MODEL: 2004 to 2007 Chevrolet Optra
VEHICLE TYPE: Sedan, five-door hatch or wagon

HISTORY/DESCRIPTION: The Optra was a re-badged Daewoo sold to us Canadians as a sedan, wagon or five-door hatchback called the Optra 5. The marketing folks at Chevrolet hoped it would win shoppers over with its low price, generous flexibility and selection.

The Optra intended to be cheap to run, and all models got a two-litre four cylinder engine with 119 horsepower. This powerplant wont’ get drivers into any trouble ‚ but it will keep fuel bills well in check. A four-speed automatic or five-speed manual and drove the front wheels. Features included a sunroof, premium audio, air conditioning, side airbags, ABS brakes and fog lamps.

With these features and Optra’s higher-than-average availability of different body styles, finding one to suit a particular budget or lifestyle should be fairly easy.

WHAT OWNERS LIKE: Optra owners rave about styling and comfort, as well as the interior space and ease of access of their machines. This holds especially true where the hatchback or wagon is concerned. For the price, an Optra 5 or Optra Wagon is tough to beat in terms of cargo hauling capacity.

Driving dynamics and braking performance are also highly rated for such an inexpensive vehicle.

WHAT OWNERS HATE: Frequent complaints were encountered about the Optra’s “thin” sheet metal which may dent easily. Other gripes included various squeaks and rattles and a weak air conditioner.

Note that many owners who didn’t opt for the antilock brakes wish they had — especially in winter driving conditions.

COMMON ISSUES: Optra wasn’t what you’d call a smash hit in terms of sales volumes — and it was on sale for a relatively short period of time. As such, its overall reliability as a used vehicle is somewhat inconclusive. Common sense used-car checks should be your starting point. Ensure proper functionality from all interior accessories, check tire wear, fluids and all lights. A test drive should see a fairly quiet ride that’s free of front end clunking or grinding over bumps, and the brakes should stop the car quickly and in a straight line. Note that any unusual vibration or squealing from the brakes indicates a problem, as does a spongy pedal that wants to go to the floor. Ultimately, Optra doesn’t seem to suffer from any serious systematic issues, but it is largely un-proven. Given the low price they command in the used market, why not budget for an inspection at your local dealer or garage, just to be safe? Remember: your Chevrolet dealer’s service department can check whether the Optra you’re looking at has any outstanding recall-related work, too.

THE VERDICT: There are more popular and familiar vehicles in the Optra’s class — but they’re typically more expensive. An Optra in good shape with a thumbs-up from a licensed mechanic should prove a decent choice for shoppers who have prioritized flexibility and price.

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