Chevrolet Optra Magnum – The ideal mid-level executive car

The initial foray of the world's largest automobile manufacturer on Indian shores wasn't very successful. While General Motors mused over the ruins of the Opel brand in India, there emerged the Optra sporting the Chevy bowtie and reversed the initial setbacks. The Chevrolet Optra now comes equipped with a new diesel power plant and is all set to become the preferred entry-level luxury sedan. Sourya Biswas reports.

Now that General Motors has unleashed a bevy of automotive beauties on Indian roads, perhaps it is time to recognize the car that actually saved GM's bacon in this country after the disastrous experiences with the Opel brand – the Chevrolet Optra. GM now has cars in India encompassing the entire automotive spectrum, from Spark hatchbacks to Captiva SUVs, but it was on the Optra that the company started its successful journey in India. Small wonder that General Motors, a manufacturer with so many established brands in its marquee, still sticks on to the Chevrolet tag name for all its products here.

However, GM will have to share honours on the Optra's success with Daewoo, considering that the Chevrolet Optra was initially just a rebadged Daewoo Lacetti. Of course, General Motors can reasonably claim that the Optra's subsequent success had a lot to do with its contributions considering that the Lacetti was not exactly a bestseller earlier. This happened subsequent to Daewoo's bankruptcy following its management's indictment on fraud. Subsequently, Daewoo's commercial vehicles division was bought out by India's own Tata Motors, while General Motors acquired the passenger cars division.

As usual GM continues its time-honoured tradition of assigning different names to the same vehicle in different markets. So, the Chevrolet Optra in India is known as the Holden Viva in Australia, the Daewoo Lacetti in Europe and the Buick Excelle in China. Of course, the Chevrolet Optra seems to be the most popular name for this vehicle worldwide, such as India, Canada, the US, Central and South American countries like Colombia and Mexico.

Enough of the confusing nomenclature, let's get down to the story of the Optra in India. GM introduced the Chevrolet Optra in 2000 with two engine options – a 1.6L petrol delivering 77 bhp and a 1.8L petrol power plant producing 88 horses. The car was available in three trim levels for the first option – the Elite, the Elite LS and the LT Royale with sunroof. In the second option, the Optra came in the LT and the LT AT versions, the last two letters standing for Automatic Transmission. The 1.8L option has now been discontinued, although the 1.6L continues to ensure its presence in the petrol segment.

Even though the Optra was a capable entry-level premium (oxymoron?) sedan, and GM positioned it as ''the new name for luxury'', sales never really skyrocketed because of the underpowered engine that was also quite thirsty to boot (pun not intended). GM listened to the customer and came up with the diesel Optra and christened it the Optra Magnum. And the segment hasn't been the same since.

The Chevrolet Optra Magnum, launched in June 2007, is not merely a car with a new heart – it can be termed an entirely new car, considering that it wears new clothes as well. The great looks introduced with the diesel variant have now been carried over into the petrol version as well, with the result that the entire Optra range now also bears the Magnum moniker.