Holden’s South Korean-made Epica has not been the success story the company was hoping for. However, nothing daunted, Holden is hitting back with an upgraded model range featuring an optional new diesel engine. In addition to some nose and tail restyling, all Epica models now come as standard with six-speed automatic transmissions, electronic stability control and six airbags. In this class that’s a very good spec list – so how does the diesel car stack up?
The Epica CDX diesel (it's badged ‘CDTi’ but Holden usually refers to it as the ‘Epica CDX with diesel engine’) costs $29,990, a $2000 premium over the petrol engine version. (The higher trim level CDXi diesel costs $32,990.)
The new diesel engine is a SOHC 16-valve design using a cast iron block and aluminium cylinder head. A variable geometry turbo is used and the front-mounted intercooler is large and thin. The high pressure direct injection system is from Bosch and twin balance shafts are fitted. A particulate filter is fitted in the exhaust.
The diesel Epica has a lot to recommend it as a family car. One clear size smaller than the (huge) Commodore, the Epica is easier to park and garage, while still having plenty of interior space for all but carrying three adults (or a baby seat and two adults) across the back seat. 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.
The seats are comfortable but the manual height control on the driver’s seat was impossibly stiff to operate – this problem was also present on the previous Epica we drove; the mechanism clearly needs to be redesigned. On the test car there was also wind noise from the driver’s side window.
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 in size.
The heating and air-conditioning controls are simple and the instruments are clear. No trip computer is fitted in the CDX – something many prospective diesel purchasers would be looking for. 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. In short, the cabin is practical and also looks good.
The suspension comprises front MacPherson struts and a rear multi-link design. Tyres are Kumho 205/60 worn on 16 inch alloy rims. Ride quality is excellent, with a long travel suspension and well chosen spring and damper rates. However, the car has poor handling. The petrol engine Epica that we previously drove was certainly no sporting machine – but the diesel is worse.
The problem appears to be the extra weight of the diesel engine.
Holden quotes 1499kg for the petrol engine model and 1570kg for the diesel – and the extra 71kg feels like it is all positioned over the front wheels. The car is slow to turn-in and the speed-sensitive steering is awful in nearly all characteristics - weight (it alters on turn-in), road feel and self-centre’ing. On a tight and twisty road, the Epica feels lumbering and unwieldy. However, the stability control works well and so the car stays quite composed. We’re not suggesting that the handling is dangerous – just that a sporting driver will not much enjoy cornering.
The six cylinder petrol engine develops 115kW of power and 237Nm of torque – at 110kW, the diesel is down in power by only 4 per cent but with 320Nm of torque, it leads the petrol engine by a massive 35 per cent! The result is that in point-and-squirt conditions, the diesel Epica is fast and responsive.
But if feel is a judge, the brakes aren’t up to the new performance. Brake pedal travel on the test car was long and soft. The brakes never actually faded, but we wonder how they’d go with the Epica towing a trailer (max un-braked trailer mass is listed at 750kg) and with a holidaying family aboard.
At idle the diesel feels rather old fashioned. Despite the balance shafts, there’s plenty of noise and vibration - in this aspect, even a five year old diesel Peugeot is superior. Over 3000 rpm, the engine also makes an odd tinny noise – however, with the redline at 4500 rpm, you’re not often at those revs. In cruise – especially on a country road – the engine is refined and quiet; the car is an excellent long-distance tourer. There’s also good mid-range passing acceleration available.
The six ratios of the new transmission are welcome, as is the manual over-ride control (accessed by pushing the lever sideways). But in the test car, engine revs could flare badly on some gear changes, this being especially noticeable on the second-third change. The trans held gears well when climbing hills on the open road – it was its urban behaviour that was disconcerting. Incidentally, the same trans ratios are used with both the petrol and diesel engines – no wonder the diesel feels so responsive!
Fuel economy is a claimed 7.6 litres/100km (versus the petrol engine’s 9.3 litres/100km) and in our test, conducted mostly over country kilometres, we averaged about 6 litres/100km. Given the performance, size and comfort of the car, that’s excellent. With the 65 litre tank, the typical country touring range should be over 1000 kilometres.
The Epica diesel is a hard car to judge. We didn’t like the steering, transmission behaviour and lack of engine refinement – but for many people, those would be irrelevant negatives. However, we did like the fuel economy, performance, equipment level (missing trip computer excepted), practicality and price.
If you’re in the market for a roomy and thrifty family car, take one for a drive.