The styling is certainly eye-catching, although the exterior contours have not been penned at the expense of practicality. "When we designed it, we set out to produce an alternative to conventional lines and tread new paths in terms of design," says Giorgetto Giugiaro, explaining the philosophy behind the original design of the Kalos he did for Daewoo. You could say he hit that particular bullseye. The front end is quite unlike anything else on the road, the huge headlights striking in their clear glass lenses with indicators that are arranged almost like eyelids.
The flanks of the Kalos are marked with three competing attention seekers. Firstly there's a swage line across the front door that heads rapidly south as soon as it encounters the rear doors. The front wheelarches are rounded, but the rears have a squared off blister above them which really shouldn't work but does. Finally there's a strange, almost vestigial, third window at the side that it's claimed, "optically loosens the rear of the car." Make of that what you will.
The interior is not as striking as the bodywork but it isn't bad. The quality of materials palpably isn't as good as you'd find in the top superminis. You'll find some low-grade plastic around the air-conditioning controls and the wide range of different textures and types of plastic used elsewhere on the fascia make it look somewhat thrown together. The layout of the controls, on the other hand, is very simple and accessible. You should be able to leave the manual in the glovebox during the few seconds it takes to appraise yourself of the basic functions. The instruments are easy to read and attractive with the two dials surrounded by chunky silver rings, while the leather-trimmed steering wheel feels good in the hand.
The passenger compartment is extremely spacious, due in no small part to the 2.48 metre wheelbase - one of the longest in the supermini class. The 955 millimetres of headroom tshould be more than enough for most. The rear seat splits in the normal 60/40 manner but also has a trick up its sleeve. You can not only fold it down, but also jack-knife it forward and secure it to the back of the front seats. This little party trick frees up a cavernous 735 litres of available luggage space, in effect more than quadrupling the usual capacity of 175 litres with the rear parcel shelf in place.
Safety is well catered for with all models getting anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, twin front and side airbags, three-point belts on all five seats and ISOFIX anchorage points for a child seat in the back. Otherwise expect to find power assisted steering, central locking with alarm, electric front windows, cup holders front and rear, an auxiliary power outlet in the back and a tilt adjustable steering column. The SX adds air conditioning, electric rear windows, a height adjustable driver's seat, a tachometer, front fog lamps, a dipping rear view mirror and - last but not least - a picnic table on the back of the front passenger seat.
As with all cars that get used to ferry children back and forth, check for rips, stains and other damage to upholstery and minor trim parts. Also bear in mind that the Kalos will likely have been largely used as an urban scoot so check for parking knocks. Other than that, expect the usual Chevrolet reliability but check the service history to ensure it's been looked after properly.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2005 1.4SX) Parts prices are hardly astronomical, a clutch assembly will be around £90 and an air filter should be close to £12. Brake pads are around £35 a front set with a water pump relieving you of nearly £60.
With 94bhp on tap, the 16v 1.4-litre Kalos is pleasantly punchy, accelerating to 60mph in 11.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 110mph. This car feels a good deal stronger than your average 1.4-litre supermini, especially in the upper reaches of the rev range. Drive the car in a more sedate fashion and you'll eek out a reasonable return, the car clocking up an average of 40.8mpg. The 1.2-litre engine option is slower but only fractionally more economical with a 43mpg average.
The driving experience isn't sporty and the car rolls around a little too much in corners but the ride is very smooth and there should be few complaints about the amount of engine noise in the cabin. A four-speed automatic option is offered, making the car an even better city slicker. Of course, this takes the edge off the performance a little (11.7s/106mph), but for those who battle with the urban sprawl and crawl home every night, that will represent an acceptable trade off.
There's no use pretending that the Chevrolet Kalos is on a par with the best superminis out there. It's a solid little product but it's up against some excellent alternatives on the used market. The best points are the looks, the interior space and the equipment levels and only the quality of the interior plastics is noticeably poor. The driving experience won't offend too many people and if ride comfort is your top priority, you should be impressed. There is certainly value contained within the package and that'll be more than enough to swing the balance for many cash-strapped families.