While it has for some time been clear that Chinese car manufacturers’ long-term goal is competing in foreign markets, their products have taken a surprisingly long time to reach those nations. And when they’ve arrived, they’ve not always been accepted very well. However, the second wave of Chinese cars, engineered specifically for export markets, are now being readied.
Chery is very optimistic about the latest addition to its local line-up, the J3 hatchback. Built in China, the J3 is already exported to other right-hand drive markets such as Singapore and Australia, and overall it is exported to more than 80 markets.
Why launch the J3 in South Africa? First of all, the Golf-size (C-segment) hatchback market contributes significant volume to South Africa’s total automotive sales. Secondly, Chery South Africa has loaded the J3 with as many standard features as possible. These include; auto headlights and wipers, ISOfix child-seat anchors, climate control, ABS with EBD, six airbags, park distance control, electric windows and an alarm and immobiliser. There is even a simplistic radio/CD player with a USB port and a screen displaying the radio frequency in a font size you can’t miss.
This is all wonderful but both the Chinese and Indian importers have done this since the late-2000s, adding as much kit as possible to a car. Don’t get me wrong, this definitely does add value to the package, and for some buyers it will be enough to clinch the deal, but what about the fundamentals such as the ride quality and engine performance?
On the road
To be honest, the J3 actually rides pretty well. The suspension absorbs bumps well and few of the imperfections are filtered into the cabin. But the steering feel in the straight-ahead position is extremely vague and there’s little to no feedback. This is also the case with some of the Korean manufacturers’ offerings, but the J3 is unfortunately even worse in this regard.
Furthermore, the five-speed manual box needs a decent push between the gears, but that said, you’ll never struggle to find a gear.
The leather-upholstered seats I found rather hard and uncomfortable, the main reason being that instead of sinking just a touch down into them, you really sit on top of the seats, plus, you also can’t lower them. Interestingly I felt quite claustrophobic in the front passenger seat compared to the driver’s position.
Sitting in the rear – with the driver’s seat set in my driving position – my legs touched the driver’s seat. I also couldn’t quite sit up straight. I’m not the shortest guy (1,87 metres), but I’m also not the tallest. The thing is, some of the competitors’ cars offer a little more space in the rear.
Delivering 87 kW at 6 150 r/min and 147 N.m of torque from 4 300 r/min, the 1,6-litre petrol engine might seem to offer only a few ponies less than its competitors (Kia Cerato 5-dr 1,6 and Hyundai i30 1,6), but on the road the true difference can be felt. You have to use the upper reaches of the rev range to make useful progress. Even so, the engine doesn’t have the same easy revving nature of its Korean competitors. Then again, this is not supposed to be a hot hatch. Approach the car with a very relaxed attitude with no need to rush anywhere, and it shouldn’t bother you that much.
Even though there are a few aspects Chery needs to attend to, the company is taking steps in the right direction. Of all the Chery products I’ve driven thus far, this has been by far the best one, but even though the J3 models offer more features than the equivalent Kias, and are a little cheaper, the Koreans still have the edge. I think Chery should make sure it targets (and beats) domestic rivals such as GWM first before aiming so high. At just under R180 000 this Chery is not cheap, but then it also does add a 3 years/75 000 km service plan to sweeten the deal.
Model: Chery J3 1,6 TXE
Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 87 kW at 6 150 r/min
Torque: 147 N.m at 4 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 12,3 seconds
Fuel consumption: 7,7L/100 km
Fuel tank capacity: 57 litres
Top speed: 183 km/h
Price: R179 900
Service plan: 3 years/75 000 km
Warranty: 3 years/100 000 km
Service intervals: 15 000 km (first service at 5 000 km)
*According to the manufacturer