2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS
Click image to enlarge


by Greg Wilson

First came the sedan, then the hatchback, and soon the wagon. Chevrolet’s South Korean-made Optra compact car is hitting all the bases in Canada’s most popular automobile segment – a segment currently dominated by the Mazda3, Honda Civic, and Toyota Corolla. Can a convertible Optra be far away?

Made in Kunsan, South Korea by GM Daewoo Auto Technology (GMDAT), a company formed in 2002 out of the remnants of the bankrupt Daewoo company, the Optra is available in Canada, but not in the United States. It’s ideally suited to the Canadian market: compact in size but not cramped inside, relatively fuel-efficient, and affordable with a price range between $16,190 and $22,000 fully equipped. Though it’s an import, the Optra is sold through GM’s vast network of Chevrolet dealers, so service and parts are easy to find wherever you are in the country.

I was favourably impressed with the Optra sedan that I drove recently (see my review), so I had a good feeling about stepping in to the Optra5 hatchback. Hatchbacks are generally more practical than their sedan equivalents because of their larger cargo opening and versatile cargo area – this despite the fact that hatchbacks are usually the same length or shorter in length than their sedan counterparts.

By the way, the ‘5’ at the end of Optra5 refers to five doors – if you count the rear hatch as a door. Personally, I don’t think a hatch is a door – I haven’t seen anyone get into the rear seat through the hatch! Mazda started this trend with the Protege5, which was followed by the Chevy Aveo5, Optra5 and the new Kia Spectra5. Mazda has since dropped the Protege5 name in favour of the new Mazda3 Sport.


Optra5 pricing and features

Many new hatchbacks are sold as top-of-the-line ‘sporty’ models with a price-tag at the high end of the compact car price range – usually in the $20,000 to $25,000 price range. So it’s good news to see that the Optra5 is available as an entry-level model, starting at $16,190, as well as a better-equipped model (LS, $18,140).

2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS

2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS
Click image to enlarge

Standard equipment on the base model includes a 119 horsepower 2.0 litre, DOHC four cylinder engine (with a standard block heater), five-speed manual transmission, AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, front fog lamps, 195/55R-15 inch tires, four wheel disc brakes, and rear wiper/washer.

Air conditioning is optional ($1,150), and for some inexplicable reason it cannot be ordered together with the optional 4 speed automatic transmission ($1,025). However, the Optra5 LS can be ordered with air and automatic transmission. Does it look like Chevrolet is trying to force buyers to move up to the more expensive LS model? It sure does!

It’s good to see that anti-lock brakes are available as an option ($565) on the base model – this is often not the case. An MP3 player is also available ($75).

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that the base Optra four-door sedan includes standard power windows (front doors only) and power door locks, but the hatchback does not. However, the Optra5 does have fog lamps and a rear wiper and washer.

The Optra5 LS starts at $18,140, and it adds standard air conditioning, power windows and door locks, power heated mirrors, speed-sensitive power steering, a storage tray under the front passenger seat, and remote keyless entry.

My test car, an LS, had all of the available options: 4-speed automatic transmission ($1,025), anti-lock brakes ($565), and a “Preferred Equipment Group” ($1,725) which includes 15″ aluminum wheels, rear spoiler, leather steering wheel and shifter knob, steering wheel radio controls, power tilt/slide glass moonroof, 8-speaker stereo system, and mudguards. Total price of my Optra5 LS was $21,455 plus Freight and A/C tax for a total of $22,485.

Some features are not available on the Optra5, including leather seats, heated seats, 6-disc CD changer, side airbags, curtain airbags and traction control.


Cargo carrying capacity


2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS

2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS
Click image to enlarge

The Optra5 is a full 205 mm (8.1 inches) shorter than the Optra sedan, all of it at the rear. This doesn’t affect passenger room: the cabin size is almost identical to the sedan, which is to say quite roomy for four adults. But the cargo area (with the rear seats up) is smaller than the Optra sedan’s: 8.8 cu. ft vs 12.4 cu. ft. This is rather disappointing, but not unusual for a hatchback. A good example is the Toyota Echo hatchback which has far less trunk space than the Echo sedan.

The redeeming factor is the Optra5’s large cargo opening and extra cargo room with the rear seats folded down. With both 60/40 rear seatbacks folded down, the Optra5 offers 45.3 cu. ft. of cargo space, or roughly five times as much cargo-carrying capacity.

As well, the split rear seat design allows cargo to be carried on one side while one or two passengers can sit on the other side. For example, if Mom, Dad and their two young kids are shopping at Ikea, and they want to bring home a five-foot lampstand, they can fold down the 40% side of the rear seat to transport the lamp, and have two seatbelts left on the 60% side of the rear seat. One button on the top of the rear seatbacks allows them to be folded down easily from the rear, but aren’t quite flat when folded down. The Optra5’s lined cargo area includes a standard privacy cover which is removeable. The rear hatch is easy to lift, and it locks automatically with the remote keyless entry if you have that option.

2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS

2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS

2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS

2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS
Click image to enlarge


Unique interior

Though similar, the Optra5’s interior design is different to the sedan’s. The Optra5 has a horizontal brushed aluminum-like strip across the centre of the dash and round air vents with metallic trim. As well, the Optra5’s seat fabric and speckled seat-insert and door panel design is sportier than the sedan’s.

The Optra5’s interior is nicely finished for a car in this price range. I particularly like the attractive, well-lit overlapping gauges which include a tachometer, the quality of the dash plastics, the fake metal, and the soft seat cloth; the functional instrument panel, and the attractive gated shift lever with metal trim. The optional leather steering wheel, shifter and handbrake add a bit of class to the interior.

I also liked the CD storage bin just below the AM/FM/single CD player, the large open bin with powerpoint at the bottom of the centre console (great for charging phones), and the two cupholders behind the shift lever that include a flip-over template for different sized cups. The centre armrest/storage area is a bit small, but it includes a couple of built-in business card holders.

I didn’t like the tiny horn buttons on the steering wheel spokes, or the hard-to-operate turn-and-return dial for the Tune/Seek function on the radio.

It’s great that the Optra5 has a rear wiper and washer for clearing the rear window – but it would be even nicer if the rear wiper had an intermittent wipe setting rather than just a continuous wiping motion. In winter, the rear window needs clearing about every ten seconds, and a continuous wiper just rubs on the clean glass most of the time.

A couple of other minor concerns: the air conditioning didn’t seem quite up to the task of cooling down the interior on a hot summer’s day; and the remote keyless entry unlocks all the doors with one push of the button, rather than just the driver’s door with one push and all the other doors with two pushes. I did like the fact that the remote functions are located on the key head rather than on a separate fob.

For safety, the Optra5 includes front airbags, five seatbelts, and four height adjustable head restraints, but no side or curtain airbags. As the Optra5 is a Canadian-only model, it hasn’t been crash-tested by the NHTSA or IIHS, so crash-test results are not available.


Driving impressions

The Optra5’s driving position is very comfortable – the driver’s seat has a height-adjustable cushion that can be raised in the front or rear, and the steering wheel can be adjusted up and down. Visibility is good to the front and sides, but a thick rear ‘C’ pillar and the right rear head restraint obstruct vision when lane-changing.

2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS

2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS

2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS
Click image to enlarge

As well, the rear window has a high ledge, making it more difficult to back into parking spaces. This is my biggest complaint with the Optra5.

Overall, the Optra5 is an easy car to drive, with nicely-weighted if vague steering response, a wonderfully tight turning circle (34.2 ft.), a comfortable ride, nimble handling and a firm braking feel.

The 119 horsepower engine has adequate but not abundant horsepower, and with a full load of passengers and cargo on board, it strains going up hills. But for around-town use and highway cruising (2400 rpm at 100 km/h, and 3000 rpm at 120 km/h in top gear), it’s satisfactory. Even at a steady 3000 rpm, the engine is quiet and subdued for freeway cruising, however you will notice more noise and vibration above 4000 rpm under hard acceleration. And its 0 to 100 km/h time of about 11.5 seconds with the automatic transmission is rather leisurely.

Fuel consumption of 10.6 l/100 km (27 mpg) in the city, and 7.2 l/100 km (39 mpg) on the highway is below-average in its class, but still reasonably thrifty.

The Optra5’s optional four-speed automatic transmission is extremely smooth, and it features a ‘Hold’ button to prevent the car from rolling back when starting on a hill.

Handling is a bit soft to be sporty, but the Optra5’s small size, short turning circle, and fully independent suspension (front MacPherson struts with offset coil springs and a stabilizer bar/rear MacPherson strut dual link suspension with coil springs and a stabilizer bar) provides plenty of manoeuvrability. The standard Hankook Optimo H420 195/55 R-15 inch tires could use a little more grip.

At night, I found the Optra5’s standard projection beam low beam headlamps to be strong, bright, and wide-reaching, but on my test car, the high beams seemed inadequate because the low-beams turned off leaving a dark area immediately ahead of the car.


Competitors


2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS
Click image to enlarge

Competitors for the Optra5 include the Toyota Matrix ($16,745), Mazda3 Sport GS ($20,285), Ford Focus ZX5 ($21,560), Hyundai Elantra GT ($19,025), Pontiac Vibe ($21,150), Honda Civic SIR ($25,500), Chrysler PT Cruiser ($24,360), VW Golf CL ($18,300), Suzuki Aerio S ($16,495), and the new Kia Spectra5 ($ NA). Of these, only the Matrix, Aerio and Spectra5 are available in a cheaper base trim level.

Verdict

A comfortable ride, reasonable price, attractive interior, and hatchback versatility are the high points of the new Chevrolet Optra5 hatchback, but acceleration performance is mediocre and rear visibility is obstructed by a thick ‘C’ pillar.


Technical Data: 2004 Chevrolet Optra5 LS

Base price $16,190
Base price (LS) $18,140
Options 4-speed automatic transmission ($1,025), anti-lock brakes ($565),Preferred Equipment Group 1SC ($1,725)
Freight $930
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $22,485
Type 4-door, 5 passenger compact hatchback
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.0 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 119 @ 5400 rpm
Torque 126 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission 4-speed automatic (5 speed manual std.)
Tires P195/55R-15
Curb weight
Wheelbase 2601 mm (102.4 in.)
Length 4295 mm (169.0 in.)
Width 1725 mm (67.9 in.)
Height 1445 mm (56.9 in.)
Cargo area 250 litres (8.8 cu. ft.) seats up
  1285 litres (45.4 cu. ft.) seats down
Fuel type Regular unleaded 87 octane
Fuel consumption City: 10.6 l/100 km (27 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.2 l/100 km (39 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Assembly location Kunsan, South Korea

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