As a car the Optra doesn’t do too badly
The Optra Magnum is a combination of the Chevy SRV’s nose mated to square-shouldered Optra saloon which makes the car look familiar but yet quite different. This nose swapping is unique to the Indian market and is possible since both cars are basically the same Optra or Daewoo Nubira under the skin. The front looks sharper than previous Optras, thanks to the cat’s eye headlamps and tight-fitting bonnet and fenders which are borrowed from the SRV. The grille is now an extension of the bonnet V while an outsized bowtie sits at the centre with a lot of chrome surrounding it. Also new is a more aggressive but fussy chin. From the rear, the diesel looks like an ordinary Optra except for the tacky-looking Magnum badge which looks like it’s been stuck on. The TCDi also gets turn indicators in the wing mirrors and new 15-inch alloys.
Chevrolet has beefed up the Optra’s chassis so that it can take the extra weight of the diesel motor. The front MacPherson struts with its solidly-mounted lower control arm has been beefed up. The independent rear suspension uses variable rate coil springs and was originally validated by Lotus in the UK. For the diesel, the springs used are softer for a comfortable ride and a lot of work has gone into insulating the cabin from the clatter of the diesel. Most of the Magnum’s fine-tuning was done in India and these improvements will be carried over to Optra diesels in markets all over the world.
On the inside, the Magnum is again a mix of the SRV and the regular Optra. The dashboard is SRV with similar circular vents, central console and a matching steering wheel boss. The doorpads, however, are from the Optra. Of course, there are less sporty overtones. It’s finished in shades of beige, there are strips of fake wood, black leather and dull metal and this makes it feel more luxurious. The large seats are reasonably comfortable and legroom for tall drivers is good. There are many clever details like twin cupholders and a large storage bowl ahead of the gear lever. A mobile phone holder in the rear door pad and the hidden tray under the passenger seat are carried over onto this car to make the cabin feel well thought out and practical. Rear seat comfort is pretty good with ample legroom and thigh support. However, the ‘Hip’ or ‘H’ point is a bit too low (because the seat base has an acute angle) and this makes you sit in the seat rather than on it. Rear seat comfort is good as well.
While the Optra is not built exceptionally sturdily, and quality could have been better, it still does look fresh and new. There are some niggles though, the wood trim though looks quite fake, and the switches seem as if they are lifted from a segment below. In addition, the steering wheel doesn’t telescope or move back and forth. It does come with driver and passenger airbags though. The Magnum LT comes with leather seats but there is no electronic climate control system. The Optra’s 405-litre boot capacity is decent and the seats have a 60:40 split/fold function that improves flexibility should you need to load more.
Performance & Economy
The Optra’s 1991cc diesel motor comes with a Bosch 1600-bar common-rail injection system is coupled with a four-valve head and turbocharger. Power and performance are considerable. 120bhp and a whopping 32kgm of torque are enough to propel an SUV, and the motor features technology like a balancer shaft and a dual mass flywheel.
In the real world the Optra Diesel can keep pace with most of its petrol competitors, if not completely blow them away. The surge in power makes driving this car a real pleasure. The one weakness of this engine is its narrow power band. There is considerable turbo lag and the concentrated slug of torque between 2000 to 4000rpm makes you work hard with the gears. Second gear is a touch too tall and the gap between first and second gear accentuates the lag. Also, the sudden rush of power can catch you unaware in city driving. This non-linear power characteristic of the Optra Diesel takes some getting used to but once you figure out the power band, the Magnum is great fun to drive. Constantly using the sweet-shifting gearbox is also a pleasure. The Chevy is also whisper-quiet and the low noise levels have to be complimented. It gets audible when you near the redline but clearly for most operating speeds, vibrations and clatter are well suppressed.
The Optra gave 11.4 kilometres per litre (kpl) in the city, while on the highway it returned 16.5kpl.
Ride & Handling
The Optra Diesel’s long wheelbase and purpose-tuned progressive suspension give it ride quality that impresses immediately. Except for sharp ridges which filter through the cabin, the car rides well over bad roads. In fact, it gets better the faster you go, the Optra maintaining a flat and consistent poise through dips and large bumps. Straight-line stability is impressive and, despite the slightly softer suspension, the Optra tracks true at high speeds and there is no suggestion of nervousness either. Rough ride is brilliant and the Optra doesn’t hop all over the place and toss you around. The steering feel isn’t as impressive. Besides lacking the crispness we would have liked, it isn’t sufficiently isolated from the road. There is considerable torque steer in first and second gears
and the steering tends to follow road irregularities.
The Optra’s brakes are impressive and the all-disc ABS combo certainly impresses.
As a car the Optra doesn’t do too badly. In fact, it does brilliantly. Its modern common-rail diesel motor is silent and smooth, the power and performance massive and fuel economy acceptable too. It’s great on the highway, decent in the city and let’s not forget is spacious and pretty well equipped. Overall, it’s a good package.
What it costs
Ex-showroom (Delhi) Rs 8.3-11.83 lakh
Warranty 2yrs/50,000 kms
Installation Front, transverse, two-wheel drive
Compression ratio 17.5:1
Valve gear 4 valves per cyl, SOHC
Power 120bhp at 3000rpm
Torque 32.1kgm at 2125rpm
Power to weight 87.59 bhp per tonne
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Ground clearance 165mm
Chassis & Body
Tyres 195/60 R15
Front Independent, MacPherson struts with anti-roll bar
Rear Independent, MacPherson struts with anti-roll bar
Type Rack and pinion
Type of power assist Hydraulic assist
Front Ventilated disc
City 11.4 kpl
Highway 16.5 kpl
Tank size 60 litres
Range at a glance - Engines
Petrol 1.6 litre
Diesel 2.0 litre