Daewoo 1.5i was already a dated design when it arrived on our shores in 1994. It was no wonder that it was the subject of some intense criticism from the motoring press who slammed its dodgy build quality and interior.

The Daewoo started life as an Opel Kadett in the mid-1980s and at that time it was a well built and competent small car that was one of the most popular small cars in Europe, but something was lost in the Asian translation.

MODEL WATCH

Daewoo took over the Kadett design when Opel was finished with it. The German car maker had already replaced it with an all-new model before they palmed it off on the Koreans, so it was well and truly past its use-by date when it starting rolling off the ships at our wharves.

It was no wonder it came in for some heavy criticism when it was up against up-to-the minute designs from rival companies, but with the help of a dog and some sharp pricing it quickly became a popular choice for buyers wanting a small car.

For $14,000 you could drive away in a front-wheel drive three-door hatch that was quite roomy for a small car and had a 1.5-litre single overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission combination that gave it class-leading performance.

The same car was also available with a three-speed auto trans and then cost $15,350.

Standard equipment included a radio-cassette player with two speakers, but air-conditioning was an extra cost option.

For just a little more you could have a more practical five-door hatch, and for those who wanted a boot and the extra security of a sedan there was a four-door available.

The styling was bland, again not surprising given that it was originally penned back in the early 1980s and was competing against much more modern cars. The interior also came in for some criticism for its dull grey colouring and the fit and finish of the plastic trim components.

On the road the Daewoo was praised for its handling which was safe and predictable, but criticised for its ride which was hard and harsh, particularly over broken road surfaces when it could become uncomfortable.

Performance was punchy. With the Holden-built 1.5-litre fuel-injected four belting out 57 kW it was on the pace with its rivals, which were mostly powered by smaller capacity engines.

Despite the criticisms the Daewoo was a popular choice for buyers wanting to get into the new car market, but couldn’t afford the heftier price tags of the cars with the better reputations. Not only was it a cheap and cheerful buy for people who simply wanted transportation and little else, it also became an alternative to a used car that came without the hassles that can be associated with a used car.

IN THE SHOP

Real estate agents shout position, position, position as the key when buying property. In the case of the Daewoo it’s condition, condition, condition.

The Daewoo was promoted as a car that could be thrown away after a relatively short time on the road. It was never touted as a well-built car that would last and last, and retain its value over a long period.

They were often bought by people who didn’t care what they were seen in, and didn’t treat their car with any care. They were the cars that were left parked in the street, in the hot sun, or under trees where they were exposed to tree sap and bird droppings that were never cleaned off before eating their way into the paint.

Look for a car that appears to have been looked after and check for any service records that might exist.

And take a ride with the owner to see how he or she drives, that way you will get a measure of how the car was treated while in their ownership.

But the real issue with the Daewoo is the build quality, which was so variable some looked as thought they’d been through a dodgy crash repair even when they’d come straight from the factory. Look for poor panel fit with wildly varying gaps, uneven paint coverage and faded paint and exterior plastic parts like bumpers.

Inside, expect rattles and creaks from the dash panel, they were common from new. Plastic trim parts are generally of low quality and prone to breakage or simply coming adrift. Door handles are particularly prone to breakage, and it’s not uncommon for the seat frames to break.

Mechanically, however, the Daewoo is quite robust. The engine keeps going without giving much trouble and the gearboxes are also quite reliable. Check oil level and the quality of the oil to get an idea of when it was last changed, and look under the oil filler for any signs of sludge, which can mean trouble down the road.

The bottom line is that the Daewoo was a throwaway car that delivered transport with few frills and little of the quality we’d come to expect of rival Japanese car makers, and even some of the other Korean companies. If you’re tempted by the low price, be careful and look around for the best car you can find.

LOOK FOR:

• uneven panel gaps and poor fitting panels.

• low quality fit and finish of interior plastic components.

• reasonably punchy performance

• safe and secure handling but poor ride comfort.

• broken body hardware and seat frames.