SANTIAGO, CHILE – Geely is on the up. Having recently returned to South Africa after a short hiatus, the Chinese automaker is about to launch subdivision Emgrand locally. After the cheerful LC and LCX, can the EC7, a Corolla-sized saloon due on local soil in May, further improve perceptions of this brand?
The Chinese manufacturing industry is burgeoning and with many new names having arrived in the last five years, some might question the arrival of yet another Far East marque. But, essentially, Emgrand is to Geely what Lexus is to Toyota, so the manufacturer is not altogether an unknown contender.
Tracing-paper trail non-existent
Not so long ago, most vehicles out of China seemed like blatant design copies of other, more often than not successful, vehicles in that segment. And I’m pleased to report that, for the most part, Geely’s one of the first manufacturers of the Orient that has managed to shake off this kind of behaviour.
Granted, the EC7 isn’t a breakthrough in the world of design, but its lines are generally pleasing to the eye and smaller details like the grille and head-/taillamp shapes are inoffensive. What I found especially impressive about the EC7 was that the doors and bootlid close with a solid and reassuring thunk instead of the Tupperware-esque sound I’ve become accustomed to from most vehicles of Chinese descent.
But by far the EC7’s strongest visual attribute is the perceived quality of its interior. Panels fit tightly and where there are no soft-touch surfaces, there are plastics that feel substantial and boast grains that match similarly priced vehicles already available in South Africa.
Slightly asthmatic motor though
All my driving time in the EC7 was spent with one or three passengers (and the required luggage for a week’s journey) in the car, so the 1,8-litre’s performance was strained for that duration. I quickly noticed that, with less than 100 km recorded on the vehicle’s odometer, the EC7 was in real need of running in. About town, I experienced no real problems – the clutch was easily modulated, gearshifts smooth and precise, and in urban confines there was no apparent lack of grunt.
Leaving the city behind, I did note a slight lack of outright shove, especially in top gear. Inclines that resemble many of the hills back home in South Africa often meant asking all of the rev range and some clever cog-swapping.
Mindful of the fact that most of the time there was an extra 400-500 kg of passengers and luggage, and that the EC7’s internals hadn’t had any time to loosen up, I was rather impressed by the humble, normally aspirated four-cylinder engine.
Comfort levels high
Two specification levels will be made available, the Luxury that I drove for this evaluation and the Executive, which includes ESC, side airbags, tilt and slide electric sunroof, and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat. The basic Luxury comes with dual front airbags, power steering, central locking, electric exterior mirrors, ABS, alarm system, and a radio/MP3/USB audio system.
The EC7’s leather is not unpleasant and is quite soft to the touch. And there’s ample room, too; squeezing in four suitcases and comfortable seating for four adults, the EC7 doesn’t break a sweat. Doing my sit-behind-self test, I was pleasantly surprised to find ample room in the rear and after a few hours as a rear-bench passenger, I found the seating to be more than adequate.
Besides being the most Western-market-friendly Chinese vehicle I’ve evaluated (Geely’s quite proud of the car’s four-star EuroNCAP safety rating), the EC7 is a very strong contender at R149 000 (add R15 000 for the Executive model). The only pricing concern I have is that the service plan is optional. But, overall, I think Geely has a winner on its hands and hopefully the buying masses give it a fighting chance.
*Read a more comprehensive impression in the May issue of CAR, on sale 22 April.
Emgrand EC7 Luxury
Engine: 1,8-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 102 kW at 6 000 r/min
Torque: 172 N.m at 4 200 r/min
0-100 km/h: 10,5 secs
Top speed: 185 km/h
Warranty: five years/100 000 km
Service plan: optional
Service intervals: 15 000 km
Price: R149 000