Our Korean-car saga continues this week with a look at the compact 1999 Daewoo Nubira CDX, a $15,000 Toyota Corolla and Ford Escort competitor.

The Koreans have been threatening to invade the U.S. market starting this fall with a string of ordering centers and maintenance depots that are more like do-it-yourself centers than traditional car dealerships.

Last week we reviewed the entry-level Daewoo Lanos, which Anita panned and Paul gave a relatively high mark of three stars.

Daewoo says the Nubira, which comes in a sedan, five-door hatchback and wagon version, means "to go everywhere." We found the public's reaction to the Nubira to be as critical to our review as the product.

She: Remember that TV show Queen for Day that we used to watch when we were kids? You know, the audience would pick the winner by the level of applause. If there were an automotive equivalent of Queen for a Day, the Nubira would win the booby prize. The reaction to the little Korean compact - which is a fairly decent, average car - was largely one of scorn. Oh, but you had a slightly different response in a really strange place, didn't you?

He: Are you talking about Father Gene? The guitar group was rehearsing in church last week when he burst in and asked "Who owns the Daewoo?" He even pronounced it correctly. He said he'd spotted the Nubira earlier that day on the expressway. So naturally, I tossed him the keys. His first question: "Where's the cruise control?" Funny, that was my first question, too.

She: The next day, I took the Nubira over to my dad's house and we went for a little spin. He proudly told me, "Your mother's Escort is a better car." And he also said the Nubira lacked that wonderful new-car smell. Our neighbors had a lot of fun ripping on the Nubira, too. Question: Where do you get a Korean car fixed? Answer: Korea. And they'd all laugh. It's kind of unfair, because I liked the Nubira better than the Lanos. It's a better car.

He: Next week, we're supposed to drive the Leganza, which is Daewoo's largest car. I've already driven it in Korea, and I think, for the audience, the Nubira is a better car - probably the best thing that Daewoo builds. We had what appeared to be a top-of-the-line version, with leather upholstery, power sunroof, CD player and all kinds of accessories, except for the strangely lacking cruise control. Unfortunately, Daewoo gave us no idea how much of this equipment is standard and how much is optional, so we could only guess at the bottom line. We figure our test car would sell for $15,000-$16,000 as equipped.

She: My biggest gripe with the Nubira was unacceptable noise at highway speeds, especially noticeable if you are stuck in the back seat. There were other minor annoyances, too, like cupholders that did not fit what I consider standard American beverages and a clock that was located above the rear-view mirror. You had to take your eyes off the road to look at it, whic h I didn't like. But you can't argue with the design, which is very classic and almost Lexus-like in its simplicity.

He: Another small thing that bothered me was the location of the switches for the power mirrors. They were on the center console, rather than being located intuitively on the door. Otherwise, I was pleasantly surprised by the Nubira's performance - everything from the ride quality, which was more than adequate, to the handling, which was nimble. I was pleased that Daewoo installed a fairly large four-cylinder engine in the Nubira, a twin-cam 2.0-liter unit that makes nearly 130 horsepower. Even with the four-speed automatic on our test car, it felt plenty lively, although our fuel economy - a little over 20 miles to the gallon - was nothing to brag about.

She: The Koreans are also nearly up to speed in the safety area. You get anti-lock brakes on the Nubira, child-safety rear doors and an optional keyless entry and anti-theft system. But you can get side a bags in the Corolla and Chevrolet Prizm. When I bought my last car, side air bags were a key selling point.

He: Actually, I saved the best for last. This Daewoo is one of the best-built Korean cars I've seen and tested - on a par with the better Japanese and American small cars, in terms of overall assembly quality. It also seems to be well-engineered, and the Italian design is eye-catching, to say the least. For under $16,000, it's a good buy, providing you can get it serviced. And that's still the big question in my mind. Still, I'd give it three stars out of the box.

She: If my friends and family members are teasing me because of what I'm driving, I think it only merits two stars - if that. But I'm in a generous mood. I can hardly wait to see what the Koreans have in mind with their Accord/Camry fighter. Stay tuned.