2005 Chevrolet Epica LT
– Very low price
– Spacious interior
– Loaded with features
– Weak engine choices
– Anonymous styling
– Dull handling
The Chevrolet Epica is one of those vehicles with a complicated background. Sold under an American brand name, the Epica is built in GM-owned Daewoo’s Korean factories and is also sold with a Suzuki badge in certain countries. Whatever the badge may be, the Epica’s mission is to go against stalwarts from Toyota and Honda. After requests to GM Middle East for a new test car went unheeded for many months, we decided to pick up an Epica LT from “a friend of a friend” to see if this global car can go head-to-head with the straightforward Japanese. Looking at a spec sheet, everything about it looks dire except the amazingly low price. But there is more to this car than meets the eye.
The midsize car market had been churning out bland look-alike cars for the better part of the late 1990s. However, manufacturers came to their senses and decided to add special touches that make the latest offerings a little more exciting. Each of the Japanese makes has distinctly styled models that look different from each other. Even Hyundai and Europeans like Peugeot and Opel have unique styling. But somehow, during the General Motors takeover of Daewoo, it seems everyone at that company forgot that this is a new century. The Epica was styled by Italdesign in Europe, but it looks like a combination of leftover styling cues from previous versions of Honda and Toyota models, with no distinct features to set it apart from the crowd. Though pleasant to look at, this car is perfect for anyone who likes to avoid attention.
A closer look reveals very good build quality, and definitely much better than its Daewoo-badged predecessors. Once in the driver’s seat, nothing stands out about the interior except that everything seems to be well put together. We have to admit that the General has had a positive impact on this Korean car. Loaded with everything that is the norm with midsizers nowadays-power steering, power windows, electric mirrors, keyless entry-the basic Epica LS can match most of its competition button-for-button. The top LT trim includes niceties such as speed-sensitive power steering, 8-way power driver’s seat, power folding mirrors, CD player with changer with wheel-mounted controls, and 205/55 tyres with 16-inch alloy wheels, among other things. A lot of the LT features are available as options on the LS. Leather and sunroof are optional on both trim levels. Space both front and back are more than adequate. Headroom and legroom are decent. The seats all have minimal bolsters, which is good for stretching out but bad for aggressive cornering. Luggage trunk space is more than adequate, with a foldable rear seat to increase hauling space. No serious complaints here.
Passive safety features are limited to body reinforcements and airbags. The LS comes with a driver’s side airbag, while the LT adds a passenger-side airbag, which is optional on the LS.
The Epica has the comfort goodies to make it a contender, but it suffers in the performance category. The base engine is a 2.0-litre 4-cylinder unit pumping out an unremarkable 129 hp of power and 180 Nm of torque. Our low-mileage LT tester came with the larger 2.5-litre 155 hp inline six-cylinder engine that generates 240 Nm of torque. On paper, this is almost enough to match a base Accord that packs a 2.4-litre 4-cylinder engine. However, a flat out drag race gives the Accord a lead of almost two seconds from zero to 100 kph — a massive difference in the car world. The engine may be an inline-six just like a BMW, but it is in need of some steroids. Part of the problem also lies with the slow-shifting four-speed automatic transmission. Only the unimaginably slower 2.0-litre can be had with a manual. It doesn’t help that we also got poorer fuel economy than our similarly low-mileage Accord. Still, our recommendation would be to definitely spring the extra cash and sacrifice the marginal improvement in fuel economy of the 2.0 litre engine for the more practical power of the 2.5-litre unit.
While we cannot speak for the 2.0-litre four, the inline-six configuration is naturally smooth and pretty quiet at highway speeds. This makes for a very quiet cruiser during long cross-country trips, with its four-wheel independent suspension tuned to flatten most bumps on the road. What this car cannot do is turn corners hard without swaying side-to-side like the Titanic. This hefty car understeers at the limit, responding with a squeal of tyres at every sudden turn of the steering wheel. We are guessing that the 16-inch alloy wheels offer slightly better cornering response than the similarly wide 15-inch steel wheels on the basic LS model. Dynamically, we would compare it to the larger Toyota Camry than the nimbler Mazda 6. Braking performance is acceptable, with discs at all four wheels. One point to note is that ABS and traction control is standard only on the LT and optional of the LS.
The Korean-built Epica certainly is an eye-opener in terms of refinement and build quality. And it is an eye-popper in terms of price. But what it cannot do is push your eyes back in your skull with its acceleration. That honour is reserved for Chevrolet’s own Australian-built Lumina range. This car is perfect as a spacious runabout that will keep your pulse relaxed on your way to work. The only worries might be its unproven reliability and, to a larger extent, its questionable resale value. However, this is offset by the prices that rival much smaller offerings from Japan.
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