"What is it?" A valid question by onlookers considering the car has been sold here in limited numbers only since the 1998 model year. Once an onlooker slips inside and experiences the machine with the strange name, the response is: "Nice car." We tested the 1999 Daewoo Leganza with its Infiniti grille and body panels that make it look like a cross between a Honda Accord and a Nissan Altima. The Daewoo line also includes the compact Nubira and subcompact Lanos, not exactly household names, either. Daewoo has an identity crisis. Sad because it's difficult to find fault with the Leganza we drove, though we were able to find one or two. One problem is the South Korean heritage at a time when those who follow the auto industry remember that a financially weak South Korean Hyundai had to bail out a financially weaker South Korean Kia to keep both operating in the U.S. There's also a physical ailment. Leganza is a midsize sedan, but the only engine is a 2.2-liter, 131-h.p., dual-overhead cam 4-cylinder. No V-6. The 2.2-liter has good pep, but tends to growl at initial acceleration. It's easier to accept 4-cylinder commotion in a subcompact or compact than a midsize model, especially one that calls Accord and Camry rivals. Daewoo boasts it has come up with a noiseless car. If so, it's not Leganza. However, the 2.2-liter 4 teamed with 4-speed automatic delivers 20 m.p.g. city/28 m.p.g. highway, a rating hard to fault. Inside, the car is very spacious, the controls easy to see and use and the design on the cloth seats hides dirt marks. But the seats are too stiff on the ower back. What makes Leganza or any Daewoo worth checking out is the sticker. The Daewoo Leganza CDX we tested starts at $18,660--loaded. Leganza is a good-looking, low-priced, high-mileage sedan that comes with speed-sensitive power steering, dual air bags, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, traction control, 15-inch radials, four-wheel independent suspension, 100-watt AM/FM stereo with six-speakers, air conditioning, folding rear seat backs, power locks/windows/mirrors, rear window defroster, cruise control, remote keyless entry, leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel with tilt, remote fuel door and trunk releases, center console cupholder, power tilt/slide moonroof, fog lights, full-size spare, body-colored side moldings and power radio antenna as standard. The only options on our test car were carpeted floor mats for $75 and a six-disc CD changer for $450. With $250 for freight, the sticker came to $19,435. Decent price, decent mileage, decent room and comfort, decent ride and handling, more than decent list of standard equipment. Yet, you have to compromise on engine noise and the absence of a track record because it hasn't been on the market that long. Daewoo produced the mini LeMans for Pontiac between 1987 and 1993, an ugly little machine that gave GM a high-mileage car when gas prices were skittish. GM was reacting to Ford bringin g the mini Fiesta from Europe and boasting of a car that would run all week on a teaspoon of fuel. As gas prices stabilized, the GM/Daewoo partnership dissolved. Leganza is considerably more sophisticated than LeMans. It's a low-cost alternative to a used car or possibly a low-cost starter car for the grad. One major limitation, however is the number of stores where you can find one. Dwight "Skip" Petrzelka, Chicago regional sales manager for Daewoo, said stores are open in Hoffman Estates, Oak Lawn, Aurora and Champaign. One is scheduled to open soon in Libertyville. All Daewoo stores in Illinois are company-owned and -operated. No independents. And, like Saturn, Daewoo has a one-price policy. You pay sticker. No negotiating. >> 1999 Daewoo Leganza CDX
© 1999 Chicago Tribune Wheelbase: 114.5 inches_ Wheelbase: 105.1 inches Length: 183 .9 inches Engine: 2.2-liter, 131-h.p., 16-valve 4-cylinder Transmission: 4-speed automatic Fuel economy: 20 m.p.g. city/28 m.p.g. highway Base price: $18,660 Price as tested: $19,185. Includes $450 for six-disc CD changer and $75 for carpeted floor mats. Add $250 for freight. Pluses: Surprisingly roomy and comfortable. Surprisingly well equipped. Lotta car for not a lotta money with ABS and traction control standard. Very good mileage. Minuses: If only it had a quiet V-6 because the 4 is noisy. Daewoo not a household name and Daewoo dealerships not in every suburb. >>
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