Good Cars for Cambodia Expats #3: Daewoo Matiz v Hyundai Atoz/VistoDecember 6, 2012
Price Range: $2000 – $4000
If you have had one bike accident too many, seen your family grow or are simply looking to get out of the sun and rain, the Daewoo Matiz or Hyundai Atoz/Visto (the Visto is a facelifted Atoz) could be right up your alley. These vehicles continued Cambodia’s love affair with the supermini, which was sparked by the Daewoo Tico. All vehicles offer cheap, practical, fuel efficient motoring. They are fairly reliable too.
In the West, when the Matiz and the Atoz/Visto were brand new (we are talking the late-90s to mid-2000s), Korean cars were a joke. They were the Chery or Great Wall of their day. I had a girlfriend who drove a late ‘90s Hyundai and it always bothered me.
Because Kias, Daewoos and Hyundais were the sort of cars that car haters bought. Yes they were cheap, but they had neither the reliability nor pedigree of the Corolla and the Camry – which were already hard to get excited about. Certainly, you could respect the guy who consciously traded in the aging 325ci in place of the bullet proof Camry once his family came along, but to purchase a Sonata or Grandeur instead? Unforgivable.
However, the attitude that I shared with the vast majority of others at the time overlooked the exponential improvements in quality and reliability that were quietly taking place from model to model and generation to generation. This transition is evident when you look at the evolution of the ‘80s-rootedTicointo the Matiz/Atoz/Visto. The Tico has already become something of a cult vehicle among Cambodian expats, who have taken fully loaded examples to all four corners of Cambodia; sometimes even making it back.
Superminis were and are a critical model for the Koreans. Huge sales of superminis allowed them to reinvest in R&D, quality control and market expansion. In this regard, the Koreans xeroxed pages from the Japanese playbook, which in the 1960s had led a worldwide motoring revolution with small models like the Corolla.
The strategic mantra, build them small, build them cheap, build them simply, has become lore for fledgling automotive manufacturers; it is a sound means to steadily take passenger car market share. Indeed, this idea has been enthusiastically by Tata of India who have constructed the Tico of the 21st Century – the Tata Nano.
The Matiz, launched in 1998, had a surprising amount of European input. It’s quite good to look at, which is not surprising, because it is actually the bastard child of a design concept originally pitched to Fiat by Italian designer Giugiaro. The plot thickens, because legendary British tuning house Tickford (the brains behind the ‘90s era Ford Falcon XR8 and the ‘80s-era Ford Turbo Capris) helped to develop the engine. Nice one!
Much of the engineering was developed by the Brits too. Perhaps this explains why it went on to become the highest selling Daewoo in Europe; 52,000 units were sold in the UK alone. The Matizeven outsold the hideous Fiat Seicento in Italy.
Introduced in 1997, the Atoz was never a particularly good looker. It was designed as a cheap, practical, fuel efficient vehicle with a lot of storage space. The triumph of function over form translated into huge global sales, especially in developing countries such as Pakistan and India.
In India, Hyundai recruited actor Shah Rukh Khan to endorse the product which became a runaway success. Its success continues tothe present day. Interestingly, the Atoz was perhaps a pioneer of the modern electric car. At the 1997 Frankfurt motorshow, Hyundai unveiled the concept vehicle, the Atos EV. The EV was powered by 24 nickel metal hydride batteries, achieving a range of 193 kilometres and a top speed of 130 kh/h.
In 1999, Hyundai unveiled the Atoz Prime, which we know as the the Visto. It was a reaction to the controversial styling of the original Atoz. The roofline was reduced slightly and the taillights repositioned, but it was every bit as practical and fuel efficient as before. The Visto retained the Atoz’s engine and output figures.
All vehicles are firmly within the super-mini market segment, and are excellent city cars. Parking and maneuvering is a breeze. The turning circle for all three is about 9 metres. Truly amazing.
The smallest of the three, the Matiz is a miniscule 3.5 metres long, 1.5 metres wide and just under 1.5 metres high.
The Atoz’ dimensions are almost identical to the Matiz at 1.5 metresin width and 3.5 metres in length. However, the Atoz possesses superior headroom. Its’ roofline is just over 1.6 metres, a very welcome increase over the Matiz and slightly higher than the face lifted car.For adults standing six-foot or more, the Atoz is the most comfortable. It will easily swallow four tall adults in comfort over reasonable distances.
The Visto shares length and width dimensions with the Atoz, however the roofline has been dropped to just under 1.6 metres – sacrificing interior space for better exterior aesthetics.
Performance and Fuel Economy:
The Matiz offers a 796cc,37 kilowatt, 6-valve SOHC straight-3 engine. Some expats’ bikes are more powerful than that. The tiny engine is mounted to either a 3-speed automatic gearbox that was good for 0 – 100 km/h in about 17 seconds, or a five-speed manual which would do 0-100 km/h in about 15 seconds. The Matiz wasgood for 144 km/h apparently, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on achieving that. 69 Nm of peak torque kicked in at 4,500 RPM. The Matiz weighs in at 800 kilograms and change.
Both the Atoz and the Visto have 999cc,12-valve, SOHC straight-4 engines which deliver 40 kilowatts and 82 Nm of peak torque at 3100 RPM.Even though theAtoz is 25 kilograms lighter than the Visto at around 800 kilograms, both vehicles in 5-speed manual guise will do the O-100 km/h sprint in about 15 seconds. I wouldn’t recommend buying an automatic however, as the 0-100 km/h figure blows out to about 20 seconds!
All vehicles in manual guise are terrific fun to drive around the city, especially without passengers or luggage. They are light and engaging, feeding into the vibethat made their spiritual ancestor, the Mini, so successful. That being said, the Atoz and Visto combo do come across as being zippier than the Matiz. In large part, this is because peak torque comes lower down where most urban drivers need it. It also helps that the Atoz/Visto’spossess more powerful engines.
Fuel consumption for the Matiz and the Atoz/Visto is pretty amazing; expect to consume about 6 litres per 100 kilometres on a combined urban/province cycle.All three have fuel tanks with a 35-litre capacity.
Around town, all vehicles deliver a pleasing, almost sporty ride from their fully independent suspension systems. Where they all fall down however, is in on potholed inter-provincial roads. In the countryside all three are just awful, and are sure to put a dampener on many an expat’s national rambling plans. This is largely down to the tiny 155/70 R 13 tyres, which are commonto all vehicles.They are good for the traffic chaos of Seoul, but not so much for badlands of Cambodia.
Most of the Matiz and Atoz/Vistos I have found in Phnom Penh have been in the automatic guise although there is a decent spread of manual vehicles as well.
I would strongly recommend choosing a manual version of any of them to squeeze more out of the tiny engines. Manual examples will be cheaper too, as they are generally shunned by Khmers.
Most examples in Cambodia come with airconditioning (don’t buy without it installed), power steering, aftermarket CD players and not much else. They are wonderfully simple vehicles.
On the whole, all three vehicles are fairly durable. They are all very mechanical, with few complex electrical systems. However, if you do find yourself breaking down in Kampong-wherever, it is comforting to know that there is nationwide ubiquity of parts. This is because the Matiz, Atoz and Visto can be found on almost any road, in any province of Cambodia. Expect parts to be cheap too.
Perhaps the most common complaint about the Matiz, Atoz/Visto in the West was that the small engines lacked the grunt to keep pace with traffic on freeways, especially if they were fully loaded with passengers and luggage. It is worth reiterating that automatics will take 20 seconds to do 0-100. Given that traffic on Cambodian highways will often average 70-80 km/h, overtaking trucks in automatics could quickly become a very dangerous prospect. Buyers should seek a manual to squeeze more out of the compact powerplants.
Across all cars, the interior trim was very cheap. However, worn, torn or excessively faded trim is a good indicator that the car has been neglected and abused over its life. It is worth removing the Hello Kitty seat covers and swathes of plush toys to have a proper butchers.
There were a number of common faults across all cars. As such, ask a reputable mechanic to check:
• Condition of the alternator;
• Rust spots (there were recalls of Matiz, Visto because of rust issues);
• Condition of the head gasket;
• The state of the airconditioning system; it must blow cold shortly after turning the key.
However, keep in mind that the tiny engines have always struggled to power the aircon. Use of the aircon also came at heavy cost to fuel economy and highway performance (especially when the engine was mated to an automatic gearbox).
The Matiz, the Atoz and the Visto all represent sound options for expats in Cambodia. They are cheap, reliable, safe alternatives to a motorbike. They will get you out of the sun and the rain, and manual versions are surprisingly good fun to drive around town. Just don’t bank on ride comfort in the provinces. Parts for all three are fairly ubiquitous nationwide and expats can expect to sell the vehicles back for very close to what they initially paid.
In theory, I prefer the Matiz. I like the input from Tickford. I like the fact that the styling comes from a proper Italian design house. I like the fact that the Matiz more closely occupies the space left by the Mini. Dare I say, I even like the fact the Brits had input regarding theengineering. However, as a guy who stands at over 6-foot, I couldn’t recommend the Matiz to others of my stature – they are simply too cramped and a bit underpowered to boot.
In the real world, it is likely that you will want to cart your expat friends around. Maybe you even want to take them to the beach. If this is the case, go for the Atoz or the Visto. Although the roofline is only marginally higher than the Matiz, in practice they feel substantially more spacious inside. The engine has more guts, and peak torque comes much lower down where you need it. Of the Atoz and Visto, I would go for the Visto simply because it is a bit younger and not considerably more expensive.
Finally, I would like to reiterate that there really was a quantum leap taken by the Matiz, Atoz and Visto over previous generation vehicles like the Tico. As a car lover I had sworn never to own a Korean vehicle in much the same way that my Pacific-theatre grandfather swore never to own a Japanese vehicle.
Yet even I now admit that there is ongoing exponential improvement in Korean cars, closely mirroring the South Korean economic miracle itself. The country the world once regarded as Japan’s poor cousinis now breathing down the neck of its’ former colonial master. Don’t believe me? Check out the 4.6 litre, V8 Hyundai Equus VI. Give it a generation or two and it will be a true Lexus LS killer. If not, I will eat my hat with a side of kimchi.