Manufactured as an integral bus, the Excel was launched in 1995 as one of the first low-floor single-deck vehicles. The styling of the body was in keeping with existing Optare products, especially at the rear. At the front, a simple flat panel with the Optare name was set between two pairs of twin headlamps, below a very large front windscreen. Power came from a Cummins 6BT, a 6-cylinder turbo diesel engine. A Mercedes-Benz 900 series engine was an option with the Excel 2. Both transmitted their power via an Allison "World Series" B300R gearbox.
The Excel was built in a range of lengths, and in Optare tradition, the chassis code reflected this. An L960 was 9.6m in length; an L1000 was 10.0m in length, and so on; with L1070 and L1150 variants built.
The Excel was updated in 1999, with the front similar to that of the Optare Solo and using round headlights, 2 less rear lights, and a repositioned fuel-filler cap. This was known as the Excel 2, and was only built in L1070, L1150 and L1180 configurations. Examples of the 11.8 m long Excel 2 (the longest version) were purchased by Wilts & Dorset, and Trent Barton, which still use them in service today. The Stagecoach Group only bought 16 Optare Excel 2s; these are in service in Chesterfield, Bassetlaw and South Yorkshire.
Seating ranged from 27 in the L960, 35 in the L1070, 43 in the L1150 and 45 in the L1180, although these figures can vary.
The Excel did not have a great reputation for its reliability and many major operators were quick to dispose of their Excels onto the second hand market.