Image problems may have dogged the Daewoo, but that's no big drama.  Daewoo is perhaps better known for its ads featuring Kane the wonder dog than for its actual cars.  There were even some wags who suggested the use of a dog was appropriate given the rehashed Opel the Korean company was sending here in 1994.

The first Daewoos were cheap enough, but based on an Opel from the early 1980s. They were a very dated design, and the build quality was generally below market expectations.

The Lanos was one of the new generation of models to come from Daewoo. It was a fresh face for the company, and started the move away from the Opel-based model.

Model Watch

By the mid-1990s Hyundai was setting the small-car pace here with its innovative "drive away, no more to pay" pricing policy.  It changed the landscape in our most competitive market segment, making it tough for everyone trying to succeed in the segment.  Rather than compete with Hyundai's offer, Daewoo went a step further with free servicing for the entire warranty period.

While Daewoo dealers appreciated the extra showroom traffic, they didn't necessarily welcome the extra traffic it created through their service departments.  Daewoo customers, it seems, took the offer of free care literally and headed to their dealer to have such minor things as failed light globes and punctured tyres repaired or replaced.

The Lanos was launched in this era of free care, so sales were brisk.  It was an attractive small car with smooth lines, and was available in a choice of four-door sedan, or three or five-door hatch.

Power was provided by one of two single overhead-camshaft four-cylinder engines, depending on the model.  A five-speed manual transmission was standard, and a four-speed auto was available.

Power steering was standard on all models, except initially on the SE three-door hatch.  Air-conditioning became standard across all models in 1998, which also saw the addition of the LE sedan and five-door hatch limited-edition models based on the SE, but with power front windows, CD player, rear spoiler (hatch) and central locking (sedan).

The Sport arrived in 1999. This was a three-door hatch based on the SX with the more powerful 1.6-litre engine, plus a sporty body kit, tacho, upgraded sound, and power antenna.

In the shop

Though dealers weren't exactly enamoured with the free care deal, it meant cars such as the Lanos were better serviced than they might have been had owners had to pay for work.

The free care cover has expired for most cars now, and the earliest examples have clocked up about 100,000km. Anyone taking one on is gambling on their continued reliability when they will have to pay for servicing and any repairs that might be needed.

Mechanically the Lanos stands up quite well. The engine is robust and doesn't appear to give much trouble in service.  The transmissions also appear quite reliable and give little trouble, but the Lanos can be let down by the little things.

The electrics appear to have been put together on the cheap, and the chances of problems increase with time and mileage.  Interior trim parts are another weakness. The cheap plastic bits break fairly regularly.

Owner's view

Barbara Barker probably would have bought a Hyundai Excel had it been available when she was shopping for a small hatch in 2001, but she didn't like the look of the Accent that had replaced the Excel.

She liked the look and feel of the Lanos, and the free care offer, and bought that instead. It's now done 95,000km and the warranty has run out, so she's in the market for a larger hatch.

She says the Lanos has provided good performance, is economical, and has been reliable. The exhaust has been replaced, as have the brakes, and the idle stepper motor had to be replaced at the 90,000km service.

The bottom line

Apart from dodgy electrics and average build quality they're generally pretty robust. Trade is reluctant to handle them, but low resale value makes them a cheap buy at the right price.

Look for

  • Attractive styling
  • Well-equipped with lots of standard features
  • Zippy performance
  • Reliable mechanics
  • Jury still out on longevity
  • Dodgyelectrics
  • Average build quality