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Car reviews - Daewoo - Matiz - 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Interior space, equipment, surprising performance
Room for improvement
Vulnerable in traffic

9 May 2001

DAEWOO'S Matiz puts a new spin on the quirky micro-car concept. Here is a tiny vehicle, not three-and-a-half metres long and looking like a mini people-mover, that will carry up to five passengers in quite reasonable comfort, with acceptable road performance and relative luxury.

Yet it looks like something you would be quite happy to be seen in.

Styled by Ital Design and utilising input from various highly credible sources such as Tickford in the UK (engine tuning) Siemens in Germany (airbags) and Delphi in France (brakes, air- conditioning), the Matiz has all the hallmarks of a genuine multi-national effort.

It follows the soundly conceived themes that have set the pace for the South Korean company since it launched its new-generation product with the Lanos/Nubira/Leganza trio in 1998.

So, as a maximally efficient micro car, the Matiz is compromised only by the limitations of the physical space it is supposed to occupy, and by the levels of economy it sets out to achieve.

In terms of carrying those five passengers while occupying minimal road space, it manages very well. The Matiz is a full metre short of its larger, Corolla-size stablemate, the Nubira, and is 20 centimetres narrower, yet not ridiculously in arrears where interior space is concerned.

Internal width is down about 12cm but front legroom is lacking by less than 3cm while headroom is actually slightly more. And this is compared with a small car that is slightly above class average.

Of course there is never any pretending the Matiz has abundance on its side but it is certainly not claustrophobic either - for four adults at least. This is one of the benefits of an upright stance that locates passengers higher in their seats, a ploy commonly used to maximise leg-stretching space.

The body was designed to comply with legislated safety requirements including 56km/h, 40 per cent frontal offset and 50km/h side crash in Europe and the 48.3km/h to 53.1km/h rear impact standards required by the Gulf Co-operation Council.

Assisting the safety of this small Daewoo is the standard fitting of twin front airbags, anti-submarining front seats (to prevent passengers sliding underneath the belts in a collision) and anti- intrusion bars on all side doors.

Daewoo did not mess around with the running gear either.

Suspension is independent on all corners, brakes are a power- assist disc/drum arrangement and motive power comes from a tiny 800cc, three-cylinder engine developed jointly by Daewoo and British specialist Tickford.

The engine, according to Daewoo, produces exactly 37.5kW at 5900rpm with an equally precise torque figure of 68.6Nm arriving at 4600rpm. The intention was to produce maximum results from minimum resources and with its light weight the Matiz is able to zip around quite impressively in city traffic - its natural habitat.

The economy is outstanding with a claimed highway cycle figure of 4.4 litres per 100km making the most out of a tank that requires just 35 litres of unleaded.

Because of the light weight, the rack and pinion steering falls just short of needing power-assistance. More weighty than, say, a power assisted small car, the steering actually helps the Matiz feel more substantial on the road while remaining quite easy to park.

So the overall impression when first climbing aboard the Matiz is one of mild surprise at the amount of space actually available.

The driving position is pretty comfortable and brings no real complaints, even though there is no adjustment for wheel height.

Rear legroom is unexpectedly good, provided front-seat passengers are prepared to give up some space and shuffle forward slightly. Even though the design maximises interior width, there is still a slightly narrow feeling about the Matiz that suggests three passengers intending to travel in the back seat had better not be too big.

In Daewoo style, the interior is presented well with tasteful trim and clear presentation of instruments and controls.

The air-conditioning, in-dash single-disc CD player and electric front windows are welcome while the manually-operated rear view mirrors are easy enough to use - even on the passenger's side where the car's tendency to be narrow makes for an easy stretch to manipulate the little lever on the door.

If there is any real shortfall, it is the boot. Quite little in capacity, it is at least reasonably high and has the benefit of a 60-40 split-fold rear seat with proper fold-up cushions to make the most of load space.

At cruising speed, the Matiz turns out to be surprisingly quiet and feels fairly stable, if vulnerable, when sitting alongside Kenworths at speed.

The engine is possibly the smoothest and sweetest sounding three- cylinder we have driven and is quite nippy in traffic if you work at it a little.

Always willing, it can hit 110km/h quickly - although power falls away on hills, requiring regular shuffling through the five ratios. Mid-range torque is quite good, given the minuscule capacity, and the gearshifts are slick and light - although quick shifts between second and third can be jerky as engine rpm drops quickly at accelerator lift-off. All that is needed to remedy this is a little concentration. Not surprisingly, an automatic is not available.

The handling is good up to a point and the steering is relatively wieldy considering there's no power-assist. But pass a certain point and the tyres give up, scrubbing and ploughing. The same applies to ride quality. The suspension is actually quite absorbing until it hits a bad bump then it complains audibly, sending squeaks and rattles through the body.

Thoroughly competent - even impressive - though it may be, the Matiz is priced to sell into a very competitive category where the competition is merciless.

Three years' free service will have immense appeal but there is always competition lurking, keen to lure buyers with attractive financial deals.

And there is the ever-present Hyundai Excel three-door, a bigger, only slightly more expensive vehicle that offers the subtle but worthwhile temptations of being more substantial and slightly less off-centre in styling appeal.

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