It's been a little more than 10 years since I last laid my hands on a car built by South Korea's Daewoo Motor Co. What a difference a decade makes.
I spent a very long weekend in 1988 in a Daewoo-built Pontiac LeMans in One Lap of Michigan. After 1,000 or so miles in both passenger and driver's seat I came away with some memorable impressions. The most notable: The generator (yep, it was a generator on the 2L) couldn't power the air conditioning, headlights, defroster and wipers at the same time. Driving partner Elio Parenti and I suffered through most of a rainy, sweltering middle-of-the-night backroads rally with windows down and a regular coat of mist on the inside of the windshield.
The good points: The seats weren't too bad and the handling was nice and tight.
A decade later I got a chance to put on some lengthy commuting miles in all three of the new Daewoo offerings: subcompact Lanos, slightly bigger Nubira and upscale midsize Leganza. Naturally the first thing I checked was the lights/AC/defroster/wipers combo. All three cars passed with flying colors.
And there's more. All three ride on 4-wheel independent suspensions. Styling is attractive: Interiors are nicely detailed and exteriors are distinctive. Fit and finish is significantly better than many products of a major North American manufacturer that happens to have a joint venture with Daewoo.
None of the three is ready to take a best-in-class award quite yet, but all appear to be able to stand up solidly next to their competitors.
Lanos sits on a 99-in. (252-cm) wheelbase with a 105-hp 1.6L dual-overhead cam (DOHC) powerplant mated to either 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic in a cute, swoopy 3-door hatch or more sedate 4-door sedan. With a 26/36 city/highway mpg rating and a sticker that will range from $8,999 to $11,969, it could prove a potent competitor to Chevy Metro andTercel.
Slightly bigger Nubira sits on a 101-in. (247-cm) wheelbase. It's powered by a 2L DOHC rated at 129 hp with either of the aforementioned transmission options. Fuel economy is 22/31 mpg and it comes as a 4- or 5-door sedan or wagon. It'll sticker somewhere between $12,500 to $14,410. On power and price alone, Nubira has enough to giveCivic, Corolla, Sentra or Chevy Prizm some strong competition.
Top-of-the-line Leganza offers a tasty bit of elegance. Traction control, woodgrain dash trim, leather power seats and a fascinatingly complex stereo system grace this stately sedan styled by ItalDesign. Handling is tight and the ride is smooth, but the 131-hp 2.2L powerplant mated to either a 5-speed manual or electronic 4-speed automatic comes up a little short. Fuel economy also comes in at a somewhat disappointing 20/29 mpg city/highway. On the other hand, a sticker that ranges from a base $14,790 to $18,910 fully loaded makes the package still quite attractive.
If these guys from Seoul can keep the quality up and the reliability high, they likely can't be beat on price or styling by anyone else in their niches.