Text: Jude Morte / Photos: Ramon Sy | posted March 17, 2009 00:00
You see it first in the exterior, which everyday folk can tell is a carbon copy of the 2001-2005 Toyota RAV4 from roof to tires. The folks over at Chery's parent company in China could have spent a little more on design and come up with something more original than imitating nearly basic exterior aspect of the RAV4, save for the grille and the two red lamps at the rear bumper. As a result it's a rolling intellectual property right violation.
The interior seems to be at par with many compact SUVs, but upon close inspection and constant use, whatever's inside looks and feels cheap. The plastics (especially those for the center console, the cupholders behind the center console, the front dashboard and the bins around the a/t) look dirty, the buttons for the airconditioning (a/c), defroster and hazard light use feel flimsy, and the a/c blower/temperature/air direction knobs look like pinball launch machine levers. Speaking of the a/c, the leftmost and rightmost aircon vents are similar to that on the Hyundai Veracruz, and moving them to provide cold air to front occupants is frustrating due to their limited latitude/longitude travel. The head unit looks decent, but actual usage isn't nice - there's no manual frequency adjustment feature and no MP3 capability, the sound is tinny and the fonts on the head unit's blue backlit display are hard to see. The steering wheel looks like it was assembled in haste, as several cracks within the plastic steering column housing were noticeable, enough to see the different mechanical bits inside.
At least when it comes to storage and interior lighting the Tiggo does make a positive mark, as there are lots of places throughout the cabin to insert bric a brac, the center console can hold two paperback copies of the Day of The Jackal novel, there are lamps for every cabin section and the rearmost area swallows three sacks of coconut husks (with room to spare for rearward vision). There's another problem that pops up - the rear backrests fold flat, but when they are folded the seats aren't parallel to the rearmost area's floor, seriously limiting cargo space.
The Mitsubishi-sourced powerplant and four speed a/t nestled in the engine bay moves the Tiggo's 1,375 kg curb weight move decently around. You get into the narrow powerband at 3250-3500 rpm, but it's best to use the a/t's manual mode for acceleration (since the shift points are much higher), especially on inclines. That way you won't fall out of the power curve on upshifts, as second gear is short and third gear is tall. Despite the thin power curve, the unit managed 7.71 km/l on four days of mixed driving.
The ride is comfortable enough to get some shuteye (should you become a lucky passenger) and there's surprisingly little body roll, with traction from the Champiro 128 GT Radial 235/60R16s breaking at 70-80 kph. Steering feel is light but feedback is blunt, and the wheel has a tendency to wander occasionally. But the really bad thing about the unit is its stopping ability; it's just plain scary. It feels like the brake pedal (or your right foot) moves an inch or more of longitudinal travel to get decent stoppage. As a result top speed was limited to 139 kph, for obvious safety reasons. Also, the handbrake only bites when the stick is pulled at a 40-45 degree angle. And if that's not enough, the foglight switch location is hard to reach (it's parallel to the driver's left knee). At least the side mirrors have lateral vision up to the second lane of sight, and the foglights' brightness can replace the headlights anytime.
The Tiggo 2.0 A/T, no doubt, is a significant upgrade to the brand and the Chery marque. It actually has the making to become a first SUV/first vehicle for a budding college student or a rookie yuppie, but serious safety and fit and finish issues render interminable the SUV's aforementioned potential. Sad to say, this China-made sport-ute will forever be tasked as such, until a better iteration arrives.