2004 Chevrolet Optra
Click image to enlarge


by Greg Wilson

Optra sedan similar to Civic


General Motors cites the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Spectra and Ford Focus as the primary competitors for the new compact Chevrolet Optra sedan, but after having experienced this car for a week, I found it very similar to another well-known compact car: the Honda Civic sedan.

If you haven’t heard already, the Optra is one of several new Korean-built GM-Daewoo vehicles now being sold by GM under the Chevrolet name. The Optra sedan and Optra5 hatchback are sold only in Canada, but the sedan is also sold in the U.S. as the Suzuki Forenza, and in other countries with different names.

In Canada, compact sedans are the most popular cars on the road, and the Civic sedan is first or second on the best-sellers list – so it’s obvious that GM is aiming at the heart of the Canadian market with the Optra.

In terms of styling, the Optra is very similar to the Civic sedan – perhaps more similar to the 2003 Civic than the ‘freshened’ 2004 model. The Optra has a shorter wheelbase and lower roof than the Civic sedan, but it doesn’t feel much smaller inside – it’s roomy enough for four adults, and its 12 cubic feet trunk is about the same size as the Civic’s.

All Optra’s come with a 119 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine – that compares to the 115 horsepower 1.7 litre four cylinder engine in the Civic DX, SE and LX models, and the 127 horsepower unit found in the new Si sedan. The Optra’s engine is more responsive than the Civic’s because it offers more low-end torque: 126 lb-ft @ 4000 vs the Civic’s 110 @ 4500 (Si: 114 @ 4800 rpm).

However, the Civic is the fuel economy champ: equipped with the base engine and 4 speed automatic transmission the Civic offers a city rating of 8.0 litres/100 km (35 mpg) and highway rating of 5.8 l/100 km (49 mpg). The Optra offers city consumption of 10.6 l/100 km (27 mpg) and highway rating of 7.2 l/100 km (39 mpg).

Pricing

2004 Chevrolet Optra

2004 Chevrolet Optra

2004 Chevrolet Optra
Click image to enlarge

The Optra is priced well in its class, particularly the LS model. The base Optra starts at $16,190 and includes such things as the 2.0 litre engine, 5 speed manual transmission, power steering, fully independent suspension, power windows (front only), power door locks, AM/FM stereo with CD player and 4 speakers, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, tilt wheel, tachometer, rear child locks and tether anchors, height-adjustable front shoulder belts, dual airbags, and body coloured bumpers.

Four disc brakes are standard on all Optras (the Civic has front discs/rear drums), and anti-lock brakes are optional on all trim levels (ABS is not available on Civic DX and SE but is standard on LX and Si). Optras have standard 15 inch tires while Civics have standard 14 inch tires.

For an MSRP of $17,805, the Optra LS model adds air conditioning, rear power windows, speed-sensitive power steering, keyless remote with alarm, cruise control, power heated outside mirrors, and a storage tray under the right front passenger seat.

Options on base and LS models include a 4-speed automatic with overdrive ($1,025) (not available when air conditioning is ordered on base model), anti-lock brakes ($565), and fog lamps (pkg). Options on the LS model include an optional power moonroof ($985), leather covered steering wheel and shift knob (pkg), MP3 player ($75), and alloy wheels ($450).

Some of these options are combined in the “Appearance Package” for $1,725 which includes the alloy wheels, leather steering wheel & shift knob, redundant steering wheel audio controls, mud guards, fog lamps, wood grain trim, sunroof and premium 8- speaker audio system.

A fully loaded Optra LS goes for about $22,000 plus $930 Freight.


Nice interior

2004 Chevrolet Optra

2004 Chevrolet Optra

2004 Chevrolet Optra

2004 Chevrolet Optra
Click image to enlarge

GM Daewoo did a great job with the Optra’s interior. The metal-trimmed overlapping gauge cluster, metallic dash trim and shift gate, quality two-tone plastics and soft fabric seats are all good quality for a car in this class. There’s adequate legroom and headroom for four adults, and outward visibility is good for all passengers. Big doors make it easy to get in and out.

The driver’s seat is comfortable and the seat cushion is height adjustable at the front and rear. As well, the steering wheel tilts up and down. In addition to the classy interior design, I liked the deep, open storage area at the bottom of the cente console for storing cameras, phones, PDAs etc. and the accompanying 12 volt powerpoint. I also liked the two cupholders with a flip-over template that creates a smaller size or larger sized holder.

I didn’t like the small buttons and dials on the radio, the ‘turn-and-stop’ dials for the Seek function, the small horn buttons on the steering wheel spokes, and the hard-to-find trunk release. And the centre storage bin between the seats is on the small side.

Dual front airbags are standard, but side airbags are not offered (neither are they in the Civic). Note that the Optra includes three 3-point seatbelts and two height adjustable head restraints at the rear.

A fully lined trunk includes a hook on left side, a temporary spare under floor where there is some extra hidden storage space. Standard 60/40 split folding seatbacks help out with longer loads. The trunk can be opened remotely with the key fob, but when the doors and trunk are locked, the alarm makes a horrible sqwawking sound!


Driving impressions

2004 Chevrolet Optra

2004 Chevrolet Optra
Click image to enlarge

I found the Optra to be a delightful car to drive around town. It’s nimble, easy to park, and low speed steering effort with the speed-sensitive steering is light. My only complaint is that the high rear deck partly obstructs visibility when backing up (same as the Civic).

The 2.0 litre engine is smooth at idle, and quiet on the freeway where it does 2,500 rpm at 100 km/h and 3,000 rpm at 120 km/h. You’ll notice a buzzy drone when the engine revs over 4000 rpm (much like the Civic). However, most of the time its pretty quiet and vibration-free.

Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h takes 11.7 seconds according to independent tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. That’s about right for a 1250 kg car with 119 horsepower and a 4 speed automatic transmission, but the lighter Civic is slightly faster.

The Optra’s 4 speed automatic transmission slides smoothly from gear to gear, and you barely feel the gear changes. It’s possible to shift from ‘D’ to ‘3’ by pulling directly back on the floor shifter, which helps when approaching a steep hill, or when descending an hill.

2004 Chevrolet Optra
Click image to enlarge

However, you don’t have to shift manually – the transmission will shift down automatically from 4 to 3 when coasting down a hill.

The brakes have a firm pedal feel and good control, and according to AJAC tests, 100 km/h to 0 km/h takes just under 140 feet.

I found the ride comfortable without being too soft, and the suspension absorbs pavement cracks, potholes and manhole covers without harshness. The standard tires are Hankook Optimo H420 195/50R-15 inch all-seasons.

Competitors for the Optra include the above-mentioned Civic, Corolla, Elantra, Spectra, Focus as well as the Mazda3, Mitsubishi Lancer, Suzuki Aerio, Nissan Sentra, Chevy Cavalier, and Pontiac Sunfire.


Verdict

A comfortable, easy-to-drive compact sedan that’s priced well and has a good warranty, the Chevrolet Optra is a lot like the Honda Civic sedan. Its biggest drawback may be its unknown reliability.

The Optra is built in Kunsan, South Korea


Technical Data: 2004 Chevrolet Optra LS sedan

Base price $16,190
Base price (LS) $17,805
Freight $930
Options $3,100(4 speed automatic $1,025; ABS $565; MP3 player $75; sunroof $985; alloy wheels $450)
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $21,935
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.0 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 119 @ 5400
Torque 126 lb-ft @ 4000
Tires P195/55R-15 all-season
Curb weight 1250 kg (2756 lb.)
Wheelbase 2601 mm (102.4 in.)
Length 4500 mm (177.2 in.)
Width 1725 mm (67.9 in.)
Height 1445 mm (56.9 in.)
Cargo area 350 litres (12.4 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 10.6 l/100 km (27 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.2 l/100 km (39 mpg)
Fuel type 87 octane – regular
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca