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FIRST DRIVE

Daewoo Leganza's Design Has Lots of Oomph; Engine Is Another Story

July 09, 1998|PAUL DEAN

Optimistic money has been saying that the 1999 Daewoo Leganza might rise above the sorry reputations set by Kia (on the auction block), Hyundai (hoping fresh buyer incentives will keep sales off the down escalator) and Daihatsu (out of business here), and emerge as South Korea's most visible export since kimchi.

That's an affront to good kimchi: a native, inexpensive dish of basic yet powerful and pungent ingredients. Spiced cabbage. Hot radishes. Garlic.

Leganza is a similarly affordable mix of basic fixings. Less the potency, and with much to tease the appetite, but very little to keep one from hungering for something tastier.

On the credit side, styling by Giorgetto Giugiaro of ItalDesign was money well spent on a look that is as good as it gets for mid-size sedans--including the looks of the fierce and proven competition of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus.

FOR THE RECORD - Dings and Scratches
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 30, 1998 Home Edition Highway 1 Part W Page 15 Financial Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Country of Origin--Daihatsu, as many readers pointed out, is a Japanese (not a South Korean) auto maker. Our mention in a review of the Daewoo Leganza (First Drive, July 9) was in error.

Leganza's outside is Euro-contemporary with touches of distinction in flush, doe-eyed headlights; sturdy yet artful 16-spoke alloy wheels; and a grille with vertical chrome bars playing off Daewoo's fan palm logo. Inside, a sinuous swoop along the top of the dashboard is a perfect disguise-by-design housing otherwise homely climate vents.

Standard equipment, for the price, is several gulps above astounding. Leganza--the luxury cap of a three-car lineup that includes a 128-horsepower compact ($12,000 to $14,000) and a 105-horsepower subcompact ($9,000 to $12,000) due in Daewoo's scattering of 14 dedicated showrooms in September--comes with leather upholstery, traction control, anti-lock brakes, CD sound system, faux-wood trim, key-less entry and alarm, electric antenna, automatic air, tilt wheel and cruise control.

These are Lexus furnishings for under $20,000. Or several thousand bucks less than stickers on the Accord-Camry-Taurus triplets with similar goodies.

*

Dragging it all down, however, is Leganza's engine. While the bestsellers offer V-6 power--you can't get a Taurus without it--Daewoo disappoints with a wimpy four-banger. At 131 horsepower, it puts out less oomph than a Mazda Miata. It loafs from zero to 60 mph in 11.5 seconds, which makes it an also-ran behind grocery vans and motor scooters. The little engine screeches under load and slaps up and down its four-speed automatic with a harsh din that on delicate mornings can be quite painful.

Fit and finish are above average, although the fake-wood trim flaps and just might not be in place by Christmas. Our test car had an air conditioner with an asthmatic moan at full blow. Hit the key-less entry remote and all doors unlock--not the safest system in this mugging-happy nation of ours. Cold starts made the car stall when it was placed in gear. Handling and brakes were up to snuff, although road and tire vibrations flaw an otherwise well-insulated cabin.

At best, Daewoo might be introducing a trio of capable, inexpensive appliance cars aimed at a buyer body of Generation Xers, first-time owners and the fiscally challenged willing to compromise. Not a bad strategy.

At worst, Daewoo might have underestimated American passions for horsepower and our scorn for poseur mid-size cars fitted with the mini-mechanicals of a compact. That could get quite ugly.

On the other hand, the Leganza, like good kimchi, could turn out to be an acquired taste.

Times staff writer Paul Dean can be reached at highway1@latimes.com.

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