The Daewoo Cielo and 1.5i are part of one big family of cars that was offered by the South Korean carmaker a bit too late to make an impression. The 1.5i arrived in 1994, the same year it stopped production and got replaced by an updated Cielo in its domestic market and a few international markets. During its launch, it was available as a three-door or five-door hatchback and a sedan with new versions of the 1.5L engines used in the 1.5i models. Both the Cielo and 1.5i were based on the platform and design of the Opel Kadette, a car that stopped production in the early 1980s.
Daewoo made a mistake in introducing the 1.5i so late, which is why it was criticised for its dated design. Thankfully, the Korean carmaker did not make the same mistake twice, and it promptly launched the Cielo in October 1995, just a year or so after it was launched to the rest of the world. As a result, the Cielo got a warmer reception than its closely related 1.5i sibling. It was praised for its affordable price, larger-than-usual size, and good looks (better than the 1.5i). The Cielo had a smoother front end, better safety features, improved ride quality, and substantial cabin improvements over the 1.5i. Nevertheless, the car was still based on a decade-old Italian platform, and it soon started to look and feel old. The car was available with an automatic and manual transmission, but the 3-speed automatic shift was discontinued within a year of production in 1996.
The Daewoo Cielo was available in two trims: the GLI and GLX. The top-end GLX got a better 1.6L, twin camshaft engine that delivered extra power, but performance was still just manageable. In 1997, a remodelled Daewoo Cielo was introduced as the Lanos. Both the Cielo and the Lanos were sold together until the former was discontinued in early 1998.
The base model Daewoo Cielo GLI had a 1.5L, single-point fuel injected engine that delivered 51kW of power. This soon changed to an output of 59kW, allowing the car to go from a standstill to 100km/h in 12.2 seconds, which is not much to brag about. The top-end GLX had a 16-valve engine under the bonnet that delivered 66kW in just 4800rpm, hitting the 100km/h mark in 11.3 seconds, which is not great but an improvement from the low-spec engines.
All the engines were manufactured by Holden Australia and used GM designs, with a simple single overhead camshaft setup. This simple design was one of the core strengths of the car, along with the fact that it had a generous amount of torque at low and medium speeds. The former made the car easy to maintain, while the latter made the Daewoo Cielo a great city car. On the open road, however, the car was a rough ride beyond 4000rpm. Initial models had an option of either automatic or manual transmission, but the automatic shift was cancelled later on.
The Daewoo Cielo had good ride quality and reduced suspension noise as compared to the 1.5i, thanks to the involvement of Porsche in its development. The suspension was still a bit old, but it did its job without pretending like it was anything more. Handling and brakes were also mediocre because of the suspension and the small tyres. Although the Daewoo Cielo lacks in terms of styling and specs, there is no denying that this is a capable sedan that is inexpensive to buy and maintain.
For an entry-level car from the early 1990s, the Daewoo Cielo GLI is surprisingly well equipped. Its standard features include a 4-speaker AM/FM/cassette system, power steering, and intermittent wipers. Optional kit includes air-conditioning and automatic transmission. Post 1996, even the power steering was made optional. Interior space is good enough to accommodate 4 adults comfortably, and boot space is generous too. The rear seatback does fold down, but only the top-end GLX has a split-folding rear bench.
Despite a good equipment list, the Daewoo Cielo misses some important features, like an adjustable steering wheel and tachometer. Other usual features include digital clock, front upper seat belt anchorages, rear demister with timer, remote releases for boot lid and fuel flap, and roof rails. The top-end GLX models come with other features like power windows and driver’s seat height adjustment. The three-door version in particular got an optional rear roof spoiler and alloy wheels towards the end of production.
One of the top competitors of the Daewoo Cielo was the Hyundai Excel, which had a 1.3L engine that delivered less than 60kW of power. It almost met the Cielo in terms of performance, but it was priced higher. Another competitor was the Ford Festiva, with a 1.5L engine that delivered 65kW of power, but it was once again priced higher. Toward the end of the Cielo’s production run though, both of these models were slightly more favourable.