Read some of the stuff written about the Epica and you could be forgiven that this car is a complete heap of rubbish, sourced from Korea by Holden as a cheap and nasty way of filling the gap created by the departed Vectra. And it’s true that the Epica is a much cheaper car than the last Vectra models were, and that yes, the Epica is made in Korea and has a lot of Daewoo genes in its make-up.
But a complete heap of rubbish? We certainly don’t think so...
The Epica is not a car for hard-charging drivers; it isn’t a car for those who like traffic light grands prix or doubling corner advisory signposted speeds. But if you decide that you don’t want to join Holden’s Commodore race - you know, the one where it’s heavier, thirstier and more powerful each model – then the Epica makes a very good Holden family choice.
Powered in the tested model by a Porsche-designed 2.5 litre straight six cylinder engine, the $27,990 car uses the almost unique configuration of placing the engine transversely across the nose, something that with six cylinder engines normally requires a V design. Not overly endowed with power – there’s 115kW available at 5800 rpm – and with low-down torque that is clearly not in the league of the local sixes, the 1500kg Epica still manages to acquit itself quite well in the normal cut-and-thrust of urban traffic. In this it’s helped by the complete lack of (dry road) wheelspin and the well-matched auto transmission torque converter.
Away from idle, the straight six is silky smooth (at idle there’s a slight lumpiness) and noticeably ‘comes on cam’ (or is it the switching of the variable length intake manifold?) at around 3500-4000 rpm. Because of its relatively small size, hard acceleration requires lots of revs and the engine then becomes clearly audible. There’s also a slight jerk when getting back on the throttle, something particularly noticeable with the cruise control engaged.
But for our money the biggest driveline deficiency is not the engine but the 5-speed auto trans. No easy-to-use manual shift mode is provided – a pity, when at times the power and torque characteristics of the engine would lend themselves well to manual control. And, as we’ve found with other recent overseas-sourced Holdens, the auto trans calibration is poor. In the Epica this meant that when running under cruise control up a long country road hill, the trans constantly shifted back and forth between 3rd and 4th gears.
We wouldn’t recommend towing something big, but the car has quite adequate power and response for a 6x4 trailer taking a trailer-load to the tip or bringing home an item of newly-bought furniture.
The ride is excellent, feeling ‘large car’ and being upset only by continuous short-spaced bumps on country roads – there, the ride can become a little jiggly. In other conditions, including dirt roads, the suspension feels long-travel and well-damped. However, steering feel is poor and cornering prowess nothing special. Both might be improved by new rubber – standard are 205/60 Hankook Optimo tyres on 16-inch alloys. (Incidentally, the spare wheel is a 15 inch steel rim that is limited to 80 km/h). The steering wheel is height-adjustable only and in the test car the rear driver seat height knob (front and rear of squab can be adjusted separately) was very stiff and so difficult to use.
The Epica is a full-size family car, capable of swallowing four adults. Rear space looks at first a bit tight for leg-room but that’s primarily because the rear seat tracks extend back a long way – position them so that front occupants are still comfortable and the back seat has sufficient leg-room for normal sized adults. The very tall will, however, find that rear headroom is tight. No rear vents or door pockets are provided but the seats (front and rear) are large, soft and comfortable.
The boot is huge and very practically shaped; the boot carpet is edged and lifts out easily for cleaning. A pull down hand-hold is provided in the boot lid and an emergency interior escape release is also fitted. The rear seat folds 60/40 but the opening from the boot into the cabin is quite limited.
The instruments and controls are clear, well-marked and straightforward in use. Steering wheel controls are provided for cruise control and operation of the sound system. The heater and air-conditioner are effective but we found that, after a short stop with the car turned off, the air from the vents was much warmer than ambient.
A large, flat-lidded compartment is provided in the middle of the dashboard – presumably, an LCD display is placed there in other models. It looks a bit odd but the compartment is deeper than it first looks and actually proves to be quite useful. One of the few indications of the car’s price can be found in the lidded bin in the centre console – the lower lid is flimsy and falls into place with a clatter. Side and front airbags and traction control (not stability control) are fitted to this model.
Build quality looked fine – a close inspection showed no problems with the paint or panel margins and the doors shut very well. The body design gives good all-round vision – even for smaller people.
In a mix of country and city driving we achieved a good 9.3 litres/100km – exactly the same as the official government test. As a quick comparison, the Mitsubishi 380 we had over the same period, which travelled much the same mix of kilometres, achieved fuel economy some 30 per cent poorer....
The Epica CDX 2.5 is not perfect – and we’d certainly like to see a running change to improve the auto trans calibration – but for someone who wants a roomy car that’s not high priced, is fuel-efficient for its size and is quite comfortable, we think it deserves a close look.