What's New for 2000
Content is pulled from the base SE model, but all Leganzas have new grilles and larger stereo knobs. New seat fabric on SE models, revised alloy wheels and a more convenient remote keyless-entry design debut, and buyers now get 24-hour roadside assistance and free scheduled maintenance for the duration of the basic warranty period. New colors round out the changes.
Leganza, whose name is derived from a combination of the Italian words "elegante" (elegant) and "forza" (power), is a midsize sedan from Korea marketed to would-be buyers of pedestrian Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys who want a full load of luxury amenities for a cut-rate bargain price.
While attractively styled and decently equipped, this unproven brand's most recent foray into the North American market was the joint venture that produced the Pontiac LeMans econo-car between 1988 and 1993. So notorious was that model for lousy quality that GM gave Daewoo the boot and halted production. Seven years later, Daewoo, trying to break into a fickle market saturated with established brands and excellent cars, was probably hoping you'd forgotten about the LeMans.
Yes, the Leganza is elegant, penned by ItalDesign whiz Giorgetto Giugiaro. But powerful? Hardly. Competing against vehicles commonly equipped with V6 engines, the Leganza is handicapped in the muscle department by its standard and only powerplant. A 2.2-liter, DOHC 16-valve engine making 131 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 148 foot-pounds of torque at 2,800 rpm is charged with hauling around more than 3,000 pounds of sedan. Worse, a manual transmission, which can make the most of the meager power output, is available only on the bottom-feeder version.
Three trim levels are available on the Leganza: SE, SX and CDX. Standard equipment includes a full-size spare tire, power windows and locks, air conditioning, and a tilt wheel. Step up to the SX, and you're rewarded with four-wheel disc antilock brakes, a CD player, leather seats, cruise control, and an automatic transmission. The luxurious CDX gets a power driver's seat, automatic temperature control, fake wood trim, power moonroof, and traction control.
British suspension-expert Lotus tuned Leganza's four-wheel independent underpinnings, but Daewoo obviously wanted a cushy ride, and the Leganza delivers. Weak tires howl around turns, and we found the ABS to be substandard in refinement and effectiveness. Despite a "Sport" mode for the automatic transmission, it's best to drive the Leganza less enthusiastically than you would, say, anything else on the market.
Inside, the interior feels smaller than many competitors. Ergonomics evidently doesn't translate into Korean, because the controls are haphazardly placed. One of our staffers said the leather in upmarket models was about as convincingly luxurious as a rubber football.
The biggest hurdle the Leganza faces is not Daewoo's no-haggle sales strategy or patchy dealer network, but the extremely fierce competition in the midsize sedan segment. Competing against such entities as the Chevrolet Malibu, Dodge Stratus, Ford Taurus, Honda Accord, Mazda 626, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Oldsmobile Alero, Saturn LS and Toyota Camry is no small order, especially when the American buying public already knows where to buy them.