Classic CARmentary: 1998 Daewoo Lanos SX Sedan

Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

Unlike Tuesday’s Sentra, the Lanos left an indelible impression on me.  Here was a car that I really didn’t like, but didn’t have the luxury to just trash it.  Being a small publication, we were fully dependent on the kindness of manufacturers to supply press cars.  Criticism needed to be constructive.  Apparently, my balanced review earned me some love from my managing editor:

Adam – this is one of your best reviews.  Your honesty wasn’t brutal but to the point.  It wasn’t trivial but constructive.  You highlighted what worked and didn’t work, and you did an excellent job of positioning this car against the other Korean auto makers [sic].  I love the ending.  You have come a long ways [sic] in your reviews.  Your style is coming through and I hardly touch them any more.

Keep up the good work.  I am sharing this review with Randi [Payton, the Founder and Publisher] cause [sic] he is doing Daewoo for our buying guide issue.


One of the perks of being an automotive journalist is having the privilege of driving new cars that are not yet available for sale.  Unfortunately, this was my one opportunity.

The below review ran on August 10, 1998, though my week with the car was in June.

Not one head turned. Here was a brand-new car that will not be introduced until the Fall, and nobody noticed. Not a good sign.

Daewoo, an established South Korean manufacturer, is entering the tough U.S. market by matching Hyundai model-for-model, an unusual tactic considering Hyundai’s weak sales over the past several years. The lineup will include the mid-size Leganza, which will compete against the Sonata, compact Nubira going head-on with the Elantra, and the sub-compact Lanos, which will take on the Accent. Not that the Lanos is an unattractive car, but the little sedan looks like a cross between the Accent and the Mazda Protege, two relatively anonymous cars.

Our tester was the top-of-the-line SX sedan (there’s also a three-door hatchback) with a colorful interior, power windows, power door locks with remote, impressive sounding CD/cassette stereo, power moonroof, four-speed automatic transmission, front spoiler with fog lights, and alloy wheels on meaty tires. The look of the plastic and feel of the controls was about on par with the Accent and leagues ahead of Kia, also from South Korea. Unfortunately, instead of the classic new-car smell, you’re hit with an odor akin to sour milk when you first step inside. I don’t know if this smell was just our sample; we’ll have to drive the other models to be sure.

The Lanos’ major weakness is under the hood. The 1.6 liter engine is loud and “thrashy.” When combined with the optional four-speed automatic, it’s sluggish on takeoff. Once underway, however, the Lanos accelerates quickly enough for merging and other fun driving activities, but 0-60 in 12.5 seconds, according to Daewoo, makes it one of the slowest cars on the market.

Handling isn’t bad, and the ride is about average for its class. The front seats are comfortable, and it was easy finding an optimal driving position. Rear-quarters are nearly as tight as the Accent’s, even though the Lanos has a five-inch longer wheelbase. The trunk is quite roomy, and there’s a split-folding rear seat for even more space.

Overall, it’s dead average. Daewoo plans to price the Lanos from about $9,000 to $12,000. Hopefully, that’s low enough to draw buyers to an unknown car with unknown quality from an unknown manufacturer.

For more information contact 1-800-966-1775


Type: 4-Door Sedan
Engine: 105-horsepower, 1.6 liter inline 4
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic
EPA Mileage: 23 city/34 highway
Tested Price: $14,000 (est.)

We all know how that turned out.  For those that are not familiar with Daewoo, the company made its mark using the tooling of GM cars and applying their own badge.  The Pontiac LeMans, known as the Daewoo LeMans and many other names in its home and other markets and built from the tooling of the Opel Kadett E, was our first experience with its cars.  Like Hyundai with the Excel, Daewoo hired Italdesign in an attempt to create and market attractive, distinctive cars that people want to buy.  Then they got the brilliant idea of recruiting college students to go door to door to sell the cars.  They quickly changed course and set up traditional dealerships, but between the crappy cars and the bottoming out of South Korea’s economy, Daewoo Motor descended into bankruptcy.  GM bought the assets from the receiver and now some of GM’s best offerings originate here.

Isn’t it impressive how far Hyundai and Kia, as well as Mazda, have come?  By the way, I wouldn’t call the number listed above.  It’s anyone’s guess who has it now.