Car reviews - Holden - Epica - CDX sedan
Pricing, equipment, interior space, fuel economy
Room for improvement
Dull engine response, numb steering
6 Jul 2007
By CHRIS HARRIS
THERE’S always a bottom line, and for Holden’s new Epica it is less to do with perceived qualities, or lack of them, than raw, basic realities.
To many of us it might seem strange that Holden is choosing an almost exclusively Korean path for much of its new-model activity.
And it might seem more than a pity that the edgy, Opel-built Vectra has been replaced by an old Daewoo (the Magnus) that was launched in Korea around seven years ago and itself sprung from the Leganza model introduced in 1997, during the reign of Ulrich Bez, who is now the chairman of Aston Martin.
The influence of Dr Bez, who had previously been a development engineer with Porsche and BMW, was quite profound and brought a lot of European influence that separated Daewoo from its more Oriental rivals.
That influence is visible in the Epica, which, considering it is really a year 2000 model, still looks quite contemporary despite what the detractors have to say about the front overhang and the interior architecture, which is more visibly outdated than the exterior.
But the bottom line is not what the Epica looks like, or its seemingly prosaic roots: The important things are how it stands up in the real world – how safe it is, how reliable, how efficient, and how it performs on the road.
Until we see ANCAP crash-test results, its standing on passive safety will be difficult to judge, although the base CDX does get front and front side airbags while the upmarket CDXi is fitted with standard full-length curtain bags, so the indicators are reasonably positive. A possible cue could be that the Holden Viva, which is also Daewoo-based, scored a good four-star rating in the 2006 ANCAP tests.
Both Epica models get four-channel anti-lock braking with electronic brakeforce distribution and, though it is largely irrelevant, traction control – but there is no sign of electronic stability control.
Reliability of the Epica will remain an unknown for some time, until the car has developed some familiarity, but at this stage its reputation on the markets where it has been on sale for some time seems to remain unsullied.
The efficiency of the new car is another thing, though, with the 2.0-litre CDX version claiming a slight lead over most of its competition with an official average fuel consumption figure of 8.2L/100km. The 2.5-litre CDXi version is impressive, too, especially with its bigger engine and the fact that it comes in auto transmission form only, with an average consumption quoted at 9.3L/100km.
Finally, the Epica’s on-road demeanour is a bit like the curate’s egg – good in parts.
The good side is that the Porsche-developed transverse-mounted inline six-cylinder engine is beautifully smooth, whether 2.0 or 2.5 litres, and commendably quiet with just a little of the six-cylinder hum you would expect given its origins.
The debit side is that it brings to mind cars like the Lexus IS200 and early BMW 2.0-litre six-cylinder models, such as the 1996 520i, with its complete disinterest at producing any meaningful mid-range torque.
In the 2.0-litre CDX, with its square bore/stroke ratio, this extends to kilowatt production as well, meaning there is still not much in terms of usable power even if you do rev it. The five-speed manual transmission-only CDX needs to be rung out to its 6500rpm redline if you are to get anywhere at all.
While 105kW at 6400rpm and 195Nm at a reasonable 2600rpm are not too bad given the engine size, this is one case where the figures do not tell the full story.
There is more than 1.4 tonnes to deal with here, and you are left with the thought that Holden might have done better to forget about class-leading fuel economy and make the CDXi’s long-stroke 2.5-litre, 115kW/237Nm engine standard.
Holden engineers have, as usual, done a good job equipping the Epica with good suspension manners, though.
The MacPherson strut/multilink suspension has been tuned to produce a nicely capable ride with good handling, which is particularly appreciated given the fact that there is no stability control system to rescue you if you overstep the mark.
The Epica feels fine on a mix of Australian roads, equally as comfortable on back-road bitumen as it is on the freeway.
The CDX does transmit a degree of road noise into the cabin but it is nothing untoward and wind noise is also kept to a minimum.
There is a debit side, of course, and in this case it is the steering, which redefines the terms “wooden” and “dead”. It tuns quickly enough, at 3.1 turns lock-to-lock, and is weighted okay, but it offers virtually no feel and has a clunky, out-dated action that recalls the 1990s more than the 21st century.
At least the turning circle is handy enough at just 10.8 metres.
So that’s the safety, reliability, efficiency and road performance, but how does the Epica stand up in terms of quality and passenger comfort?
The truth of the matter is that this much-cheaper replacement for the Vectra does a pretty good job in not just accepting passengers, but also keeping them comfortable.
Interior presentation, though not quite cutting edge, is clean and functional enough with maybe surprising standards of fit and finish – even if there is no slush-moulded vinyl to be found.
The instruments are presented cleanly and the front headrests swivel forward to add a bit of extra comfort, but the steering wheel only adjusts up and down, and the height-adjustable driver’s seat is virtually impossible to activate with anybody sitting in it.
In the back, there is sufficient head and legroom for tall passengers, and both CDX and CDXi offer a 60-40 split-fold rear seat to augment the decent 452-litre boot – with non-intrusive hinges that are undoubtedly a legacy of the Euro-aspirant Bez era.
In all, the cabin is a perfectly classy place to be, with barely a hint – other than its last-generation architecture – that it is so far downmarket of the Vectra.
The CDX comes with a reasonable amount of gear, including the four airbags, traction control and ABS as mentioned earlier, plus air-conditioning, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, sunglasses holder, alarm and a six-speaker, MP3-compatible sound system with single-disc CD player.
Considering the general interior presentation, it might come as something of a surprise that a trip computer does not come with the CDX package but, really, the base Epica is a pretty good deal for $26,000.
The Holden badges probably help, but there is no cringe factor about driving an Epica.
As we said, the looks are really quite contemporary and the dimensional balance brings no criticisms apart from the extended front overhang.
The CDX comes with 16-inch alloy wheels that help it look the complete package on the road, while the bold sweep of the headlights and tail lights, plus the confident Holden family grille, help ensure it fits comfortably with the rest of the mid-size pack.
It is worth consideration if you are shopping for a decent-size car under $30,000.
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