Monday, June 4, 2012

Used Car Review - Chevrolet Optra Wagon (2006-2009)

School started already but you are car-less and still relying on public transportation to mobile you around. You wanted a station wagon since it can swallow your school stuff and other related equipment at the cargo area but the problem is, what wagon? Among the limited choices available, Myk Belmonte finds a gem that could suit you well.

2006-2009 Chevrolet Optra Wagon

History
I have said this story several times ago in my articles that involve Korean cars; Daewoo Motors ran into deep financial trouble due to the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 90s. Daewoo purchased 4x4 specialist Ssangyong in 1998 only to sell it two years later due to financial woes. Year 2001 came and General Motors acquired most of Daewoo Motor's assets to form GM Daewoo and commenced operations the following year.

And with the buyout, the Daewoo Lacetti was born. Just like every GM Daewoo (now GM Korea) model, it is sold in different names and brands; using the badges of Chevrolet, Holden, Buick, and Suzuki in different parts of the world. The Lacetti's sedan and wagon were designed by Pininfarina and the hatchback's body by Giorgetto Giugario, both acknowledged automobile designers. This vehicle was introduced in 2002 and production continued until 2011, with the Cruze replacing it on that year.

The Philippine market had the Optra sedan in late 2003 while we had to wait for the wagon until 2006. The Optra replaced several vehicles within the GM family, and these were the Opel Astra (which prompted the discontinuation of the Opel brand in 2004); the Chevrolet Cassia, essentially a sedan version of the Suzuki Esteem; and its direct descendant, the Daewoo Racer. From 2006 to the following year, a basic (but well equipped) LS variant and a body kit and sporty rims clad SS trim paired with either a manual or automatic transmission. A 2008 revision just had the LS variant with the two transmission choices. Offered in Chevrolet dealers until 2009, with the Cruze (now a real Chevrolet) taking the place of both sedan and wagon guises.

Value and Costs
Between P370,000-P500,000, one can experience the functionality of a wagon plus the numerous standard features which some competitors' lack. The other vehicles that almost match the price range of the Optra Wagon (in second hand prices) are European estates that can be a pain to maintain for the ordinary motorist (or the middle class student). With this reason, the Optra Wagon is a bargain to be had but it would be nice if other competitors had come to the scene during that time.

GM Automobiles Philippines was plagued with poor after-sales support, but with the new distributor to the rescue, parts availability is stable but there are some components that require waiting (try browsing automotive forums such as the ones in tsikot.com with actual owners posting there). Various quality quirks are present in the Optra; which mostly involve the ECU (Electronic Control Unit) and some related with the mechanical parts. The ECU must be reprogrammed by the previous owner before sealing the deal, and some quirks should be fixed to enjoy a problem free drive.

Exterior and Interior
Credit Pininfarina for the exterior design, which was executed with grace and elegance. If you are a fan of Chevys, you'll notice that the grille is shared with other vehicles in the lineup. You and I will have the same say that the Optra was designed after the turn of the millennium. Roof rails come standard which lends a touch of utility but clipping a roof carrier on it is dangerous and much discouraged.

While the interior has numerous features, it's the fit and finish quality that is a deal breaker. The surface finish is ok but the fear of scratching it is there. Be careful not to leave any scratches and not to leave anything unnecessary (plants in the car anyone?) in the cargo cabin, especially if you plan to make most of the utility part of the vehicle. Passengers would really love the room afforded by this vehicle, since headroom is more than adequate.

Engine
Among the numerous engine configurations offered worldwide, an E-TEC II 1,598cc became the standard power plant in all PHDM Optra wagons. While 110hp at 5,800rpm and 150Nm at 4,000rpm are adequate on paper, the figures don't tell the whole story. Both power and torque numbers are neither worst, but neither class leading. Better conduct a test drive to know how a car performs.

Driving Impressions
You will mistake the Optra Wagon's driving dynamics for something from Europe. Handling is agile and acceleration is brisk and absorbs road imperfections without transmitting the bumps to its occupants. Despite its weight, it has the ability to go up to triple digit speeds; credit this one to the engineers who've chosen the transmission's gear ratios intelligently. There is the burden of sluggishness if you overload the car.

Verdict
Station wagons are a balance of a sedan's low ground clearance and comfort and a minivan's versatility. And the Optra wagon embodies the role of its sedan brethren; comfortable, versatile, and fuel efficient. It may be gone, and it may have a fair number of shortcomings, but if you plan to maximize its utility, consider this one on your shopping list. Students, save some bucks now for this versatile vehicle.



The Good:
  • Unbeatable flexibility
  • Feature loaded for the price
  • Sharp handling
The Bad:
  • Too thirsty an engine than the competition
  • Engine is nothing special against main rivals
  • Some replacement parts are pricey and have long waiting times
The Pick: 1.6 LS MT

THE SPECS
Engine: 1,598cc E-TEC II I4 gasoline
Power: 110hp @ 5,800rpm
Torque: 150Nm @ 4,000rpm
Fuel Consumption: 6-8km/L (city), 9-12km/L (highway) (*estimated and varies)
Transmission: 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic
Suspension: Front independent McPherson strut, rear multilink with stabilizer bars

MORE INFO
Price (New): P789,000-P869,000 (range from 2006-2009)
Price (Now): P330,000-P500,000
Rivals: Opel Astra wagon, Suzuki Esteem
On Sale: 2006-2009
Resources: 
http://en.chevroletclub.net/country/philippines-41
http://www.mychevyclub.com/forums/index.php?board=5.0

Contacts:
Chevrolet Quezon Avenue - 374-1250
Chevrolet Pasig - 672-1485
Chevrolet Makati - 867-8183

Photos courtesy of http://sulit.com.ph/5008978

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