This week, we test the third - and last - of the new cars from Korean automaker Daewoo. In some ways, the midsize Leganza seems like a worthy competitor to the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, two Japanese designs with which it hopes to compete. But the Leganza ultimately comes up short in critical areas, such as engine size and horsepower, that really matter to American buyers. It makes us wonder just what Daewoo was thinking - and why it didn't go just a little further in planning its initial assault on the U.S. market. She: When I was 12 years old, my grandma bought me a New Home sewing machine. I used that sewing machine all through high school and college, until I was 22. Then, after we got married and started making some money, I got a Singer, and I really noticed the difference. Driving the Leganza reminded me a lot of that New Home sewing machine and how it sounded - and how different the Leganza sounds and feels from an Accord or a Camry. He: I was hoping you'd find a common thread. But I didn't mean to needle you - just remind you this is an auto column, not a sewing column. But you're right. The Leganza bugs me, too. It also reminds me of a blast from my past. At first, I thought it looked a little clunky - not at all what we've come to expect from Ital Design, the fancy Italian studio that was hired by Daewoo to do the exterior. But now I see a bit of a resemblance to my old Honda Accord, which I bought before we got married 20 years ago. What I'm trying to say is, the Leganza sounds and feels a little quirky, but, you know, it's kind of fresh-looking in a retro sort of way. She: I think the face, with the big oval headlights and the chrome "waterfall" grille, is the best thing about the Leganza. It's also the best of the three Daewoo cars we've driven. But there is still no comparison to the Accord. What the Leganza needs is more refinement. He: It's funny. At first glance, the Leganza seems to have so much promise, and yet it falls far short of delivering what most consumers expect in a midsize sedan. Take the base four-cylinder engine, which isn't that bad. It's a twin-cam 2.2-liter unit that makes just over 130 horsepower. But that's not nearly enough for most American tastes, I suspect. She: I spent a lot of time last week in the Leganza, and the engine never seemed like a problem, as far as power. But when I picked up Grandma and you for lunch Saturday, it really felt sluggish, almost like it was wheezing to keep up with traffic. He: Actually, it's not even as powerful as the standard four-cylinder engines in the Honda and Toyota. Unfortunately, there's no V-6 available in the Daewoo - not even a larger, more powerful four-cylinder. That's probably the Leganza's most glaring omission. She: When you first get into the car, you almost feel like you could be in a domestic or a Japanese car. I liked some of the little touches inside, such as the fake wood trim. But then other things started to annoy me, such as the stereo, which is far too complicated to operate without a manual. And the fan for the heater and air conditioner, which is a push button that you have to keep punching higher and higher before it goes back to the lowest setting. That's stupid. Daewoo needs to put in a dial that you can turn, like a radio knob, in either direction. He: One area in which the Leganza excels is the chassis. It has an all-independent suspension, which does a marvelous job of soaking up bumps and holes in the road while providing exceptional ride control and better-than-average handling. The car is also fitted with four-wheel power disc brakes and standard antilock brakes. You'll have to pay extra to get that in a Camry or an Accord. She: Look, if the Leganza were priced below the competition, then you'd be smart to buy it. But it's not, when you consider what's lacking. My biggest concern is that I don't want to be a guinea pig. The Japanese and the Ame ans are a known quantity. Daewoo is not. And if Alan Greenp puts the brakes on the economy and this next car is the last one I can buy for a while, I don't want to feel like I'm experimenting with my money. He: And here I've thought you were just another one of those irrational exuberants. 1999 Daewoo Leganza CDX Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, five-passenger midsize sedan Price: Base, $15,000 (estimated); as tested, $20,000 (estimated) Engine: 2.2-liter I-4; 131-hp at 5,200 rpm; 148 lb-ft torque at 2,800 rpm 12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,169 Where built: Kunsan, South Korea
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