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Car reviews - Holden - Epica - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Diesel’s refinement, performance, economy low price six airbags standard ESC adequate comfort and space
Room for improvement
Uneven steering feel feels dated dynamically seems like an older car inside expected low resale value almost invisible character

11 Aug 2008

DRIVING the new turbo-diesel-engined Holden Epica CDTi is like those rare times when you go to a fast-food franchise outlet and are pleasantly surprised by how tasty that particular burger is.

It’s a contrary-to-expectations experience that leaves you pleased at how effective instant cheap nosh can sometimes be – but you also know that, if you spend a little more money and time elsewhere, you can indulge in a greater and more fulfilling culinary experience.

So it is with the $29,990-plus CDTi – complete with an extra gear ratio over its identically priced Toyota Camry Altise automatic nemesis, along with more airbags, 23 per cent better fuel economy and more than 100Nm of extra torque.

Only the Skoda Octavia Ambiente DSG and Hyundai Sonata CRDi come close, but both cost almost 10 per cent more, the former is a smaller car and the latter’s auto trannie only has four forward speeds.

ESC stability control is standard across the two-pronged range too.

Combined with a facelift that gives the Epica a smoother snout and a set of C-shaped tail-lights reminiscent of the 1967 VE Valiant’s items, Holden’s hitherto struggling mid-sized sedan from South Korea is in with a real fighting chance against the all-conquering Camry.

It’s all heady stuff for a true five-seater (at a pinch) three-box four-door sedan costing less than $30K (not driveaway).

And, sure enough, the interior is tastefully presented, thoughtfully laid-out and utterly functional to operate. There are no toxic-shock plastics or chemical smells inside here – just the look and feel of a serious and sensible mid-sized sedan from Asia.

Albeit it one with a deficit of personality or colour, save for the newly facelifted nose’s slightly comedic grin.

Behind the wheel, the diesel engine immediately impresses, thanks to its quiet and smooth operation, with decent low-end pull and fairly strong acceleration further up the rev range. The new six-speed automatic seems to do a fine job of transmitting all that torque to the front wheels too.

Sampled over mostly dry country roads, the Epica’s handling and roadholding qualities also fall into the decent category, with reasonably quick response from the steering and ample grip.

Push harder through a turn, though, and the steering’s weight oscillates from feeling light and smooth to lumpy and vague, like it is spring-loaded, undermining feedback and driver enjoyment.

We are also wary of the suspension’s ability to cushion the Epica’s occupants over rougher patches of road. Clearly, the car’s age (its DNA dates back to the Leganza of 1997) shows here.

Furthermore, we noticed quite a bit of noise emanating from the mirrors, as well as from certain road surfaces.

And, diesel or no diesel, we are not holding out hopes for Camry, Accord or Mazda6 levels of resale value either. Brand image suffers when you see Holden dealer ads running out Epicas at $22,990 driveaway.

These things, then, keep the Epica from being the great value buy that its headline price tag promises, despite scoring highly for drivetrain integration, safety and equipment levels.

If you’re changing over from anything earlier than the last-generation (2002) Camry, then you may not mind the Epica’s overall lack of polish either.

But while it is clearly not a bad car, there are palpably better petrol-powered mid-sized sedans for CDX CDTi money – namely the Ford Mondeo, Mazda6, Accord VTi and – it must be said – the Camry.

That said, there is no cheaper way into an auto diesel sedan of this size, and, as long as you are not too demanding, you and your family are likely to find the Epica CDTi an easy morsel to digest.

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