Introduced in 2004, the Chevrolet Optra now comes in three flavours: a four-door sedan, and new for 2005, the Optra5 hatchback (which actually arrived only a few months after the 2004 sedan did) and Optra Wagon.
All are built in Korea by GM-DAT, a company created when General Motors took over the bankrupt automaker Daewoo. The Optra is unique to Canada; in different trim, it’s sold in the U.S. as the Suzuki Forenza, a model that we don’t get here.
All Optra models are powered by a 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder, and come with a five-speed manual that can be optioned up to a four-speed automatic.
All Optra models come in base or LS trim. All base models includes manual remote mirrors, 15-inch steel wheels, variable intermittent wipers, tilt wheel, cloth seats, 60/40 folding rear seat, CD player with four speakers, and four-wheel disc brakes. Within the base range, the sedan has power locks and power front windows not available on the Optra5 or wagon. However, those models come with fog lights and a rear washer/wiper not included on the sedan.
All LS models add power mirrors, cruise control, and speed-sensitive steering. The LS wagon also includes a cargo net.
Designed by Pininfarina, the Optra looks best in wagon form, where its bold face is offset by its length. Its 119 horsepower engine is growly when demands are placed on it, but it’s adequate for the task, and it’s comfortable when cruising on the highway. Torque steer is very pronounced and becomes extremely tiresome. The cabin materials are econo-box quality, and the standard steering wheel is hard, pebbly plastic and feels like it came off a cheap 1980s car (a leather-wrapped wheel is available as part of an option package). Fuel economy could be better, too.
On the plus side, there’s considerable interior space, the wagon is just the right size for inner-city hauling, and its four-wheel disc brakes work very well. The only other wagon in Chevrolet’s line-up is the Malibu Maxx – which could arguably be called a hatchback – and it’s over $10,000 more. But the competition for all three of the Optra’s models is very worthy; the Mazda3 is well worth the $745 over the base Optra sedan, while the Hyundai Elantra is $555 less.
The Optra is built in Kunsan, South Korea.