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First drive: Fresh Cherys “workmanlike”

Competent: The Chery J11 (known as Tiggo in China) might not win any quality awards, but it might win sales.

Brief drive reveals no obvious handicaps for Chinese car-maker Chery

22 Apr 2010

By JOHN MELLOR in CHINA

AUSTRALIAN car buyers with low expectations of Chinese domestic brands may be surprised by imminent newcomer to the Australian market, Chery.

The three models destined to open Chery’s account in Australia from later this year – the J1 light car, J11 compact SUV and J3 small car – opened GoAuto's eyes in a first-taste drive in China.

Competent and workmanlike, the cars were literally supplied from the end of the assembly lines for journalists to drive.

Fresh from their quality inspection, complete with plastic shipping protection, a selection of local market Cherys were driven over the various surfaces of a miniscule test track designed to expose the rattles and thumps that indicate something is wrong in production.

With just enough fuel for a few brief laps and to maybe get the car on a truck to the dealership, we were able to sample what Chery had achieved since it made its first car in 1999 and became China’s biggest domestic brand and China’s biggest exporter.

Mixing it with production line workers making their assessments and in steady rain, it was barely possible to get out of third gear. So it was just a taste, but enough to get a feel for what will tempt Australians to join the auto revolution that is China in the 21st century.

These are not cutting edge vehicles. FAQ comes to mind – fair average quality. But in this exercise at this level of the market and at the prices expected, FAQ is good.

62 center image From top: Chery J11 (Tiggo), Chery J1 (A1), Chery J3 (A3).

You want top quality, buy a Lexus. You want competent transport at a price, a Chery looks a likely contender because everything you will get in a Chery will stack up against many rivals.

Those who judge car-of-the-year awards and know all about shut lines and fit and finish would no doubt cast their expert eyes and maybe find a bit of this and a bit of that to write about.

Certainly, a lot of biff and bash was going on under the bright lights in final quality control. Workers were out with rubber hammers or pushing their body weight on to bonnets to even up margins. Two guys lifted an open door three or four times to get a neater fit.

Maybe there is still some way to go in making sure the assembly equipment is more accurate … As long as the result is right for the customer, perhaps the method of execution does not matter much.

The design execution could not be criticised or characterised as “developing country”.

In the scheme of things, the little Getz-like J1 five-door hatch and J11 SUV are older designs but could have come from a Korean plant and maybe from some of the less sophisticated of the Japanese car-makers.

The Chery-designed engines, the 1.3 litre in the J1 and the 2.0-litre in the J11, fortunately lack the buzzy, revvy characteristics the Japanese and Koreans seem to like in their four cylinder engines and, while they are not quite as torquey as European-designed four cylinder engines, the Chery fours are reasonably flexible and more pleasant to drive without having to rev them out.

The performance of the J3, however, a more recent model with higher crash protection built in and therefore more mass, seemed to struggle a little more with just a 1.6-litre engine. Two litres would be good.

Of the three, the J3 is the most eye-catching design, creating the overall impression of being a step up in interior execution.

With a caveat on an opinion generated by such a limited drive, the J3 could have come from a mid-range Japanese car-maker. It will look pretty impressive in the showroom and is certain to attract buyers when the sharp pricing becomes known.

Toyota, among others, will need to take the J3 seriously up against the Corolla. With the public perception these days that Toyota quality has slipped, the scales have been evened somewhat, letting Chery in the door a little with some buyers.

They key to my impression is that the Cherys have no less a handicap than other competitors.

If importer Ateco Automotive prices the cars as competitively as they are hinting, the public perception of Chery line-up can only have an upside.

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