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AS we established in both the drive of the Mazda CX-3 and road test of the Honda HR-V, the local market’s hunger for crossovers and compact SUVs shows no signs of abating. This, along with a gradual acceptance of Chinese cars, appears to have created the perfect environment into which Landwind could launch its debut model, the 5.

The brand was founded in 2004 as a joint venture between its owner, Jaingling Motor Corporation (JMC), and Changan Automobile Group (Chana), and essentially represents a more upmarket arm of the former, whose offerings had previously comprised bakkies and LCVs.

From an aesthetic point of view then, the aspirational 5 appears to have hit the mark. While the tendency is to cast a gaze over the styling of Chinese cars with a subconscious predilection to spotting any cues drawn from those of European and Japanese models – and, granted, there are hints of Subaru Outback and Renault Koleos about the test unit’s rear-end – the 5, when viewed in isolation, appears to be a neat, if somewhat generic-looking, compact SUV that thankfully hasn’t fallen foul of the chrome-laden execution that marks some of its rivals.

Climb aboard and, bar the button-studded audio system atop the facia, the cabin is pleasantly unfussy. There are some Ford-flavoured dial needles and other details that allude to JMC’s affiliation with the Blue Oval in the Chinese market – hard plastics abound, too, but everything feels reasonably put together.

Aside from the rather odd activation of the hazard lamps when the test unit’s doors are open, the most notable element of the 5’s cabin is its spaciousness. Not only has JMC employed a two-tone trim scheme (using a lighter colour above the beltline) to convey a sense of airiness, but the car’s packaging also presents more than 900 mm of headroom and a sprawl-worthy 774 mm of rear legroom. When the rear seats are tumbled forward, 1 360 dm3 of utility space is available.

It’s not just good news, though. Despite the (often-absent) rake-and-reach adjustment for the steering column making a welcome appearance in a Chinese SUV, the lack of seat-height adjustment will see an averagely proportioned driver confronted with a steering wheel that’s too low-sited. They may occasionally rub their shin on the lower dash lip when operating the clutch, too.

The driving experience is a similarly mixed bag, with the 5 taking steps to and fro in the powertrain and dynamic stakes, respectively.

Nestled in the engine bay is a Shenyang Aerospace Mitsubishi 4G63S4T engine mated with a six-speed manual gearbox. The powerplant shares much of its DNA with the 2,0-litre 4G63 Sirius unit that’s done service in a wide array of Mitsubishi models – including workaday sedans, pickups and even Evo-badged performance cars – for more than 30 years, so it should prove a robust motor.

And when it comes to mechanical refinement, most Chinese vehicles lag some way behind their more established rivals, but the 5’s powertrain proves fairly polished in this respect. NVH levels are low, with hard acceleration marked only by a slight whine and swish from the turbo. The gearbox has a mechanical, slightly notchy feel to its action, but the lever isn’t “agriculturally” long in its throw and it doesn’t possess the bagginess that afflicts some similar offerings.

Although its power output comfortably surpasses those of similarly priced rivals, the engine’s performance is marred by a considerable lack of low-end pull and an occasional flat spot or two under prolonged in-gear acceleration, suggesting a throttle calibration issue. The former doesn’t bode well for the 5 in cut-and-thrust town driving, although the clutch is thankfully light and easy to modulate.

The engine only really comes on song when the 3 000 r/min barrier is broached and thereafter begins to feel more like the 140 kW and 250 N.m it is purported to produce. However, even though its hydraulic power steering is satisfyingly weighted and its unibody construction means that it doesn’t stumble along in a manner akin to vehicles with a vehicle body-on-chassis setup, the Landwind feels out of its depth when its driven with anything more than a touch of zeal.

Its soft springing submits to noticeable body roll, but provides a fair tradeoff in terms of a fairly pliant ride on most road surfaces, while the 190 mm
worth of ground clearance helps ensure that dirt-tracking isn’t a ground-scraping affair.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Landwind 5 2,0T MT is the dearth of comfort and convenience features, the opposite of which are often a major drawcard of Chinese vehicles. Such staples as a touchscreen infotainment system, steering wheel audio controls, leather or leather-like upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming, cruise control and electrical adjustment for the driver’s seat are all glaringly absent in a vehicle occupying this robust price bracket.

TEST SUMMARY

Essentially, the 5’s nowhere near a dreadful vehicle – its styling is tidy, the powerplant is stronger than the norm and the interior is cavernous – but there are some considerable obstacles that see it fall short of a recommended purchase.

The most prominent is the poor engine calibration that sees it stuttering and stumbling in certain driving conditions; the others are very basic stan-
dard specification and brakes that performed poorly in our emergency-stopping test.

Some readers may scratch their heads at the choice of rivals with which we’ve compared the 5 in this test (see Match-up on page 78), but at the time of going to print, the Landwind’s most logical rival, the GWM H6 1,5T City, had undergone a price cut that saw it going from undercutting the 5 by R10 000 to almost R80 000.

That said, the economic upheaval in China, which has forced GWM to cut prices of several core models to remain competitive, could potentially affect the wares of JMC as well, which would bring the 5 into a more favourable price bracket.

Owing to frustrating shortcomings that could’ve been allayed with better engine-management calibration and standard specification, the 5 justifiably sits beneath the mantle of what’s perhaps one of the most tiresomely wheeled-out terms when it comes to our assessments of Chinese cars; it’s getting there, but lacks the polish required to make a meaningful impact.

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