The Daewoo 1.5i is a compact car that was manufactured and sold by the South Korean carmaker for a few years starting in 1994; however, it had been in production since 1986. As a result, the car had a dated design even when it was introduced to the automotive market, and it was met with some criticism. The main complaints about the car were about its poorly designed and out-dated interior and build quality. It did not help that production of the car ended in the same year it was made available here. In 1994, the 1.5i was replaced by the Daewoo Cielo, a car very similar to its predecessor in most ways except for some styling elements.
Like other Daewoo models, the 1.5i was based on an Opel design. In this case, it was the Opel Kadett E, which was based on the GM T platform. In many ways, the Daewoo 1.5i was just a rebadged Kadette, and so was the succeeding Cielo, albeit with a facelift. When it was launched in the mid-1980s, the Daewoo 1.5i was all the rage in Korea and Europe because of its build quality and reliability. It was known as the LeMans in the domestic Korean automotive market, but it went by many other names around the world, like the Asuna GT and SE, Passport Optima, Pontiac LeMans, and Daewoo Pointer, Fantasy, and Racer. It was also rebadged and sold as the Vauxhall Astra and Belmont in the UK.
Even when the Daewoo 1.5i was launched in the 1980s, Opel had already retired the design and replaced it, making it seem even more dated when the 1.5i was finally introduced in the local market. In comparison to other rivals, the Daewoo 1.5i already looked old and antiquated, but the Korean carmaker was smart enough to price it really low, making it a popular option for cash-strapped buyers who wanted a reliable small car.
Today, the Daewoo 1.5i still holds the same appeal as a low-priced small car. For a relatively small price, buyers can get a front wheel-drive, 3-door hatchback with a roomy interior, and a well-engineered 1.5L, single overhead camshaft, 4-cylinder engine with a 5-speed manual gearbox. In fact, during its production run, the Daewoo 1.5i boasted class-leading performance. A 3-speed automatic transmission option was also available for a small price hike.
The high-end models included a five-door hatch and, later on, a four-door sedan as well. As mentioned before, the styling is bland, and it is best not to expect much from the Daewoo 1.5i in terms of looks. The interior, while durable, came with a dull grey colour scheme and plastic fit and finish. In order to understand why the Daewoo 1.5i was and still is so popular, it is important to take it out for a drive. It has great handling, and even newbies will appreciate the safe and predictable ride. The firm suspension absorbs little though, making the ride, at times, a little harsh over rough roads.
The Daewoo 1.5i has a Holden-manufactured, 1.5L, fuel-injected, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 57kW of power. In its heyday, the car was at the same level and beat most of the competition, which came with smaller and less punchy engines. As a result, the Daewoo 1.5i became a good choice for first-time buyers who wanted a reliable and pokey ride without a hefty price tag. It was cheap and proved to be excellent transportation with few hassles and a cheerful performance. The engine, with 2 valves for each cylinder and multi-point fuel injection, is smooth and relatively quiet at most speeds. However, it starts to struggle and get noisier past the 4,000rpm mark. At 950kg, the Daewoo 1.5i is heavier than most other small cars, but it has a good enough engine to give it the power and torque it needs.
The suspension and braking lack in refinement but do their job reliably and safely. The car is also fairly stable, but road-holding ability is not its forte. No Daewoo 1.5i model comes with power steering, which makes the steering a bit heavy and requires a fair bit of turning to get the wheels from one direction to another. The biggest selling points of the car are its engine and transmission, which have proven records of reliability. The layout and design of the engine make it easy to repair and service as well.
The standard equipment for the Daewoo 1.5i includes only bare basics like a radio/cassette player with a 2-speaker system. Even air-conditioning was an option and an expensive one at that. The dash panel in particular tends to rattle and creak, especially at high speeds. Some plastic parts are known to be low quality; however, for the most part, the Daewoo 1.5i is quite a robust car. The engine and gearbox are quite reliable, so long as regular oil level and quality checks are performed.
Simply put, the Daewoo 1.5i is a great car for first-time buyers who want a reliable transport with few frills. Although it lacks the quality that is offered in modern Japanese and Korean cars, it has a low price that is bound to attract a lot of people.
In terms of performance, the Daewoo 1.5i is very close to the Italian Fiat Tempra 1.6. This car came with a 1.6L engine that delivered 55kW of power but had reliability issues. Another European competitor is the Alfa Romeo 146, which came with a 1.4L engine that delivered 66kW of power, more than that of the 1.5i. However, the extra power came at a much higher price and the Alfa Romeo is also relatively rare here.