CC Capsule Review: 2000 Daewoo Leganza – Will’s First Car

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(When I saw today’s Lexus GS300 CC scheduled, I wanted to do a post on its design-sibling, the Daewoo Leganza. Then I remembered this review I did of a test drive of my younger son Will’s first car, back in 2010. So here it is again)

Dad! Would you come and check out a car I might want to buy?

Sure Will; what is it?

A Deawoo Leganza.

Oh, Um, Ah, Hm; you’re sure that you might want to buy that?

Yeah; it’s got leather, sunroof, and a great sound system.

What’s wrong with it?

The electric window switches are wacky. I don’t care.

Are you sure that’s all?

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I’m prepared for the worst. The Daewoo name carries some heavy baggage, and is often assumed to have been a failed brand because of its disappearance so soon after it arrived in the US. But that was the result of GM buying Daewoo, and forcing a shutdown of the US distributor by cutting off their supply. But in Daewoo’s brief day in the sun, the Leganza was the top of the line. And this is a loaded CDX version: 4 wheel discs, 16″ alloys, traction and ABS, sunroof, leather, the works. And that many more wires to get crossed up.

It’s showing 138,000 miles on the odometer and a few minor dings and scratches; this was a hand-me down to one of his high school friends, a girl thankfully. It’s been sitting for months, as the owner has graduated to a VW Cabrio, natch. But the Holden-built 131 hp 2.2 L D-TEC II four, one of the many variants of the GM Family II, starts right up with a purr. The genuine made-in-Japan Aisin four-speed automatic shifts crisply into gear, and off we go, rubbing the surface rust off the squeaky discs.

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The engine has good response, and decent low-mid speed power, but is no Honda in sound or its top end. The transmission shifts like new, better than our similarly-old Forester. We head out into the country, and after a couple of short full-throttle blasts to 85 or so, nothing has blown up, vibrated or complained. Performance is mission-appropriate for an eighteen year old. The drive-train gets a pass.

The suspension and body integrity is better than I was prepared for. It feels surprisingly tight and un-worn out. This is not a particularly cushy or quiet car, but neither is it harsh or overly cheap feeling. The Leganza was marketed as an affordable “executive class” car in places like Eastern Europe at the time. The front is quite roomy; my easily cramped 6’4″ body felt quite at home, and even the headroom was true to its name, despite the sunroof. I didn’t bother to get in the back; sorry.

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Handling also surpassed my low expectations; nothing inspiring, but harmless and moderately competent. The steering was reasonably crisp, with decent communication, and not over-boosted, like too many electric units these days. The Leganza is quite neutral in curves, and is not afraid of them, if not exactly on the prowl. Once again, mission appropriate.

The seats felt rather flat and firm, but I wasn’t in it long enough to tell whether that is a good or bad thing. The seating surfaces would need to be sent to a lab to confirm it really being leather. On the other hand, it doesn’t look worn out either. The interior material quality is actually quite good: with a few minor exceptions, it’s totally covered in genuine old-school padded vinyl; a reasonably credible imitation of the “fat” V30 Camry from the  early nineties. In fact, it’s pretty obvious that Daewoo had that car in its visor when it developed the Leganza. For a kid who always wanted a Lexus LS400 for his first car, this is actually an appropriate (and quite acceptable, to him) substitute. Times change, tastes change.


Although the Daewoo is no Lexus, there is a connection. The Leganza was styled by no less than the by Giorgetto Giugiaro, and heavily based on his Jaguar Kensington concept (above), a design he also recycled into the Toyota Aristo/Lexus GS 300 (first generation). Maybe something got lost in the translation; now it’s forgettable and invisible: once again, mission appropriate.

What else is there to consider in a short drive? The brakes still work; good enough. As does the sunroof, automatic climate control, cruise and electric seats. The only flaw: the electric window controls. Sometimes they work, sometimes only when the door is open; other times, it sets all the door lockers in a nervous spasm. Anybody have any suggestions?

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We return, and I let him negotiate a price: $500. It’s the other extreme of the depreciation scale, the one to be on when buying. The original sticker folded in the glove box reads $19+k. Not likely someone actually paid that, but still…

“We’ll be right back; there’s an ATM a couple of blocks away”.


Postscript: The Leganza served Will well for some time, until he came into some money, ditched it, and bought a nice Ford Ranger. That soon lost out  in an unfortunate interaction with a sturdy street light pole. He wishes it had been the Leganza, not the Ranger, since the Ranger happened to be uninsured. Oh well; live and learn.