Fleet News

Daewoo Lacetti

Review

And given GM's plans for the Korean subsidiary to be a 'value brand', this situation is unlikely to change.

But according to Rob Smettem, director of marketing and public affairs at the company's UK operation, 20% of the new Lacetti hatchback sales are expected to be business buys.

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Based on last year's sales figures, when Daewoo sold 12,801 cars here, that could be worth 2,700 sales a year – not exactly in the big league.

From GM Daewoo's perspective, Lacetti gives the company a model in the hotly- contested family hatchback sector for the first time – hotly contested because sales in this sector accounted for 26% of total car sales here last year.

Lacetti prices will start at a competitive £9,495 on-the-road for the 1.4 SE model (add another £1,000 for the 1.6 SX). This model is also available with a four-speed automatic gearbox for a further £1,000.

In May, the company will take the wraps off its 1.8-litre flagship model, whose specifications and prices will be announced nearer the time. All three models are petrol powered, so where are the diesels? Quite simply, there aren't any – or at least not until the end of next year at the very earliest, but mid-2006 seems a more likely date.

Smettem said: 'The lack of diesel is not perceived to be as much of a problem as for a company with a strong fleet presence.' However, he still admits he would prefer it if there was one in the line-up from the start.

When it comes, it will be equipped with GM/Fiat's 1.9-litre diesel, which should give it a competitive grounding.

And with prices that place it firmly in the budget sector, 'value brand' as Daewoo prefers to call it, business users can expect sensible tax bills. For what remains of this tax year, the 1.4 will be taxed on 18% of its value and the 1.6 manual 19%, rising to 20% and 21% respectively in 2004/5.

Although it is a Focus-sized car, prices dictate that its same-sized competition also comes from Korea, in the shape of the Hyundai Accent and Matrix, or the cheaper Kia Rio.

There are a few other qualifiers such as base model Citroen Xsaras and Skoda Octavias, as well as the Suzuki Liana.

As you might expect, the Lacetti comes reasonably well-equipped, even in 1.4 SE guise. Standard equipment includes power steering, ABS brakes, twin front airbags, central door locking with keyless entry, electric front windows, remote boot release, height-adjustable driver's seat and rake adjustment for the steering wheel.

For the 1.6 SX, add air conditioning, front side airbags, alloy wheels, reach adjustment for the steering wheel, electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors and electric windows all round.

I also drove a CDX-badged model on the launch. This trim option won't be available here on the 1.8-litre flagship model, but items included automatic air conditioning and leather trim. Daewoo expects the 1.6 SX to account for about 75% of sales.

No manufacturer wants to be seen as a maker of cheap cars these days and Smettem is quick to explain the 'value brand' tag for Daewoo.

He describes the buyers as 'people who don't want to spend a chunk of their disposable income on a car'.

'They're not cheapskates,' he said, 'but the car is not a priority purchase.'

These buyers apparently like the cost to be completely transparent, hence Daewoo's all-inclusive three-year warranty, free servicing and AA Total recovery package. Since prices were only released last week, residual values have yet to be fixed, so it's not possible to give a picture of likely all-in costs.

As none of the latest-generation Daewoo cars has been around for three years, we can't draw on RVs for other models to give a realistic impression of how they have been holding up either. So whether it really is a value buy, or buyers will be saddled with punishing residuals once the three-year service/warranty/ recovery package expires remains to be seen.

We can expect more from GM Daewoo over the next year or two. The Nubira estate is due in the summer, and will be the first Daewoo to have the new corporate nose. That will make it look more like a Lacetti than a Nubira, which keeps its current grille. Following these, the three-door Kalos is due in early 2005 and then the new Matiz that spring.

Behind the wheel

BASED as it is on the Nubira platform, you wouldn't expect Focus handling from the Lacetti.

What you get instead is an uninvolving driving experience because the chassis is engineered to err on the side of caution – in other words, what the vast majority of car drivers will be happy with.

Since performance is modest from both engines, you will have to be working hard to get yourself into high-speed trouble, but that isn't what Lacetti buyers are likely to be pursuing. Instead, they will be drawn to the decent build quality, space inside for a growing family and the price, as well as that warranty, rescue and maintenance package.

I would agree that the 1.6 SX has a great deal going for it in value terms, but those that drive it first might think twice. Since neither is a strong performer, the 1.4 litre engine is the sweeter option. By comparison, the 1.6 litre is coarse across the rev range, making progress more raucous.

If Daewoo offered a 1.4 SX, that would be the obvious model to go for.

Driving verdict

The Lacetti is a no-thrills but well-equipped package, seemingly calculated to appeal more to your wallet than your emotions. In other words, it sounds like a good choice for a business car, except that GM would prefer you to buy a Vauxhall if that's what you're looking for. Those who prefer a more rewarding drive in the same price bracket will simply have to settle for a smaller car.

Fact file
1.4 SE 1.6 SX 1.6 SX auto
Engine (cc): 1,399 1,598 1,598
Max power (bhp/rpm): 93/6,300 109/5,800 109/5,800
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 97/4,400 111/4,000 111/4,000
Max speed (mph): 109 116 109
0-62mph (secs): 11.6 10.7 11.5
Fuel consumption (mpg): 39.8 39.8 34.9
CO2 emissions (g/km): 171 178 197
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 60/13.2
Transmission: 5-sp man/4-sp auto (1.6)
Service intervals: 10,000 miles
On sale: March
Prices: £9,495 - £11,495

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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