Fleet News

Daewoo Tacuma

Review

##daetac.jpg --Right##BY the time Daewoo's answer to Renault Scenic, Citroen Xsara Picasso, Vauxhall Zafira, Nissan Almera Tino and Fiat Multipla is launched in Britain in October, the struggling Korean manufacturer should be under the guardianship of Ford.

In fact, one of the first things the British press received on arrival in Italy to drive the new five-seater Tacuma was an apology for not fielding a team of directors, engineers and designers - those that were left after 113 redundancies were showing 'prospective buyers' around the Daewoo Technical Centre in Worthing. 'Bad timing, but unavoidable,' we were told.

And Daewoo Cars' UK operation is hoping that other key timing issues will be sorted out by the autumn - 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre petrol engined versions are scheduled to go on sale at the same time, but just the 2.0 CDX was available for pre-launch test drives. All being well, a diesel engine will become available next autumn and around the same time an all-new 16-valve 1.6-litre petrol unit.

So, is Tacuma the real reason Ford decided to axe its compact MPV Focus project and not, as suggested, because it couldn't come up with a USP unique enough to upstage the seven-seater Zafira? Whatever was behind Ford's decision, Daewoo's head of fleet operations, Graham Howes, believes Tacuma will do the marque nothing but good in the UK.

'It gives us an entry into one of the fastest growing sectors of the market as well as a medium sector five-door hatchback that will appeal to image conscious buyers,' he said. 'It's a desirable car.'

It's also going to be pretty keenly priced. The two launch models will go for £12,495 and £13,495 respectively - the £1,000 difference for the CDX paying for 200cc and eight valves extra, alloy wheels, rear electric windows and six audio speakers instead of the 1.8 SE's four.

That places Tacuma well below the entry-level Scenic (£13,100 on-the-road for the 1.4 16v) and Zafira (£14,500 OTR for the 1.6 Club) with a larger engine and better standard specification. Nissan's Almera Tino 1.8 S comes closer on price and power at £13,805. Starting point for a Scenic 1.6 is £14,200 and £16,400 for a 2.0-litre model, while the Zafira 1.8s get under way at £16,250.

There's a lot of healthy competition out there, each of the compact MPV rivals has strong styling or practicality points to make, but against these, Howes believes Tacuma has more than a fighting chance of beating segment sales numbers which equate to the badge's overall total market share - just under 2%, but growing steadily. Howes' forecast is 8,000 units in a full year 'and that's being conservative. We're confident it will do particularly well in Motability because of its size, price and practicality'.

Pininfarina, Italdesign and Daewoo's Korean studios put Tacuma together on the drawing board - Pininfarina seeing to the exterior and the others the interior. It's different, but not wildly so like that other Italian artform, the Multipla.

A relatively low roofline and stance makes Tacuma more hatch than van, although the near upright tailgate flanked by light clusters tall enough to have illuminated a Ford Fairlane hint at the MPV inside. The blurb which came with our 2.0 CDX talked about twin rear exhausts - ours only had one pipe.

Shorter than a Daewoo Nubira estate, but sitting on a 30mm longer wheelbase and plumper by 55mm and 160mm higher, passengers sit upright on seats that do what MPV seats must do: the three rear, individual ones, fold in two movements, and can be removed. With the seats in place there are 455 litres of loadspace and with the seats tipped forward 1,155.

The centre rear seat slides forward by 120mm to increase shoulder room for passengers in the outside pair of seats and, when folded flat, it can act as a picnic table.

I didn't actually count the numbers of storage bins and cubby holes, but did note underseat compartments in the front, 'hidden' panels in the rear floor and storage areas in the boot side panels, plus a sunglasses holder between the visors, cupholders front and rear and fold-down tables on the backs of the front seats, standard features on SE and CDX.

Fleet drivers who come armed with preconceptions of Daewoo's love of grey plastic won't be too disappointed, but seat fabrics looked well stitched together, controls were generally of sturdy quality and there was a remarkable absence of rattles and squeaks - a triumph considering the Dolomite mountain roads which made up a fair proportion of the test route.

All the CDXs were right-hand-drive, which made for some interesting overtaking experiences but also gave the impression that if they were representative of build quality and drivability for the UK, the Tacuma is rather good news.

The driver's seat adjusts for height and the steering column for reach and rake - together with excellent headroom, plenty of legroom for a six-footer and ample room for hip shuffling on supportive cushions, it's a comfortable place to be.

Most of the time the 2.0-litre engine was quiet (Daewoo's engineers have really gone to town on padding away the harshness, vibration and road noises that were features of some of its earlier models) and its torquey nature meant thrashing the revs out the manual transmission was not necessary for spirited performance.

The gearbox, however, was truly awful - clunk, click every shift -and the accelerator was over-sensitive, making traffic driving a chore and smooth, quick changes impossible.

But handling was a revelation - the Porsche-influenced independent suspension coped neatly with hairpin after hairpin approached and negotiated with gusto by a wild-coiffeured co-driver who writes to pay the rent and races a Vauxhall Calibra for rest and relaxation.

ABS with electronic brake force distribution stepped in occasionally to help keep things tidy and on Tarmac rather than thin air (convenient grab handle, front passenger side noted, as was a 119mph indicated top speed). Gearchange and throttle problems apart, Tacuma presents a solid ride package for what is, after all, designed as a practical family car rather than for Group N rally entry.

It was with some relief that I noted Tacuma's development included 120 crash tests and 210 sled shunts to ensure Daewoo's new mini-MPV bettered the Euro NCAP 40% offset test.

A sensible package at a sensible price. It won't match Scenic in image, Picasso in ride quality, nor Multipla for barking mad design, but it should have no problems moving the 8,000 units targeted - provided supplies come through.

Daewoo is considering a special launch offer for Tacuma - a free Sony PlayStation, TV monitor and DVD system , worth about £1,000 installed, for the first few customers. The in-car entertainment system folds away into the roof, airline style, and can be operated by two games players (headphone provided) in the rear section. The system will be available as an optional extra on 1.8 SE and 2.0 CDX models.

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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