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New Car/Review

1998 Daewoo Leganza

by John Heilig


ENGINE:                  2.2-liter inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:       131 hp @ 5,200 rpm/148 lb-ft @ 2,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION:            Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:            mpg city, mpg highway, 25.8 mpg test
WHEELBASE:               105.1 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 183.9 x 70.0 x 56.6 in.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:        12 cu. ft (est.)
INSTRUMENTS;             Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                         water temperature, digital clock
EQUIPMENT:               Power windows, power door locks, 
                         power mirrors, air conditioning, 
                         AM/FM stereo with cassette, 
                         dual air bags.
STICKER:                 $15,000 (est.) 

You have to give Daewoo credit for chutzpah. When many of the Asian manufacturers entered the American market -- I'm thinking of Hyundai, Kia, even Honda -- they started modestly, with a small car, and then went to larger cars as they gained a foothold and gained experience.

Daewoo, on the other hand, has entered the United States market with three cars; the relatively large Leganza, the relatively mid-sized Nubira and the subcompact Lanos. In actuality, all three cars are a size class lower than mentioned, so this week's tester, the Leganza, may actually be considered a compact.

Based on our test of the Leganza, Daewoo knows what it's doing when it comes to building cars. The Leganza is solid, appears to be well put together, and the fit and finish are quite good. The design is relatively conservative, without pushing the envelope designs too far. It offers everything a car owner would want in a good package at a reasonable price.

Leganza is powered by a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that is rated at 131 hp.. This was the only problem we discovered with the car. The engine, which is coupled to a four-speed automatic gearbox, becomes buzzy every time the tachometer goes over 4,000 rpm and it lets you know it's working. It's almost like asking your child to mow the lawn. They do the job, but complain all the time.

However, at normal cruising speeds and when you're just chugging around town, you can hardly hear the engine. It's only when you ask it to work that it become noisy. Perhaps if it was coupled to a manual gearbox rather than an automatic, this over-revving of the engine to achieve speed could be eliminated, or at least controlled.

The engine did an excellent job and offered the kind of fuel economy you'd expect from a small vehicle at 25.8` mpg test. But it did tend to be typically four-cylinder buzzy that won't annoy most people who drive four-bangers.

The front seats were adjustable to a comfortable position. They weren't powered, but were upholstered in leather. They really didn't offer good side support. The back was flat. But you aren't going to be needing side support in this non-sporty sedan.

The rear seat would fit three people in reasonable comfort. Those three passengers would also get a decent amount of legroom, a precious commodity in a compact car.

Behind the rear seat was a decent trunk. We used the Leganza as a truck one time as we tried to see how many different sized and shaped objects we could put in it. The rear seat backs fold down, increasing trunk capacity, and we used it all. The Leganza is a good carrier from everything to a small trampoline to large bags of grass we brought to the compost center.

Among the equipment items were an adjustable steering wheel, power windows, power door locks, remote door locks, digital HVAC system, a good AM/FM stereo sound system with an in-dash cassette, power sunroof, and respectable wood trim to qualify the Leganza as the "luxury" car in Daewoo's three-car lineup.

Handling was not exceptional, but it was adequate for the class of car we were driving. At no time did I feel that the car was getting out of control. While we didn't test it on our favorite winding roads, we have every confidence that the Leganza would do well on those roads, but wouldn't set any lap records.

The Daewoo Leganza, with its Korean first name and Italian last name, is going to surprise a lot of people. It is a compact sedan that can compete with anything else in its class. It needs a slightly better engine, but the engine it has is perfectly competent to do anything that any normal driver would ask of it. The fuel economy is there and the initial cost is low to make it an attractive package.