Motoring: Daewoo's time machine: it has nearly caught up with 1997

Once more, without feeling, new Daewoos have arrived. This one is an odd size and seems to have little character. But John Simister sees signs of hope ...

You'll have heard of Daewoo, the Korean conglomerate that sells its cars direct to the public and promises a whole new world of consumer-friendly car-buying. Its original range of two models was as crude and geriatric as the sales pitch was slick, but now these automotive white goods come in three new shapes and sizes. The one you see here is the middle-sized one, called Nubira.

Nubira. A nubile-sounding car, you might think. Or perhaps, if you heard the name out of context, you might think it was a new brand of mobile telephone, or possibly, give or take a vowel or two, a new ballpoint pen. But no, it's a car. The company's engineers refer to it as the J100, which sounds much more high-tech. A pity the marketing men didn't stick with it.

Daewoos are already seen as smart buys by those who know a good car when they see one, and who find that a Daewoo does all they want from a car (go from A to B, start first time, and so on). The mainstream motor trade will not touch them as trade-ins, true, but that is because it has closed ranks against the maverick newcomer. Either that, or the cars are unsaleable second-hand, perish the thought. To be fair, Daewoo has seen this coming, which is why the new cars are proper modern machines instead of General Motors cast-offs. Look at a new Nubira, and you see something which might even stand up on its own merits.

This car is a slightly odd size, bigger than an Escort but smaller than a Mondeo and not, as yet, available as a hatchback. The four-door saloon (there is also an estate) costs pounds 11,995 as a 1.6-litre SE, or pounds 12,995 as a 2.0-litre CDX which is the version I drove. You certainly get plenty of kit, including anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, four electric windows and two airbags, plus a stereo which is made not by Daewoo's electrical division but by Sony. It comes complete with a mobile phone, too. It's a Panasonic, as it happens.

Korean it may be, but the Nubira is also cosmopolitan. The body was styled by IDEA of Turin, the engine comes from Holden (Australia's equivalent of Vauxhall, so the GM connection is not yet dead), and the whole project came together at Daewoo's technical centre in Worthing. A three-part front grille (Daewoo's heritage starting point) and enormous rear lights give some visual interest, as does the line which extends from the top of the front wheel arch to the car's rear. But I approached the Nubira with some trepidation, for this is a car which appears to have no perceptible personality. Would I remember what it was like the next day?

Worried that I would not, I took more copious notes than usual. And trying to relive the experience now, I'm having difficulty. So, let's see some of what I wrote.

Big boot. Cup-holders in facia. No centre console - storage tray extends under dashboard. So far, so informative. Proud Daewoo crests on yellow under-bonnet filler caps. Roomy in back, but cabin narrow. Driver's seat too high despite tilt adjustment, gradations of steering wheel's height and backrest rake too coarse. Irritating chime if key left in ignition.

Yes, it's coming back now. So what about when it's actually moving, rather than sitting in a showroom? Floppy, gritty gearchange, steering woolly, rubbery and anaesthetised around the straight-ahead, car does not feel naturally stable at speed on the straight. But holds the road well, and handles bends much more precisely than you would expect from the steering. Comfortable ride. Engine quiet, punchy too (so it should be with 132bhp), but accelerator snatchy.

There's some honing to do, then, before the Nubira nudges the best Western or Japanese standards, but it is, fundamentally, a proper if unremarkable late-1990s car and it does feel more solid and better-built than a Hyundai Lantra (its main Korean rival). Easy to be cynical, but open your mind. There, the notes even contain a trace of self-admonishment.

I wouldn't want a Nubira but, given the warranty and free servicing package (three years for both), I would entirely understand if you did. Who knows, one day Daewoo might even have a history if the Far East's economic collapse doesn't prove terminal.

Daewoo Nubira 2.0 CDX

pounds 12,995. Engine: 1,998cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 132bhp at 5,400rpm. Five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive. Top speed 122mph, 0-60 in 8.8sec; 25-30mpg

Rivals:

Chrysler Neon 2.0 LX: pounds 13,795. Like the Daewoo, a lot of car for the money but little sophistication. Neat looks.

Fiat Marea 2.0 ELX: pounds 14,647. More power, more flair than Nubira. Well made, fun to drive. Relative of Bravo/Brava.

Hyundai Lantra 1.8 Si: pounds 12,899. Less pace and perceived solidity than the Nubira, but steers more sweetly.

Proton Persona 1.8 SEi: pounds 13,365. Malaysian-built, Mitsubishi-based, feels cheap, much better to drive than you'd expect.

Subaru Impreza 2.0 GL: pounds 13,610. Basks in glory reflected from rally-winning Turbo version. Four-wheel drive, fine value.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...