Some years ago I hired a cavalier 1.8 with ABS. Never having tried ABS before I decided to stand on the brakes after of course ensuring the road was clear around me. To my surprise the wheels skid. Perhaps there was a problem with it, but the ABS light had not come on, or maybe I was going too slow? My Omega buries itself into the tarmac when I do the same thing together with that distinctive grating noise and feel from the brake pedal.
I previously owned a 2.0 LSi cavvy on an L plate which didn't have ABS, though it was a nippy car. 3rd was great at about 2500 rpm, nice pick up, but the suspension as you say was sloppy and the car didn't feel safe thrown into bends at speed or breaking hard even with 205/50/15's alloys. A very nice car though which I do miss, dependable and practical though compared to modern day cars rather noisy and uncomfortable on long journeys.
I also think it's probably a problem with your ABS. Our '95 turbo diesel has ABS which works fine.
We also had trouble with the starter motor - apparently it's something to do with tappets, and needs attention every 2-3 years.
I don't particularly agree with your opinion of the handling. I've always found it to be absolutely fine, though obviously it's not as good as brand new cars.
I also don't agree with your rating of 3/10 on reliability. We've had 4 Cavaliers since the last model came out in 1989, all of which proved to be extremely reliable, even with upward of 150,000 miles on the clock! Maybe you've just got an unlucky car.
2.0LSi 16v Eco-Tech engine 150bhp N reg. Not as nice as our 2.0GLi 8v G reg, my best car ever. I really miss the adjustable steering wheel, electric door mirrors, noise reduction and low revving 8v motor.
I also got a shock from the insurance which went from £250 fully comp to over £500, when I first got it 5 years ago. Being a saloon and 16v it is group 16! Higher than a lot of BMW's and Mercedes of similar size, but not price.
The suspension is neither soft for soaking up bumps, or stiff enough for fast driving. Cheap tyres will lead to wheel spins and drifting/skidding on bends and roundabouts.
The ABS should work with the usual juddering noises, however I have occasionally had some skidding in the wet, but only slightly.
Why did I buy it? Unfortunately my G plate had poor body work and the engine had a wiring problem. I found the 16v at a Vauxhall dealers with just 12,500 genuine miles on it. It was basically a new car for just under £5,000 after a haggle.
The biggest problem we had after getting a new battery fitted and brakes cleaned up, was the idler valve which would start to stick after 4-5,000 miles resulting in the car running away at 2,000rpm. After 2 new needles, an extra filter on the oil breather and the warranty expired, I realised the problem. The 8v motor oil breather fed into the airbox hence filtering any oil before passing air to the inlet manifold. To save a few pence, Vauxhall shortened the breather pipe and fed the gases straight in to the clean air just before the manifold. As we only do 8,000 miles a year the basic oil being used vapourised easier and would be deposited on to the idling needle which subsequently gummed up. Answer fully synthetic oil (£20 per 4l approx). No problems since.
Consumption is 26-40 mpg and although a saloon it can still be packed to the gills for car boot sales.
Now at 52,000 miles the cam belt change was the biggest bill (£250) but I feel I was ripped off a bit there, as the same garage also quoted £175 for front brake discs and pads and rear pads. I deferred the work and took it to a local tyre/brake centre who I trusted and had the front brakes done for £120 and was told the rear brakes were fine.
Being fully paid up and with a trade in value of less than £750, there is little point in getting a more economical and cheaper to insure car as I would loose out in depreciation. So I put up with the lack of equipment like remote door locking, but I did fit a CD player, a must.