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Chevrolet Epica 2008 Road Test

Mon, 26 May 2008

Oddball car, the Chevrolet Epica. Mondeo sized. With a choice of 5-speed manual diesel, 6-speed automatic diesel, or 5-speed manual transverse straight-six petrol. Badged ‘Chevrolet’, yet built in South Korea.

The straight six LS model will set you back a startlingly reasonable £13,595. This is for a big car 15’ 9” long with a colossal 480 litre boot and bags of room in the back seat. Usefully, the seatbacks fold down 60/40 so you can carry long loads if you want to.

So what’s it like? You can judge for yourself how it looks from the snapshots. I’d stay slightly ungainly. A bit too high off the ground. Though there is a bodykit to address that if you so wish.

You get a stack of kit, including air conditioning, 16” alloy wheels, cruise control, electric front and rear windows, electric mirrors, double DIN CD radio with MP3 socket, steering wheel radio controls, front, side and curtain airbags, leather covered steering wheel, and even part-leather seats.

The 1,993cc six-cylinder engine is double overhead chain cam, puts out 141bhp and 195Nm torque and pulls the car to 60 in 9.6 seconds before running on to a top speed of 129mph.

You pay at the pumps, of course, but not that heavily at 34.5mpg combined. Though the 205g/km emissions will put you onto £300 a year tax next year and £310 the year after. Anyone wanting one on the company faces BIK on 29% of the car’s list price, but since the price is only £13,595 you pay tax on a reasonable £3,943, 40% of which is £1,577.

I wouldn’t say the engine is silky smooth, but its smooth enough, offering a pleasant drive with decent torque from low revs. No sportscar, but no dullard either.

Handling isn’t brilliant, with fairly heavy self-centering that robs the steering of feel when cornering, but it’s far from a disaster. It’s not floppy and hopelessly light as you might have expected.

The diesel is belt rather than chain cam, four rather than six cylinders, slightly quicker to 60 and with a slightly lower top speed. Naturally, fuel economy is much better at 46.3mpg combined, and though CO2 is a tad high for a diesel at 169g/km, meaning tax on 25% of £14,595 for the LS, which translates to £1,460 for a 40 percenter. Next year’s annual VED will be £175.

We didn’t drive that one, which I predict will become a favourite airport taxi, combining a diesel engine with big 5-seater body and a large boot. Instead we took the 6-speed diesel auto in LT trim that for £17,695 brings the additional kit of electronic climate control, rear parking sensors, full leather seats, CD autochanger, electrochromatic rear view mirror, electric driver’s seat, trip computer, 17” alloys and electronic stability control.

The problem is it chunders out 210g/km CO2, putting it in the £300 VED bracket next year and 33% BIK: a not so cheap £2,336 in tax for a company driver. It’s not that great on the juice, either, offering just 37.2mpg combined on expensive diesel, a full 24% worse than the manual (a factor that people often forget when buying a diesel auto for ‘economy’).

The autobox and engine are well suited, the 6-gears, decisively making the most of the diesel’s relatively narrow torque band. But the steering was the strangest I’ve felt for a long time.

It had the same self-centring effect as the petrol car on its smaller wheels and narrower tyres. But in this car the centring required muscle to get the car round a corner and as soon as the wheel was turned off-centre, all steering feel was lost. Maybe that particular car needed a visit to alignmycar.co.uk, but it had the same characteristic as the petrol cars, only much more exaggerated. The only advantage of the steering I could see was a tight turning circle for such a big car.

Oddball new cars, then, with faults. And the best buy is undoubtedly the cheapest, with its unique 2.0 litre chain cam six-cylinder petrol engine. Though I can see cabbies going for the base model diesel too.

Chevrolet does not expect to sell more than 500 Epicas in the UK over the rest of 2008. That’s not an ambitions target, so I don’t see why it won’t.

Click the tabs for prices, specs and technical information.

More at www.chevrolet.co.uk

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