When Holden moved the goal posts for Vectra buyers by putting the models’ prices up beyond a sustainable level in the medium-sized family car market in the mid-2000s, the Epica was launched to fill the gap. Initially greeted with much enthusiasm, these 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre 6-cylindered options, and later a 4-cylinder turbo diesel, really looked the part. Styled with a European influence, their flowing lines, shapely headlamps and pushed up rear-end certainly caught the eye. It is still does – the Epica is a good looking car; a stylish modern sedan that would not look out of place when it pulled up next to a BMW M3 or Audi A6.
But time, the great leveller that it is, demonstrates how difficult it is to build a modern sedan on a tight budget. Born out of GM’s support for Korean car manufacturer, Daewoo, the Epica did impress at first, performing well in review. Since that initial flurry of excitement though, cracks have appeared to spoil its image – particularly those relating to recalls on safety grounds.
That said, the Holdens are impressive machines when the motivation is to buy a great looking car that is inexpensive to run. All three Epica engines are frugal, sipping well below 8L/100km when driven sedately. When combined with the premium CDXi trim, they make for a spacious drive that is budget friendly.
The 2006 Epicas are powered by an inline 6-cylinder engine as opposed to the more common 4-cylinder or small capacity V6 found in cars of a similar size. Initially available as a 2.0-litre, 105kW manual and a 2.5-litre, 115kW automatic, both with 5-speed transmissions, they’re certainly smoother and less ‘raspy’ than an equivalent 4-cylinder engine competitor such as the Toyota Camry, and so give drivers a more quiet and refined experience when the power is down. You do however get the sense that the set-up lacks torque given the extra two cylinders.
In 1997 Holden dropped the 5-speed 2.0-litre manual in favour of the 2.5-litre automatic with an upgraded 6-speed transmission for better torque as the base model. A 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder six-speed turbo diesel option was also introduced. This car is a great performer, producing 110kW of power and a load more torque than compared to the 2.5-litre petrol option.
A defining characteristic of all Holden Epicas is their fuel economy. The original 2.5-litre 5-speed auto uses just 7-8L/100km on the freeway – this model being the thirstier of the bunch. Even in stop-start traffic you’ll notice how little that fuel gauge moves, no matter which Epica you’re driving.
Road handling is, for the most part, excellent in all versions of the Epica – and in truth it should be no surprise that this is the case. In building the Epica for the Australian market, Holden and GM Daewoo invested heavily on suspension testing. More than 60,000kms were clocked up to produce a high-mounted, rear, multi-link suspension and steering package that is in-tune with Australian roads. Springs and dampers are set up to give Epicas a nice smooth ride on bitumen, while steering is light and direct, providing more confidence when driving the car into a corner at speed.
However, on unsealed roads consisting of dirt and gravel the Epica feels less confident, especially under braking. Watch out for Epica’s that shudder while braking due to warped brake discs, and cars that struggle to move out of park position. These are known faults on Epicas. A thorough test drive before you buy should pick up any inconsistencies.
The Epica features upmarket cloth upholstery with beige or black leather optional. Decent plastic surrounds the Epica’s interior offering a semi-luxurious feel to the cabin. The CDX is entry level, but you’ll get a high level of equipment as standard kit. This includes four airbags, pretension seatbelts, lumbar support, air conditioning, sound system and convenient controls on a stylish steering wheel.
The CDXi is a sportier version and offers a leather upholstery package as standard, along with more airbags, cruise control and a sophisticated climate control system.
The Epica competes against the ever-popular Toyota Camry, and the Mazda6. Against the Camry the Epica struggles. Even though it is less refined than the Epica on styling, interior and engine performance, the Camry remains a popular choice.. Fuel economy is similar between the two, but where the Camry does outscore the Epica is in the reliability department.
The Mazda6 is a much more luxurious car. It’s well-built and feature-rich, but is heavier on fuel consumption than the Epica.