlando MPV, the Sonic (hatch and sedan versions), the Colorado pick up and more recently, the revival of the Trailblazer name, this time in the 7-seat Asian diesel SUV segment.
These new models have, in a span of just four years, revitalized the once-languishing Chevrolet name in the country. In fact, as a testament to how far TCCCI has come in bringing new life to the Chevy brand in the Philippines, they just clocked their best ever month in terms of sales this past June... 460 units if I remember correctly.
An incredible ride for Chevrolet is what we could call it, but now its time to get really moving as they're on the cusp of something that could redefine what the brand can deliver to customers and families in the Philippines: the Chevrolet Spin compact MPV.
A different kind of airport limo
TCCCI executives invited us to head on over to Bangkok to get a feel for a model that has a lot to offer and has a lot riding on it: the Spin.
Upon landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, we were immediately greeted by the regional personnel of GM ASEAN, and then whisked away in a fleet composed of the new Chevrolet Spin. We barely had a chance to get acquainted with the new MPV when we arrived at the Novotel beside the airport to get briefed on the drive.
We had an interesting route ahead, as we were to drive from the airport area in the suburbs of Bangkok and head east about 190 kilometers southwest to Rayong, and then head on back to Bangkok the next day. The route would consist of long stretches of elevated motorways, dual carriageways and a few side roads on the way.
This should be interesting.
Settled in Spin
With lunch and the briefing done, we each found our respective vehicles.
Upon a more thorough examination of the car, the GM design DNA does shine through. Work on the Chevrolet Spin actually began about 6 years ago with GM do Brasil taking the lead on the project. They absorbed input from other markets, particularly from ASEAN, given the importance of the model will play for Chevy in South East Asia.
The Spin does look striking and modern. The wagon body doesn't use much of the boxiness that the larger Orlando MPV has, but overall, the Spin goes beyond what its utilitarian competitors would offer. On a separate note, I don't know if it's just me, but the Spin doesn't look as well in silver or white as it does in gray, black or maroon. Nevertheless, given that the prime competitor would be the Avanza, it's good that GM certainly took a bit more liberty in designing this MPV that slots just below the Orlando.
What was surprising was the interior. In the class of car that the Spin will enter, utilitarian is the name of the game; basically my way of saying that the bar isn't set very high in terms of expectations. The Spin should change that.
Like the exterior, they were far more liberal in how the dashboard was designed (for some reason, it reminds me of the 'tiger' grille from Kia), but didn't stray too far as to put things like the A/C controls and vents and other buttons out of place. The layout is actually quite logical, even though it may seem a little strange at first. They were also clever in the placement of cubby holes and compartments, strategically placing some pockets beside the radio, under the glove compartment, and a few other areas around the cabin.
I settled into the seat, fired up the engine, familiarize myself with the cool gauge cluster, plug in my iPod, put the transmission in 'D' and set off.
Rayong, here we come!
Right from the airport, we head on to the Thai version of the elevated toll road. If you've never been to Bangkok, well, theirs is very, very wide with 4 or 5 lanes on either side. After a quick traffic jam which, as we were told, happens when the King of Thailand or his family are in the area. Even foot traffic is stopped in the city when that happens.
Once we got up to speed, the first thing I really noticed is the lack of wind noise even at 100 to 120 km/h. With the music off, the cabin is really a quiet place to be. Tire noise is well controlled too, but that's something I'm always wary of commenting because international roads (even in Thailand) tend to be very different (read: smoother) from local roads. What is clear is that I can hear the engine quite a bit through the cabin.
Out of the elevated road and onto solid land, I reset the fuel consumption computer, and continue driving as I normally do. For about 50 kilometers, the fuel read out was at 14.9 kilometers to the liter at an average speed of 87.4 kilometers per hour. Pretty good so far.
Pitstop at PTT
At the halfway mark of our journey, we stop at a PTT station (they're popular here in Thailand) for a quick break and some coffee. I take this time to get familiar with the other two rows of seating in the Spin, arranged in a theater format with the third row higher than the middle and the middle higher than the front row.
The second and third rows don't look too roomy for full size adults; at least at first glance. The middle row does fold and tumble quite easily (always a good thing), and makes ingress and egress to the third row more convenient. GM was clever in how they engineered the second row as there is a footwell for both passengers on the third row. There may not be much legroom, but its bearable for adults and should be perfectly fine for children.
Even with the rear seats up, there's some cargo space for 164 liters ( 3 or 4 backpacks by my eye). Fold the third row down and you get 864 liters, and with all rear seats down (they fold flat relative to each other) the Spin gets upwards of 1,608 liters... enough for bikes and similarly sized cargo.
With the break done, it's back in the driver's seat... though I have to keep reminding myself its on the right side over here.
The home stretch
Back on the road, we enter the more provincial areas of Thailand. The roads are a bit bumpier, but it seems to be no problem for the Spin.
Unlike other models in the Chevrolet line up which are usually made in Thailand, the Spin is actually built in Indonesia (hence the Gajah Tunggal Champiro Eco tires on the 15 inch wheels). It will be imported to the Philippines, taking advantage of the ASEAN free trade agreement that keeps prices down.
The Spin we are actually driving are all fitted with 1.5 liter 16-valve, 4-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 107 PS and 148 Newton meters of torque, all coursed to the front wheels by a 6-speed automatic with manual mode. So far the MPVs have performed well in terms of power, ride, comfort and efficiency, but what I'm really looking forward to are the diesel variants we will be getting in the Philippines.
TCCCI will bring in the Spin with a 1.3 liter CRDI turbo diesel engine, rated at 75 PS but with 190 Newton-meters of torque; a better match if you'll have to go uphill with a full cabin. Not only that, the diesel Spin will also come with a manual transmission, which should be fun.
Keeping the momentum
We finally arrive at our destination: the 4-month old beachfront Marriott Resort in Rayong, Thailand.
Chevrolet is onto something with the Spin. Here is an MPV with a whole lot of potential, especially in a market that is extremely family oriented; so much so that 7 seats in a vehicle isn't always enough.
Atty. Albert Arcilla, the president of TCCCI, hasn't given an actual price for the car yet, apart from the fact that it will end in 888 as per their pricing conventions. He did, however, indicate that the Spin will be 'priced competitively', and I guess that will have to do for now.
The new Chevrolet Spin is just the vehicle they need to keep their unprecedented momentum going in the Philippines, and has great potential to become quite the hit in the market when goes on sale locally in a few months' time.
Now if they can only bring in the new Corvette Stingray...