The Korean built sedan replaces the Vectra at a much lower price.
From the start, things went well for the new Holden Epica. First off, I mistook it for a Commodore in the Holden car park, so it really must look like it belongs in the lion-badged family.
This mid-sized, Korean-made sedan that replaced the slow-selling, European-made Vectra, is smaller than a Commodore, but not by so much it stands out. Less than 9cm narrower and shorter, less than 3cm lower. Then there's the similar grille, similar-style headlights, similar stance.
Something else that bodes well for the Epica: tell people you have a new cut-price Holden outside and they take a look at it, showing the brand's strength.
Petrolheads might dismiss it as not a “real” Aussie Holden, but are fascinated by the Epica's layout: a front-drive car with an in-line, six-cylinder engine. That's highly unusual in 2007.
There is a choice of engines; a 2.0 litres capacity with manual gearbox or a heartier 2.5 litres with automatic transmission, both designed by Porsche. The Epica doesn't go like a Porsche, but then it's not priced like one.
Fuel economy, rather than sizzling performance, seems to have been the goal, but it goes along well enough, considering how much it costs.
Just don't expect typical six-cylinder power. Since the Epica's engine is the size of many four-cylinder units, that's the sort of performance you get.
Overall, it is not exactly special to drive, nor is it anything awful. Think average fare at a within-reach price for most people.
Unfortunately for the Epica, it is probably fashionable to knock cars like this: a budget design brought in to replace one with a better pedigree. Trouble was, the Vectra proved too expensive to survive.
The Epica's engine is generally quiet and smooth, but seems short of torque, or pulling power, at low revs. Or even medium revs. So when cruising at the highway limit in hilly country it tends to drop back a couple of gears to maintain momentum, and this can get tiresome.
Dynamically, it lacks the poise of spot-on Japanese designs like the Mazda 6 and Honda Accord. As for refinement, the Toyota Camry and Mitsubishi 380 feel like they're in another league.
So, cutting edge it's not. Still, there is plenty about the Epica to make it popular. Certainly it amounts to a fair bit of car for the money; though classed as mid-sized, it has generous leg room for people in the back seat, along with a roomy boot.
There is the convenience of a split-fold back seat, too, so there's something big brother Commodore could learn from the Epica.
In some ways it is generously equipped: alloy wheels on even the cheapest version, plus cruise control, six-speaker audio system. The rear seat has a fold-down armrest with cupholders.
But keep looking and you find things missing; no stability control system, no manual-change mode for the automatic transmission, no driver's footrest, no normal spare tyre, but one that can be used only up to 80km/h.
Obviously there have been trade-offs to keep that price down.
Details: Medium-size, front-drive sedan with six-cylinder engine. 2.0 litres (105kW power, 195Nm torque) or 2.5 litres (115kW, 237Nm). Five-speed manual or five-speed automatic.
Features: Front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, airconditioning, alloy wheels, cruise control, remote central locking, power mirrors, power windows.
Cost: CDX 2.0 manual $25,990, CDX 2.5 auto $27,990, CDXi 2.5 auto $30,990.