Curbside Capsule: 2007-11 Chevrolet/Holden Epica – “Tosca Isn’t For Everyone”

That line was uttered by the villainous Mr. White in a memorable scene in the 2008’s Quantum of Solace. In that scene, James Bond intercepts members of the shadowy organisation Quantum as they watch the Puccini opera that lent its name to this Daewoo, also known as the Holden Epica and Chevrolet Epica. While I’ll vociferously defend Quantum of Solace’s merits as a film, I’m a little less enthusiastic about this Daewoo. That being said, the Tosca is no Diamonds Are Forever.

Quantum of Solace is often regarded as a forgettable or weak film in the Bond franchise. I beg to differ: while some of the plot elements are derivative of past Bond outings, it had a more serious tone, a credible villain with a compelling evil scheme, and plenty of stunning scenery. Even if you aren’t a fan, you must surely acknowledge some of the technical merits of the film like its beautiful locations and cinematography.

The same applies to the Tosca. It replaced the Daewoo Magnus, sold as the Chevrolet Epica in Canada and Suzuki Verona in the US. Unfortunately, Giugario wasn’t contracted again and instead the Tosca was a bland, in-house design. The interior, too, was devoid of style. Driving dynamics were nothing special, either – this was Daewoo’s attempt at a Camry and so there was noticeable body roll and unnoticeable steering feel.

In Australia, the Epica replaced the Opel-sourced Vectra which, although lacking a reputation for Toyota-esque reliability, was a polished, classy, and dynamic mid-size offering. To many, this felt like following Casino Royale with Quantum of Solace.

What were the Tosca’s redeeming qualities, then? Why, its inline six engines co-developed with Porsche, of course. Yes, really. Like its Magnus predecessor, the Tosca was available with two different, transversely-mounted inline six engines, a 2.0 and a 2.5. This was highly unusual for a mid-size sedan in the 2000s, with V6s being the preferred format. There wasn’t even a four-cylinder engine available in most markets, leaving the 2.0 six as the entry-level engine even in Europe.

Being as smooth and refined as inline six engines so often are, the 2.0 and 2.5 mills made for a refreshingly unique point of differentiation for this otherwise innocuous sedan. The XK6 engine family was designed under the stewardship of Daewoo’s then-chief engineer, Ulrich Bez, later the CEO of Aston Martin. Porsche, FEV and AVL were all involved as consulting engineers during development of the XK6 engines, which Daewoo touted as being the world’s most compact inline-six – the powerplant weighed just 332 pounds. The 2.0 produced 140 hp at 6400 rpm and 143 ft-lbs at 2600 rpm and the 2.5 produced 154 hp at 5800 rpm and 174 ft-lbs at 2600 rpm. While those figures were no better than four-cylinder engines in rival sedans, the Tosca managed to be fuel-efficient, too – with a combined rating of 25mpg in the 2.5, it shaded the four-cylinder Camry by 2mpg.

The Tosca/Epica wasn’t really sold on its engineering excellence, however. Instead, it followed the same old Daewoo formula: size a car a little bit bigger than its rivals, load it with equipment, and price it lower. The fact that it had decent build quality and adequate dynamics sweetened the deal. The lack of steering feel, style and low-end torque were less egregious when you saw this well-equipped, Passat-sized car had a Golf price tag in Europe, or when you considered a loaded Epica 2.5 sold for less than a base Camry in Australia. The Epica didn’t do anything glaringly wrong and was quite a pleasant car overall – even the tough critics in the UK auto press had nice things to say.

A GM/VM Motori-developed 2.0 common-rail turbo-diesel was also made available in 2008, coinciding with a minor but welcome facelift. It produced 147 hp at 4000 rpm and 236 ft-lbs at 2000 rpm and was mated to a six-speed automatic. With a 0-60 time of 9.7 seconds, it was around 0.2 seconds quicker than the 2.0 six. In Australia, the little six had only been available with a five-speed manual and so was quietly shelved due to slow sales; it remained available, however, in Europe.

As Mr. White would later say in Spectre, “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane.” That was a sound warning for the Tosca: in Australia, it competed in a hollowed-out mid-size segment dominated by the Camry, while in Europe it was the flagship for the fledgling Chevrolet brand that had subsumed the old Daewoo lineup. The Epica didn’t sell any better in Australia than its Vectra predecessor, despite costing up to $10k less. Throughout Europe, it was outsold by the more expensive Hyundai Sonata. It did, however, best its other American-badged rivals, the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger. In both markets, it was eventually replaced by the GM-developed, Korean-built Malibu.

I spent a lot of time looking down my nose at the Holden Epica for being such a mediocre sequel. It turns out, however, it wasn’t all that bad. It was no Casino Royale, mind you, but it deserved a re-watch.

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