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2004 Chevrolet Optra

2004-03-18 13:07

Wilmer Muller

Daewoo genes for new Chev Optra

The Chev Optra, which is a re-badged Daewoo Nubira, arrives in South Africa five months after the brand's re-entry into the country.

Like most of the local Chev products, with the exception of the Lumina, the Optra is sourced from GM DAT (General Motors Daewoo Auto and Technology) in South Korea. The Lumina is being built at GM's Holden plant in Australia.

With the new Chev Optra General Motors says it hopes to steal sales from the Toyota Corolla and Nissan Almera. Three Optra models, which include two 1.6-litre derivatives and a 1.8-litre, will be available.

The entry-level Optra is the 1.6 Base, followed by a higher specced 1.6 LS and the range topping 1.8 LT.

The Optra's 1.6-litre unit produces 80 kW at 5 800 r/min and the maximum torque is a 150 Nm at 4 000 r/min. With the 1.8-litre engine the power output is 90 kW at 5 800 r/min and torque is 165 Nm at 4 000 r/min.

Comfort features

The Optra come with a range of comfort and luxury features. All models feature hydraulic power steering and also come equipped with a height adjustable driver's seat with thigh support.

Additional lumbar support is provided for the driver on the LS model, and for the driver and passenger on the LT model derivative.

Chevrolet has equipped the Optra 1.6 Base model with a radio/CD-player with four speakers while the 1.6LS gets a radio/ CD-shuttle with four speakers and the 1.8 LT also have a radio / CD shuttle but with six speakers. The 1.8 LT features radio controls on the steering wheel.

The 1.6 LS and 1.8 LT have all-round electric windows and the entry-level car only has electric windows in the front.

The side mirrors on the 1.6 LS and 1.8 LT is also electrically operated. All the models are fitted with air-conditioning and the LT has additional climate control functionality.

Other features include remote trunk lid and fuel flap opener, a convenient map reading lamp on both passenger and driver's sides, a front interior lamp with fade and delay, as well as a luggage compartment light.

There are also remote central locking and an immobiliser/alarm-system on all Optras.

Tough competition

Chevrolet says the Optra's main target is the market leading Toyota Corolla but it also wants to steal a few sales from Nissan's volume-selling Almera.

So, does the Optra have what it takes to make an impact on this extremely competitive segment where car and fleet buyers are likely to stick with well-known and proven products? To be honest, we doubt that it will attract a big following in the near future.

Despite its Chev badging and GM backing, as well as claims by the importer that the Optra is being sold in more countries as a Chevrolet than a Daewoo, after driving it we can tell you it is still a Daewoo! You have to judge this book by its cover.

Yes, the car has so-called keen pricing, comes loaded with comfort features and quality is also not too bad when compared to a car like the Almera. But in our opinion it doesn't stand the test against the Corolla. (And Chev SA is very blunt about the Optra's positioning against the trusted Corolla.)

The 1.8LT comes with fake wood inserts on the dash and door panels (which is very Korean) whereas the top Corollas features real wood inserts. It also isn't as solid as a Corolla and there is not the same quality feel.

On the road its driving dynamics are quite mediocre. Its gear change feels similar to Japanese cars of the 1990s.


Although it aims to be a value for money product its pricing and positioning isn't that competitive for its segment according to the Wheels24 comparison tool.

The 1.6 Base comes in at R141 700 and its rivals include well-equipped big guns such as the Opel Astra Classic 1.6 Club, Toyota Corolla 140iGLS and the VW Polo 1.6 Comfortline.

Next in line is the 1.6 LS with a price tag of R158 700. This model competes against the Corolla 180iGLE, Nissan Almera 160, VW Jetta 1.6 Standard and the new Renault Megane II 1.6 Authentique.

The top 1.8 LT model will cost you R179 900 and will have a difficult task against the Toyota Corolla 180iGSX, VW Jetta 1.6 Comfortline, Focus sedan 2.0i Trend, Almera 180 Elegance and Renault Megane II sedan 1.6 EX.

Looking at the Optra's competition and what they offer, it is doubtful that its rivals will have many sleepless nights about this new Korean kid on their block.


It is probably also daydreaming to expect Chevrolet loyalists to stream to its 31 dealerships to buy the Korean built Optra. No matter what Chev SA says, the current product line-up is not the same Chevrolets of yesteryear.

I always wonder what my late grandfather would have said of today's so-called Chevs?

He was the proud owner of a number of Chevs including the striking 1958 Biscayne. When the true American Chevrolets disappeared from our local shores he switched to Mercedes.

If he was alive today I doubt if he, like many other true Chev fans, would have given one look at the Optra.


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