Daewoo Matiz SE Plus (2001)

2001 Matiz was more stylish and sturdy than its predecessor.

As a colleague recently discovered, the Daewoo Matiz can provoke some unexpected, not to say lunatic responses from drivers of other vehicles. That's an extremely curious business, because this little machine not only looks quite cute, but is also just about the best car in the Daewoo range, when you think about how well it does the job for which it was designed.Of course, it's also nippier than it appears to be, which may have been part of the problem mentioned above.In the midst of all the troubles being visited on Daewoo, there's no doubt that the Matiz appeals to an increasing number of customers.Any journalist driving a test car tends to be particularly aware of other examples of it on the road, and it's clear that there are plenty of Matiz (if that's the plural) around. They seem to fall into the two main categories the marketing people expected: women using their Matiz as a town runabout, and older owners who wanted a small car at a low price, with a high enough build so that they don't have to crouch down to get in and out of the seats.Right from the start, when it arrived on the UK market in 1998, the Matiz may have been a shock to the nervously inclined, but it was a much smoother-looking design than some of its gawky city-car rivals from the Far East.The latest model is more sturdily built, and more stylish, especially around the front end. Our SE Plus test car had front foglamps as standard, as well as a rear tailgate spoiler which sometimes provoked a smile. How much downforce does a car with a 0.8-litre engine need?Several items in the revised interior show that a lot of thought has been put into the Matiz "environment". The door handles and fascia push-button switches, for example, are very neatly designed, the fascia is much better looking than in most other city cars, and the blue-rimmed instruments look smart. These little things count.The high roofline makes the cabin feel quite spacious, and also allows back-seat passengers more generous room than many similar-length superminis. Luggage volume is certainly restricted, but that's because the very long wheelbase (compared with the overall length of the body) goes to providing rear kneeroom rather than storage space.Start up the engine, and you get that three-cylinder beat which, in certain circumstances, sounds like something from a GT car. There's a rather irregular-feeling tickover, another three-pot characteristic, and many drivers waiting in a traffic queue will probably give the Matiz a touch of throttle just to smooth things out.In town, the little Daewoo is very manoeuvrable, with good all-round visibility. Out on the open road, it can be persuaded to go more smartly than its engine capacity suggests, because the power output is actually quite sporting. You can't risk many spur-of-the-moment overtaking manoeuvres with other traffic coming the other way, of course, and another place where the lack of cubic centimetres tells is on a long climb. The wise thing is to get down the box quite quickly, and prepare to get down it again, if necessary.But on a long main-road run, the Matiz wafts along pretty well, although long main-road runs aren't what it was really designed for. You can say much the same about the front seats. They feel fine to begin with, but wriggling starts to be committed after an hour or so.Like all Daewoos, the Matiz comes with three years' servicing included in the purchase price, with a courtesy car provided if necessary. If you want, you can also sign up for a free Institute of Advanced Drivers course. There may be doubts about future Daewoo trade-in values, but other things make it seem a decent deal.An SE Plus with air-conditioning, incidentally, costs an extra £400, and ABS on that version comes at £395.Second opinion: Last year's revamp of the Matiz has made it a far more attractive proposition than the car I drove on the original press launch. It makes a lot of sense in town, and it copes better than you might expect out in the country, though there is always a feeling of small-car vulnerability. Most owners will find the performance acceptable (it's nippy enough for its main purpose) but if they become bored they can at least enjoy the wonderful engine note which makes the Matiz sound like a kitten pretending to be a tiger. David Finlay. Engine 796cc, 3 cylinders Power 50bhp Transmission 5-speed manual Fuel 46.3mpg Acceleration 0-62mph: 17.0 seconds Top speed 89mph Price £7295 Details correct at publication date

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