Three new names will soon be added to the 425 already affixed to the various car and truck models available in the United States when Daewoo Motor America begins selling cars here Aug. 28. Prepare to meet Lanos, Nubira and Leganza.
After spending a week in each of Daewoo’s new cars, here are my impressions of the "newest kids on the block" in what is already a crowded U.S. market.
Lanos proves lively
At the low end of the Daewoo lineup lies the Lanos – a car roughly equivalent to another Korean car, the Hyundai Elantra. Without a doubt, this is probably the car that is the most likely to succeed of all the Daewoo products. However, the success of the car hinges largely on pricing. Official prices have not yet been announced, but Daewoo claims the Lanos will sell anywhere from $9,000 to $12,000, depending on equipment. In the United States, two body styles will be available: a three-door hatchback and a four-door sedan.
In either case, a Daewoo-designed four-cylinder engine that produces a class-leading 105 horsepower drives the front wheels. It can be mated to either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic.
The long list of standard equipment that comes on the Lanos is truly impressive. It includes a stereo cassette radio, foldable rear seat back, power door locks, a passenger side power mirror, power windows and ABS - all for just $9,000. Our test model was a fully optioned four-door sedan outfitted with a power moonroof, alloy wheels, an AM/FM with a CD/cassette player, and remote entry.
Frankly, we were impressed with the on-road manners of the Lanos. Acceleration felt like it was significantly better than other cars in this class. The car is also relatively entertaining to drive. It has reasonably precise steering that makes the car feel agile. In fact, the Lanos is so agile Daewoo might consider making a high-performance version of the car. A larger set of tires and a few engine tweaks could turn this car into a real pocket rocket - sort of a ‘90s Dodge Colt Turbo or Honda CRX. It might really help rev up Daewoo’s image - literally - in the eyes of college students, the company’s target market.
1999 Daewoo Nubira
Lanos definitely belongs on the shopping lists of those who don’t have a lot of money but still want cool features like a moonroof and a decent sound system.
The Lanos subcompact (left) will compete against such cars as the Hyundai Elantra, Saturn and Ford Escort. Meanwhile, the compact Nubira model (right) will take on the likes of the Dodge Stratus and Ford Contour.
Nubira needs work
Next in the Daewoo lineup is the Ford Escort-sized Nubira. To put it plainly, we do not share quite the same affection or enthusiasm for this car that we have for the Lanos.
The Nubira seemed to be a little rough around the edges. The steering felt slow, while the engine - supplied by General Motors Corp. of Australia - was noisy at idle. Moreover, the Nubira’s styling makes the car look like something that belongs in a rental car fleet, rather than on a college campus. If Daewoo wants this car to appeal to university students, the firm needs to give it a bit more pizzazz in the styling department. A set of 15-inch wheels would go a long way to improve the Nubira’s looks. The 14-inch wheels on our test vehicle looked a little small for the car’s wheel wells. Daewoo offers 15-inch wheels on the Nubira in Australia, so it would seem to be a no-brainer to do the same here.
To be fair, the car is probably a good value at Daewoo’s claimed price range of $12,000 to $14,000. Like the Lanos, the Nubira comes highly equipped, with standard ABS, air conditioning, and power door locks and windows. Nevertheless, the Nubira seems to be somewhat wrong for this market. Style-conscious youngsters like me want to make a statement with our vehicles. When you pull up next to a Dodge Neon or Honda Civic at a stoplight in the Nubira, you feel like a dork. That might make it hard for Daewoo to sell many of them, at least to college students.
1999 Daewoo Nubira
Leganza luxury is legitimate
Daewoo’s top-of-the-line model is the Leganza. It is roughly in the same size class as the Honda Accord. It’s obvious that Daewoo spared no expense in developing the car’s style and personality. To execute the exterior, they retained the services of the world-renowned Italian design firm Italdesign. The resulting model is a car with sensuous lines, which gives it an upscale look. Immediately upon seeing the car, passersby wanted to know how much it cost. When told it would be priced from $14,000 to $20,000, they were all astounded.
Inside, the same attention to detail and tasteful use of materials also suggest the car is expensive. Quality and feel are both excellent for a car that costs less than 20 G’s. Since another division of Daewoo does electronics, the company saw fit to implant a premium 200-watt sound system that also adds to the Leganza’s luxury feel. Given all this, there’s no doubt most would view the Leganza as a great car for the money.
However, I do have a few nits to pick.
When coupled to the automatic transmission, the car accelerates at a rather leisurely pace. It needs a smooth V-6 engine in place of the unrefined 131-horsepower four-cylinder.
We also feel Daewoo could have done a better job honing the Leganza’s suspension. Over dips and bumps, it takes several up and down motions to tame the body. To put it simply, the car floats excessively. The steering could also use a little work; it feels somewhat vague and transmits excessive road vibrations to the driver’s hands. Despite these shortcomings, the car is well-equipped for the price.
Image-buildling is important
In general, good overall value is the one characteristic that seems to apply across the entire Daewoo lineup. In the short term, the company can use this to sell its cars, like fellow Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia did in previous years. However, the prospects for Daewoo’s long-term success in this market seem shaky, at best. Given the current financial crisis in Korea, there’s no telling yet just how things will shake out. Daewoo and General Motors, Ford, Mazda
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