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Car reviews - Daewoo - Lacetti - sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Style, comfort, value, space
Room for improvement
Average performance and dynamics, firm ride, cheap image

21 May 2004

BADGE snobs, label queens and the image-conscious need not read on.

To understand why you might possibly consider the new Daewoo Lacetti over small car superstars like the $19,990 entry level Holden Astra and Toyota Corolla, suspension of such subjective traits is essential.

Underneath the Lacetti sedan’s pretty Pininfarina-penned exterior – probably the final Daewoo design to be outsourced now that Holden man Mike Simcoe is overseeing all aspects of styling – lies a genuinely respectable small car.

Not that the Lacetti’s 1997-2003 J100 Nubira predecessor was a particularly bad car – it just aged quickly in the fast-moving world of small car design. Too quickly really, because slumping sales and savage discounting forced the once independent Daewoo into the waiting arms of US giant General Motors.

But while the Lacetti’s clean, crisp lines, large headlights, deep window area, pert tail and wide wheelarches all whisper "Europe" (or even current model Holden Astra), that fussy three-part family grille is just plain uninviting.

Little wonder then it has been ditched in the as-yet-unavailable-locally Lacetti wagon and hatch versions (the latter by original VW Golf designer Giorgio Giugiaro).

Inside it’s a similarly stylish – as well as spacious – story.

A longer wheelbase and wider track than before (up 30 and 25mm respectively) liberates a useful amount of cabin room, making the front-wheel drive Lacetti very competitive for a small car.

And if you didn’t know it was a Daewoo you’d swear the materials and finish were at least from somewhere near Germany.

Pininfarina has sure earned his fee, thanks to pleasant colour schemes, the neat symmetry of the centre console switches and the restrained use of tasteful brightwork around the stylishly gated transmission surround and (attractive) steering wheel.

That nasty toxic shock feeling you find from the materials in the Daewoo Matiz is just an unpleasant memory.

Eyebrows are further raised by the brilliantly simple and elegant instrumentation, comfortable and supportive front bucket seats (with tiltable headrests and a useful amount of configuration for the driver, no-quibbles driving position (steering and seatbelt heights adjust), easy reach of everything and nicely presented storage areas.

The latter encompasses an under-seat tray, holders for tickets, sunglasses, shopping bags, cups and phones, and several seatback and door pockets.

Larger items can be stored in the 404-litre boot (up 34 litres from the Nubira). It also features a handy release mechanism on the remote-control fob, while the 60/40 split-fold rear bench seat means longer items can easily be accommodated. Even a full-sized bicycle will fit with the front tyre removed.

There are lots of standard goodies too, including dual front airbags, power steering, air-conditioning, remote control central locking, power windows, electric and heated exterior mirrors, an impressive six-speaker CD player and an alarm/immobiliser combo.

Parking the Daewoo is a cinch around town, thanks to the extra pane in the C-pillar, although that kicked-up rear does limit over-the-shoulder vision.

So for looks, comfort, space and value, the Lacetti is right up there. There’s no doubt that, along with the underrated left-field Tacuma compact MPV – it is the best Daewoo ever devised.

But breathe easier Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Holden and Mitsubishi, for it’s on the road that the Lacetti starts to languish.

Against the current $20K cheapies like Corolla, Astra and (especially) the sharp Focus, the Daewoo is disappointingly mundane in its overall dynamics.

But it is easily a match for the Nissan Pulsar, Hyundai Elantra and Mitsubishi Lancer, due to reasonably direct (if a tad light) steering (Daewoo worked hard to improve the resistance feel over the Nubira), a happy amount of grip (from the Kuhmo Powermax 195/55R15 tyres) and reassuringly strong brakes (ventilated discs up front, solid discs at the rear).

The handling is best described as benign, with a surprising amount of body control as the Lacetti safely steers wide when pushed through corners.

On the other hand, the ride is a tad too firm. Road irregularities can be heard as well as felt, while speed bumps reveal a need for greater suspension travel.

And while I’m waving a finger, the Lacetti four-speed automatic tested was a bit clunky at times, marring its otherwise impressively smooth qualities.

An advanced electronic ZF unit from Germany, it features Adaptive Gear Control, which uses fuzzy logic to adapt to the driver’s style and prevailing conditions, as well as an electronic lock-up torque converter for smoother, more efficient gearshifts.

From all reports, the five-speed manual gearbox is a great big leap forward for Daewoo, and superior to the unit currently used in most Holden models.

Speaking of Holden, many Astra owners will recognise the engine – the Aussie-built 1.8-litre double overhead cam 16-valve four-cylinder Family II unit. In the Lacetti, it generates 90kW of power at a highish 5800rpm and 165Nm of torque at 4000rpm.

You can almost hear the cries from the army of staunchly resolute Nubira owners: "Now hang on, the Nubira’s 2.0-litre Family II unit delivered 98kW of power at 5400rpm and 185Nm of torque at 4400rpm. So there!"

And it’s true. No 2.0-litre unit is available (for now) in the Lacetti. That’s one reason why GM Daewoo Distributors Australia ditched the established Nubira name here, fearing it would be seen as a retrograde move.

For the most part, it isn’t. Despite (commendably low) increases of 21kg and 10kg for the manual and automatic versions respectively, the Lacetti is really not that noticeably fazed by the fall in performance.

Acceleration is quite brisk, overtaking manoeuvres can easily be mandated since the engine is a relatively smooth and revvy little number, and the Lacetti will cruise with no fuss at the national speed limit.

In fact, Ford Focus 1.8 owners would be positively charged by the amount of performance available.

Just don’t drive the Daewoo back-to-back with the gutsy 105kW Elantra, 100kW (from just 1.8 litres!) Corolla or Lancer, with its lusty 92kW of power.

The Daewoo’s fuel consumption is not too shabby either, although working that 1.8 auto hard around town will certainly see its parsimony slide. Overall it will return an average of around 9.3L/100km, according to the press release.

In varied conditions, mostly with the (fast acting) air-conditioning on, the Lacetti returned a figures a shade worse than that.

Despite the drop in engine capacity, the Lacetti is a decisively better Daewoo than the old Nubira.

It delivers a higher degree of value, space and comfort than you might imagine from a South Korean import, with more than just a dash of designer flair thrown in.

So while keen drivers shouldn’t really bother, buyers on a budget can certainly do worse than take a long, hard look at the Lacetti. And as the first of several models to be spawned from the J200 platform, it bodes well for its future cousins.

But the big question is, being "just a Daewoo", what price for your badge snobbery?

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