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Car reviews - Daewoo - Tacuma - 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Pricing, interior space, versatility, presentation
Room for improvement
Suspension thumps and wallows, steering too light, engine racket on kick down

11 Apr 2001

TRUE to form, Daewoo drew heavily on European resources to concoct its new Tacuma hatch.

The external styling is basically the work of Italian design house Pininfarina while inside, the Tacuma is a collaboration between Daewoo's in-house design team and Giugiaro's Italdesign in Italy.

It shows. The Tacuma is a neat, clean design with a touch of distinctive flair that makes it noticeable on the road. Apart from the trademark front grille, it is generally free of the random excesses from which many Korean designs seem to suffer. It is a good example of effective packaging because it crams spacious accommodation for up to five people and their luggage into a space occupying little more road space than Daewoo's own small car, the Nubira. It is quite a bit smaller than the medium-size Leganza model.

It achieves this with the trademark tall stance adopted in other compact MPVs, although it does not suffer from the awkwardness to which some (like the Mercedes A-Class) fall prone.

With its quite astonishingly large interior (more headroom than a Commodore and not a lot less front and rear legroom) and versatility that exceeds by far its most direct competitor - the new Honda Civic hatch - the Tacuma speaks a sensible language that should appeal to buyers currently inclined to think in terms of 4WDs or large people-movers - or even large family sedans.

The new Daewoo borrows its concept from cars like the Renault Scenic (Australia-bound under the stewardship of new distributor Nissan), which belongs to an emerging category described as "compact multi purpose vehicle".

Although it is only a five-seat, five-door hatch, it offers new levels of usability that go some of the way towards bridging the gap to the larger people-movers. It is actually shorter than a Daewoo Nubira (the company's Corolla competitor) but the upright body creates an expansive interior that not only provides outstanding lounging space, but also includes a large boot. Fold down the three separate rear seats and it is almost a station wagon. Remove them entirely and you create the next best thing to a mini delivery van.

Yes, the Tacuma is an impressive packaging exercise, enhanced by lots of clever design touches that make it an exceptionally versatile, useful small hatch. The new Honda Civic five-door has the packaging but fails to deliver on the versatility. Or the price.

The Tacuma's European connections help too.

Its Italianate exterior is backed up by an interior that looks quite classy, with plenty of upmarket touches including a splashing of fake wood grain and a superficially high standard of trim materials. But touch the smooth-looking upper dash and you will probably be surprised at its hard, unyielding feel, and the creaking noises that will invariably be emitted.

The car abounds with nooks and crannies, including two small storage bins under the rear floor, slide-out drawers under the front seats and lidded - as well as unlidded - compartments in the boot. The glovebox is a decent size, as are the four door bins and a fold-out dual cupholder emerges from the dash centre. A container for sunglasses sits on the roof near the rear-view mirror.

In opting for the three-seat layout up back, the designers delivered versatility normally unseen in this price range. All three seats double-fold individually, or can be removed completely. The centre unit also slides forward, making more shoulder room for the outer passengers, or folds down to form a wide table complete with cup holders. Fold-down airline-style trays are also provided behind the two front seats.

Driver and front passenger are located on two generous-size seats, made more comfortable for the driver by provision of a height/tilt-adjustable cushion and a fold-down rest for the left arm. The backrests are reclined Euro-style by knobs rather than Japanese-style ratcheted levers.

The dash is well presented with everything but the radio clearly presented and a left-side placement for the indicator lever and the master switch for the lights.

The boot itself is unexpectedly large, quite useful even without any of the seats folded, and includes a power socket as well as the handy additional load areas mentioned earlier.

So, in both styling and packaging, the Tacuma scores highly. What is unfortunate is that the dynamic qualities do not reach the same high levels.

The car drives well enough, but does not need to be pushed too hard before certain shortcomings become evident. For a start, the 2.0-litre engine, even though it is not all that shabby in terms of power and torque, struggles with high gearing in the automatic version.

This is okay for highway cruising because it spins relatively slowly - and therefore quietly - but kickdown needs to be employed regularly whether passing other cars or maintaining speed on hills. Third, or even second ratios are called frequently into action.

On occasion this tends to overwhelm the otherwise competent job Daewoo has done in attenuating noise levels: The 2.0-litre Holden powerplant lets forth with a harsh mechanical cacophony as the fuzzy logic ZF auto downshifts in search of the right gear to hit the engine's torque sweet spot. The ignition retards on upshifts to slur the action, but this slurs the power delivery too. The driver ends up using the manual override a lot, dropping back into second for deceleration at surprisingly high speeds.

Adequate is the best word to describe the engine's abilities within this 1.3-tonne hatchback - some attention to driveline ratios, or perhaps the adoption of the Leganza model's bigger 2.2-litre engine could make a worthwhile difference - especially when a full load of passengers and luggage is being carried.

Fuel economy is nothing impressive, with the car draining the 60-litre tank at a sometimes surprising rate. This is another area that could well benefit from attention to overall gearing, or a bigger engine that is not asked to work quite as hard.

The other questionable aspect of the Tacuma's dynamics concerns the suspension.

Daewoo says Porsche had a hand in the design, but it is no Boxster, or 911, in the way it rides or handles. Overall it feels short on damping and short on spring travel it tends towards wallowing on undulating roads, but will thump and crash on hard-edged bumps. Up to a point it steers accurately enough, but little feel is transmitted through the wheel and its inherent leaning motions are exaggerated by the tall stance.

More rubber on the road would improve steering feel and reduce the early understeer, but would probably exacerbate the marginal ride quality. The turning circle is at least nice and tight at 10.5 metres.

The braking - ventilated discs at the front end and mere drums at the rear with four-channel ABS optional only - is adequate for the task although not especially impressive with a somewhat spongy pedal.

But it must be said that in its chosen environment - urban running with lots of shopping loads and a constant stream of small children coming and going - it is the utility of the Tacuma that will be most appreciated.

Daewoo says the car meets and exceeds all current safety requirements, including the latest European NCAP standards. It comes with driver and passenger airbags as standard and uses pretensioners and load limiters in the front seats to give maximum protection from both impact and belt-induced injuries.

Equipment includes a six-speaker sound system with a single-disc CD player. It produces reasonable sound, but is compromised by a disastrously fiddly dash control panel. It still amazes that radio manufacturers are neither altruistically motivated nor forced by legislation to employ safer, more ergonomic radio controls.

Overall, the Daewoo Tacuma is a strong early contender in the mini-MPV market that deserves the attention of buyers requiring versatility and space in a car that has European styling appeal yet does not dig too deeply into the bank balance.

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