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Review and photos by Jil McIntosh
I am not a fashion plate by any means; the “What Not To Wear” people would throw up their hands in surrender at my approach. But I do know that even an inexpensive outfit can look more elegant with the right accessory.
That’s true of the Chevrolet Optra wagon. The Optra is the middle line of Chev’s three aggressively-priced cars made in Korea by a GM/Daewoo partnership, and is available only in Canada (its sister, the Suzuki Forenza, is U.S.-only).
The new-for-2005 wagon joins the sedan and 5-door hatchback, but to my eye, its elongated lines surpass the stubby, uninspired styling of the other two. It looks well-balanced, and the standard roof racks that can look tacked-on on some other cars actually complements this model.
Although it’s only available as part of a $1,435 appearance package on the LS model, the leather-wrapped steering wheel, a replacement for the awful and chintzy-looking standard plastic one, makes the interior seem far more upscale. It might sound silly, but other than the seat, it’s the only component you constantly use, and you’re always aware of it. GM should swallow the cost and put this wheel in across the board; it would make a world of difference when buyers do their initial test-sit in the showroom.
The Optra wagon comes in two lines, the base at $16,350 and the LS at $18,650. Both come with dual airbags, 4-wheel disc brakes, variable intermittent wipers and CD, while the upscale model adds such things as power locks with keyless entry, speed-sensitive steering, power heated mirrors, air, power windows and cruise control. My tester added $565 ABS, $1,025 4-speed automatic transmission and the appearance package (which also includes aluminum wheels, power sunroof and wheel-mounted stereo controls) for a total of $21,675.
All Optras are powered by a 2.0-litre, DOHC 4-cylinder engine that produces 119 hp; it’s econo-car growly when you place demands on it, but it’s adequate for the task, and it’s comfortable cruising on the highway. Still, there’s a lot of torque-steer, which I found annoying after a while.
Controls are simple and well arranged, with lots of cubby storage and out-of-the-way cupholders. The owner’s manual promises a power door lock switch on the armrest, but it isn’t there. You can only unlock the doors by pulling the lock button on top of the door, which automatically opens all four. Some buyers might have preferred the switch: such a system allows for convenient popping of all doors from the switch, or if preferred, unlocking only one door by its lock button – handy if you want to open your door and leave your child’s door still locked. On Optra, all doors are either locked or unlocked together.
The all-black keyless entry needs to have its buttons rearranged and better marked. My neighbours can tell you how close together the lock and panic buttons are (sorry about that, folks – yes, I know how late it was.)
My rear-seat passenger enjoyed decent legroom for a car this size, and of course the seats fold, opening the rear storage from 97 cm to a sloping 165 cm, with two side storage compartments and one large divided one under the floor.
In combined driving, Optra returned 8.9 L/100km. Warranty coverage is 3-year/60,000 km with Roadside Assistance, and 5-year/100,000 km powertrain warranty.
The Optra retains its odd place in Chevrolet’s lineup; previously shadowed by Cavalier, its base pricing now puts it alongside the new replacement Cobalt. But Optra remains the only true wagon in Chevrolet’s fleet, and there’s always a spot for a lower-priced version of this extremely useful body style. Roomy and comfortable, this might just make you rethink a small SUV. Especially with that wheel.
Technical Data: 2005 Chevrolet Optra Wagon LS
|Base price (LS)||$18,650|
|Options||$3,025 (4-speed automatic transmission $1,025; ABS $565; Appearance package $1,435)|
|Price as tested||$22,705|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger compact wagon|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel drive|
|Engine||2.0 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves|
|Horsepower||119 @ 5400 rpm|
|Torque||126 ft-lb @ 4000 rpm|
|Curb weight||1295 kg (2855 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2600 mm (102.4 in.)|
|Length||4565 mm (179.7 in.)|
|Width||1725 mm (67.9 in.)|
|Height||1500 mm (59.1 in.) (w/roof rails)|
|Cargo volume||350 litres (12.4 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 10.9 L/100 km (26 m.p.g.)|
|Hwy: 7.4 L/100 km (38 m.p.g.)|
|Fuel type||Unleaded regular 87 octane|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain Warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|
|Assembly location||South Korea|