2004 Chevrolet Optra5
2004 Chevrolet Optra5
2004 Chevrolet Optra5. Click image to enlarge

Test Drive: 2004 Chevrolet Optra sedan
Test Drive: 2004 Chevrolet Optra5 (hatchback)
Test Drive: 2004 Chevrolet Optra wagon

Chevrolet Canada

By Chris Chase

Ottawa, Ontario – When Korean automaker Daewoo’s North American operation went belly-up in 2002, it was fair to assume we wouldn’t see the company’s name here again any time soon. That much was true, and many people still don’t know the company ever had a presence here at all.

A couple of years later, after GM purchased a majority share of the company and re-named it GM Daewoo Auto Technology (GMDAT), the company’s cars returned to North America sold by Chevrolet and Suzuki. One of those re-branded Daewoos was the Chevrolet Optra, a compact car sized to compete against benchmark vehicles like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra.

In fact, Chevrolet’s idea was that the Korean-designed Optra might attract the kind of import-car shopper who tended to pass over homegrown cars like its own Cavalier and Cobalt.

The Optra didn’t offer much more than the Daewoo Nubira it unofficially replaced; the engine was a 2.0-litre four-cylinder making a weaker-than-average 119 horsepower, with transmission options being – typically – a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic.

2004 Chevrolet Optra wagon
2004 Chevrolet Optra wagon
2004 Chevrolet Optra wagon. Click image to enlarge

The Optra began life as a plain-looking four-door sedan and was joined in 2005 by a four-door hatchback and a station wagon. The hatch was arguably the most attractive of the trio, owing to its unique front-end styling. The sedan was discontinued after 2005.

Fuel consumption was on the high side for the class; in fact, its EnerGuide estimates of 10.7 L/100 km (city) and 7.4 L/100 km (highway) were high compared to those for four-cylinder mid-size sedans, notably Chevy’s own Malibu and the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

Finding accurate reliability data on these cars is very difficult, thanks to relatively low sales. Because the Optra was a Canada-only product, Consumer Reports offers nothing on it; the same car was sold Stateside as the Suzuki Reno/Forenza, and neither CR nor TrueDelta.com have information on those models, thanks again to low sales.

Searching the web yields little, too: the Optra doesn’t even rate a mention on most Chevrolet forums, making your best bet the Forenza/Reno forum at Suzuki-Forums.com. Even here, most of the talk is on the topic of aftermarket modifications, with little mention of trouble spots. You could, I suppose, take that as a tacit endorsement of these cars’ durability, but I wouldn’t bank on it.

One thing you will find information on is crash safety. The Forenza earned an “acceptable” rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) offset frontal crash test, and a “poor” rating in side impact tests, and this, on a car that had standard side airbags in the U.S. By contrast, however, the Forenza earned four stars for both driver and front passenger protection in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) frontal crash test, but the organization didn’t conduct side impact testing on the car.

2004 Chevrolet Optra wagon
2004 Chevrolet Optra wagon. Click image to enlarge

Not surprisingly, the Optra’s resale values are pitiful next to those for “benchmark” cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. A similarly-equipped Hyundai Elantra will cost less than $1,000 more, according to Canadian Red Book, will likely be more reliable and is a better drive.

Suffice it to say that, while the Optra’s low prices and practicality (particularly in hatchback and wagon forms) are real plusses, it’s my opinion that you’ll get what you pay for with these cars. Once you own one, the only positive thing I could offer is that there should be plenty of places to get it fixed, given the sheer number of Chevrolet dealer service facilities in Canada. The only question might be parts availability. But I’d rather own a crap car that’s common – misery loves company, right? — than be one of only a few people stuck with an unreliable heap no one’s heard of.

If you’re looking for cheap wheels, you can do better than a used Optra.

Pricing (Canadian Black Book, July 2012)

Price today
Price new
Optra LS wagon w/ auto and air
Optra LS wagon w/ auto and air
Optra LS wagon w/ auto and air
Optra base sedan w/ auto and air

Online resources
As mentioned in the article, your best bet – and it’s not a great one – is the Suzuki Forenza/Reno section at Suzuki-Forums.com.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007315; Units affected: 33,865
2004-2006: Certain vehicles may experience a loss of headlamp low beam or Daytime Running Light (DRL) function as a result of a melted instrument panel harness connector. Low beam failure would lead to reduced visibility during hours of darkness. DRL failure may render the vehicle less visible to other motorists and pedestrians during daylight hours. Both cases could lead to a vehicle crash with injury or death. Correction: Dealers will add a direct connection splice clip to the headlamp low beam circuit in order to bypass the faulty connector.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005021; Units affected: 23,507 (includes Chevrolet Epica)
2004: On certain vehicles, the stop lamp switch may become misadjusted if an upward force is applied to the brake pedal. The stop lamp electrical contacts in a misadjusted stop lamp switch may not open when the brake pedal is at its natural rest position, resulting in the brake lights staying illuminated continuously without service brake pedal application. Correction: Dealers will replace the stop lamp switch.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2007255; Units affected: 9,120
2006-2007: On certain vehicles, a piece of the seatbelt buckle lower cover may break off and become lodged in the buckle assembly. As a result, the seatbelt tongue may not latch in the buckle or the push button may become stuck, preventing the occupant from unlatching the buckle. These buckle malfunctions could prevent a person from using the seatbelt system, resulting in an increased risk of injury to an occupant during a crash. Correction: Dealers will replace the driver and front passenger seatbelt buckles.

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