Junkyard Classic: 2001 Daewoo Leganza CDX – Battling Uphill All The Way

Ask the average person on the street what a Daewoo is and the answer will be a blank stare and the response “Day Who?”  Yet it was not that long ago that the brand tried to gain a foothold in our market until GM took them over and ushered them behind the barn, only to eventually re-emerge with not exactly a swan but various small cars badged as Chevrolets.

Today we’ve found a member of the third (!) year that the Daewoo Leganza was offered in the United States, more astonishingly there was even a fourth year!  I sort of put them out of my mind after their first or second year and didn’t consider that they were here for longer than that, mainly due to their inane original plan to sell them via college students home on summer break, door to door as if they were Tupperware or something.  Of course there were three models, starting with the little Lanos, then the midsize Nubira, and then this one, the top of the line Leganza.

The name Leganza is a combination of “elegant” and “forza” (meaning power), I’m not sure if it was really either of those, but the styling was benign enough not to offend, and from some quarters drew comparisons to the Lexus GS300.  While a Giugiaro design, I don’t think it’ll be found on the front pages of his portfolio.

Still, this 2001 example is a top flight CDX trim level, meaning it came with all the toys that were offered – leather, sunroof, ABS, traction control, alloy wheels etc.  Now these pictured above are not the alloys it came with from the dealer, these OZ F1’s were a fairly pricey aftermarket item.  Shod as they are with Bridgestone Blizzak tires this owner apparently spent some money on his ride at some point during his ownership period.  Of course, we’ve had triple digit temps for over a month now and no snow in about four months so perhaps times have gotten a little tougher lately, nothing wears winter tires out faster than hot temperatures and dry roads.

The front grille is not nearly as bland as it could be, and does have an interesting design with slats going in both directions; if nothing else it does make a Daewoo of these years instantly recognizable, even to those that find most modern conveyances to all look the same.  If the grille was missing it would look like a Mazda, Nissan, or whatever.

The forza, uh, power, was provided by a thoroughly modern 2.2 liter 16v GM four cylinder produced by Holden.  Producing 131hp and 148lb-ft of torque and routing it through a Japanese Aisin 4-speed automatic transmission, it’s certainly competitive for the time.

The interior is fairly gray, but still, leather, airbags, lots of buttons – not bad for the $19,199 sticker price this Galaxy White over Gray example tried to command.  Without a doubt there was much money to be saved relative to that with little dickering.  Of course, you scoff, this thing will surely self-destruct quickly.  Not so fast!

Just a tick under 176,000 miles is a very good showing for something I wouldn’t have thought to be particularly durable.  Perhaps even more if the odometer is broken?  No, unlikely, that stuff doesn’t break in Asian vehicles.  I’m actually starting to warm up to this little sugarcube! At my age I’m somehow starting to quickly shed some of my former pretenses and am really appreciating value.

The back bench looks thickly padded, the door pulls are chrome, and there are even pockets in both seatbacks.  While probably fairly plasticky, the leather is still holding up just fine for an 18-year old car.

This ad from the Leganza’s introduction is perhaps piling it on a little thick for a brand with basically zero name recognition but at least they learned from another marque and actually showed the car instead of just trees and rocks…they play up the international heritage with the Italian design etc. and in other advertising of the day claim that Porsche designed the chassis, and apparently Lotus, get this, “inspired” the suspension, whatever that means.

There’s a little junk in the trunk but that’s fairly sizable too with a folding rear seat for more space.

If Daewoo had more time, I wonder if they would be rivaling Hyundai and Kia these days.  After all, the Chevy Cruze, Sonic, and Spark are basically Daewoos under the skin and considered basically decent vehicles, it could easily be argued that the problem with them, ironically, is the Chevy badge.  And Hyundai/Kia are fully competitive vehicles as well.

While Daewoo itself didn’t stick around, besides the above later Chevrolets, there was a middle act wherein they supplied Suzuki with much of their range over here for a while.  For example the successor generation to this Leganza was available here as the Suzuki Verona, which I remember seeing at the Detroit Auto Show and not being turned off at all.  I’m still looking for one in the junkyard, so…

Leganzas (all Daewoos) are basically worthless, any minor fault could be the reason it’s here now.  All things considered, it probably went almost a decade further than I would have figured back when it was new.  The body is solid, the interior isn’t falling apart and the powertrain managed a very respectable result.  I’m actually impressed.

Related Reading:

Paul N’s review of his son Will’s Leganza!

Will’s own review of his own Leganza