2004 Chevrolet Epica LS
Click image to enlarge. Click here for more photos and to read Greg Wilson’s review of the 2004 Chevrolet Epica.

Review by Grant Yoxon
Photos by Greg Wilson

Quiet Contender

When General Motors paid a bargain-basement $251 million for a 42.1-per-cent stake in bankrupt automaker Daewoo in April 2002, it didn’t take long to get the South Korean auto plants up to speed and exporting cars around the world.

The Chevrolet Epica is one of three new Korean-built models to arrive recently in Canadian Chevrolet dealerships. In Korea, the Epica is called the Magnus and is a replacement for the Leganza, the largest car in former Daewoo’s lineup.

In Europe, the Magnus/Epica is called the Evanda, while in Canada and the U.S., the Magnus/Epica/Evanda is also sold as the Suzuki Verona (Suzuki holds a 14.9-per-cent interest in the new GM Daewoo). The U.S., however, doesn’t get the Chevrolet Epica version that Canada does.

Sound complicated? Let’s not get into the GM Daewoo subcompact known as the Chevrolet Aveo/Pontiac Wave/Suzuki Swift+/Daewoo Kalos, or the compact, Canada-only Chevrolet Optra/U.S.-only Suzuki Forenza. We’ll save that name game for another time.

2004 Chevrolet Epica
2004 Chevrolet Epica LT. Click image to enlarge

Suffice to say that despite different names, brands and sales territories, all these newcomers are built in the same two manufacturing facilities in South Korea. And other than an eight-way power driver’s seat and fog lights, the $24,710 Chevrolet Epica LS is essentially the same vehicle as the $22,995 Suzuki Verona GL.

A power driver’s seat in a value-priced sedan is unusual, even if other such Epica features as power windows and locks, heated mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, air conditioning, cruise control, four-speaker audio with CD, four-wheel disc brakes and keyless entry have become common standard equipment.

Not so common in this price range are the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a full-size spare tire and illuminated vanity mirrors (illuminated by ceiling-mounted lights that don’t shine into your eyes – nice touch).

As in most GM products sold in Canada, a block heater is standard equipment. Unlike most GM products, though, the Epica has a locking gas cap.

2004 Chevrolet Epica
Epica LT interior. Click image to enlarge

LT models ($27,245) receive additional creature comforts including heated leather seats, power sunroof, 16-inch wheels and tires, steering-wheel- mounted audio controls and six-speaker premium sound system, as well as antilock brakes and traction control. Most of these items are available on the LS as options.

The Epica, like its GM Daewoo brethren, was styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro’s Italdesign studios in Turin, Italy. It would be stretch, however, to describe it as having European flair. This is play-it-safe styling, not likely to offend anyone in any world market, but not likely to make a fashion statement, either.

2004 Chevrolet Epica LS
Epica LS interior. Click image to enlarge

The interior is similarly innocuous with light beige fabrics complemented by beige plastics. Apart from the fake wood trim on the centre control panel and doors, it reminded me of my 1995 Honda Accord – functional, but 10 years out of date.

Still, in terms of interior room the Epica is competitive with products from Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Mazda, not to mention Chevrolet’s own Malibu. Storage is more than adequate with seat-back pockets, map pockets in the doors and centre console storage with cupholders and 12-volt auxiliary outlet. The rear seat splits and folds 60/40, adding to 380 litres (13.4 cubic feet) of trunk space.

Build quality seems consistent, solid and tight. GM has appeared to exert some influence in quality control in its new South Korean plants.

The Epica is powered by an inline six-cylinder engine mounted transversely and driving the front wheels – an unusual configuration. It is a small six – just 2.5 litres – producing 155 horsepower at 5,800 r.p.m. and 177 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 r.p.m. Straight-six or not, the Epica is no BMW 330i or Lexus IS 300. In fact, its engine has difficulty delivering the kind of power found in many competitive inline four-cylinders. The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, in testing at this year’s Car of the Year event, recorded a 0-100 km/h time of 12.3 seconds. Passing from 80 to 120 km/h took a rather leisurely 9.7 seconds.

2004 Chevrolet Epica LS
Epica LS interior. Click image to enlarge

Part of the problem is the Epica’s four-speed transmission with its lazy shifts. A five-speed transmission might be better suited to the Epica’s rather narrow power band.

Fuel consumption is poor for an engine this size. Natural Resources Canada rates the Epica at 11.9 litres per 100 kilometres (24 miles per gallon) in city driving and 7.9 L/100 km (36 m.p.g.) on the highway. This trails the Malibu’s much more powerful 3.5 litre V6 (10.4/6.8) and even the optional 3.8 litre V6 found in the Chevrolet Impala and Monte Carlo.

Where the inline six does excel is in smooth and quiet operation. On the highway, noise from the engine barely penetrates the cabin. The Epica’s firm chassis also contributes to quiet, pleasant freeway driving.

But the car is softly sprung and the steering muted. Push it too hard in a tight corner and it responds with excessive understeer and body roll. Braking, however, is better than average thanks to disc brakes at all four wheels.

Granted, the Epica is not intended to be a sports sedan. GM says it’s targeted at “hard working practical individuals (age 44-55) who like the finer things in life but are savvy enough to know you don’t have to pay luxury prices to get it.” If quiet operation is more important than performance, the Epica could be a good fit.

GM expects the principal competition to come from other six-cylinder Korean family sedans, specifically the Hyundai Sonata ($23,795) and Kia Magentis ($25,750). In reality, the Epica has to also compete with such automatic-equipped four-cylinder family sedans as the Honda Accord ($24,900), Toyota Camry ($24,800), Nissan Altima ($24,798) and Mazda6 ($25,595). There’s also the Suzuki Verona, with slightly less equipment, at $22,995.

And then there is the $24,900 Malibu LS, which has a more powerful (200 horsepower) and fuel-efficient V6 and far superior handling and performance. OK, the Malibu lacks the Epica’s five-year powertrain warranty, and at this trim level does not have heated mirrors, fog lights, rear disc brakes, eight-way power seat or vanity mirror for the passenger. Still, at a list price just $200 higher, this Chevrolet sibling could be the Epica’s biggest rival.

Read Greg Wilson’s review of the 2004 Chevrolet Epica LS. Click here forTechnical Data.

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