After reading Eric703’s excellent history of Daewoo in the United States earlier this year, I realized that we’ve featured several Leganzas over the years but never really anything on the Lanos, the entry-level offering. Yes, Adam Dixon republished his review from when it was newly introduced back in 1998 but nothing really in the metal. So I decided the next one I saw would get “the treatment”, as it turned out I came across one in the junkyard a few weeks ago.
As a bit of a bonus it was an SX model, thus the top of the Lanos lineup above the S and SE versions. Curiously, if you wanted a sedan you had to choose between S or SX, no middle model was available. For the hatchback you were stuck deciding between S and SE models, no top of the line ones.
I don’t know why we here generally feel compassion for crappy little cars (and also though at the same time seem to love ridiculously overstuffed large ones too), but there’s something humble and honest about a small car that isn’t trying to be ostentatious or full of image, just there to serve its owner. Often they do this very well, sometimes not so well, and in other, more rare cases, there’s just a failure to launch. Which pretty much describes Daewoo’s trajectory in the U.S. – a short bounce up, then an even more rapid thud back to earth.
The Leganza (the big one) actually turned out to be a pretty decent car, all things considered. The one I featured here last year had topped 175,000 miles and Paul’s son owned one for a while as well, the Leganza even had a certain minor pedigree in its design story. The middle of the range Nubira and the little Lanos had nothing of the sort though, being there to fill out the range and really start at rock bottom. The Leganza was sedan only, the Nubira had a sedan and a wagon version, and the Lanos was available as a hatchback as well as this sedan.
I’d always thought that the sedan was a bit of an afterthought (as they often are, but considered essential at the time for the US market), and tend to describe the designer as having designed it from front to back and somewhere around the midsection realizing that he had two feet less length to finish things up than anticipated, so the trunk area tends to look more than just a bit runtish.
Looking at it with a bit more of a critical eye this time, I don’t know that it’s as bad as I had thought it for the last 23 years though, there IS style back here, note the clear turn signal lenses with orange bulbs behind them, that was in fashion at the time, lights that wrapped into the trunklid were as well and aren’t the cheapest possible way to do things either. The Daewoo badge here is at a jaunty angle, but that’s because it’s apparently trying to leave the party before it all comes to a halt in the crusher.
Opening the lid reveals a decently roomy space, the spare is missing and that brake disk doesn’t look like it belongs on this car, but the rear seats look like they can fold 60/40 and there is a covering material over the bare metal on the sides.
I’d never realized that the SX was the top trim mainly due to the fact that the door handles and mirrors are black unpainted plastic across the Lanos range, something I (and almost every carmaker) usually associate with their absolute most basic trim version, not the highline. Still, the SX does get you some goodies that aren’t included otherwise such as alloy wheels (missing from this one) as well as access to a few more.
That extra stuff starts at the front with foglights! Which are also no longer present on this one. While this one does have an unfortunate skin rash around the mouth (Maskne?) at least the bumpers are painted body color, Galaxy White in this case and the lower fascia does a decent impression of a lower spoiler with extra grille work.
Daewoo wasn’t here long enough to ever update its design language (at least as an actual manufacturer, there are numerous other cars that are/were rebadged Daewoos such as the Chevy Aveo and the Pontiac LeMans), and thus this is the one and only grille that we here know, it’s better here in the black version, the Leganza got it with chrome slats which was a little much for some people. The Daewoo badge looks a little truncated as if the top half fell off or something but no, that’s it.
Every Lanos in every trim and body configuration got the same 1.6liter 105hp@5,800rpm and 107lb-ft of torque@3,400rpm mill. Adam didn’t seem to love it in his review and indicated that he had to be nice, so maybe it actually sucked. Perhaps he will chime in with his real impression of the cheap SX on offer here. Still, it was technically competitive at the time and is a transverse, 16valve DOHC design, so pretty standard for the class. Paired with the optional 4-speed automatic as this one is, it was rated at 23mpg city and 34mpg highway. The standard 5-speed manual added 3city and 2hwy to those numbers.
Something about the oil cap spoke to me so I twisted it and was surprised to find it was a two-piece cap that only turned a quarter turn. I’m sure I’ve owned at least multiple cars with a similar design but can’t for the life of me figure out which, from the other side it looks like a threaded cap instead due to the finger holds on the perimeter. Someone apparently had the cover off this engine at one time seeing as how the nuts are gone and the exhaust manifold is gone too.
Opening the door reveals a pretty dour gray and black interior. Airbags for both front occupants was standard, but the tilt wheel was an SX-only item. You also got remote keyless entry, likely as a separate fob.
Power windows and locks came on all but the base version, the cloth insert on the door panel is nice, and check out the manual mirror adjuster here. Looking back to the prior picture shows an electric adjustment for the passenger side under the left vent. Seems weird but is perfectly logical, and for reference this is exactly the setup that my $54,800 base price cost back in 1992 Mercedes-Benz 400E had as well. Good enough for Stuttgart means good enough for Seoul. It was white with a gray interior as well. Hmmm.
The center stack is thoroughly modern for 2000, and the cloth as well as plastics don’t look any worse than on any other small import. The four speed has an overdrive button on it and what looks like two selectable gears below Drive. This is the era of the horn buttons on the airbag wheel.
Digital clock, cupholders, three-dial ventilation, rear defroster button, all good stuff. The CD player was standard on the SX only, as was air conditioning although that was an available option on the lessers. You could also opt for a power moonroof on the SX but this one doesn’t have that. Which means I might actually fit into this if I were to try.
Who knows what caused this one to die with just over 101,000 miles on it, the gauges though look modern and that 130mph speedometer must have given some people a good measure of hope, although the actual top speed seems to be around 114mph for the manual version.
It really doesn’t look half terrible. In 2000 the cheapest Lanos stickered at $8,669 and the most expensive (this one) without the three available options (Automatic, Moonroof, ABS) was asking for $11,719. I’m guessing that real world transaction prices were a whole lot lower than that. The buyer of any Daewoo got a 5yr, 60k mile powertrain warranty and a 3yr, 36k miles bumper to bumper one. It also came with 3yrs, 36k miles of free scheduled maintenance and roadside assistance. Heady stuff. Unfortunately when Daewoo folded in 2002 the owners were likely left holding the bag.
25,170 buyers convinced themselves they’d like to sit in these seats in 2000, its most popular year and that accounts for almost half of the just under 58,000 total Lanos sales here from 1998-2002.
The back seat looks comfortable enough although the legroom is deceiving as the front seats are scooched quite far forward. No lower floor vents to lose a jelly bean in though, so perhaps a plus there, although no vents whatsoever are visible, hopefully the front seat occupants took pity and adjusted one of theirs towards the back.
Shortening a very long story, after Daewoo filed for bankruptcy GM took full control of them in 2002 and immediately shut down their US operations, they did not acquire the dealer body in the sale and took zero responsibility for past sales of Daewoo-branded cars here. These days of course the former Daewoo produces very competitive vehicles for GM, including for instance the recently discontinued Chevy Cruze, but also the highly regarded Buick Encore (both of them) and Chevrolet Trailblazer which we reviewed just a few days ago.
If nothing else, it is impressive that twenty years later some of these cars are still running around, some with fewer miles than one might hope before the end, but others ultimately achieving very mileage-filled lives. Below is a little treat with perhaps some cheap Lanos SX appeal from the UK market, I couldn’t locate a US-market Lanos commercial.