It's kind of hard to guess what it's going to be like to drive a Chery... and no, it wasn't my first time.

Puns aside, once I got to spend quite a bit of seat time in the Chinese manufacturer's compact SUV, I have to admit that it grew on me.

At first glance, the overall appearance seems strikingly similar to the 2nd generation of a popular compact SUV. A good base, I thought, as the origin of the Tiggo's design was a relative success.

The dashboard is neatly arranged and there are quite a few extra buttons and knobs than what would be expected of this price range: heated front seats (high and low), a headlamp leveler plus front and rear fog lamps. There's certainly quite a bit of kit like dual airbags, anti-lock brakes, there's even a 6-CD magazine changer underneath the passenger seat.

On paper, there was one specification that was cause for concern: the power-to-weight ratio. 106 hp (107 ps) and 106 lb-ft (144 Nm) are pretty decent figures from a 1.6 liter motor, but the moment it's faced with the body and heft of the Tiggo at 1375 kg is like getting a Sumo wrestler to do a 100 meter sprint. He can do it, just not well.

Power delivery was also peculiar, as most of the Tiggo's grunt was at the bottom to middle end of the rev range. Drives like a diesel… but this was a gasoline engine, so missing was the gobs of torque expected of the oil-burning motor. Anything beyond 4000 rpm is pretty much just noise, so you adjust your right foot and right hand to shift earlier.

Then I started to drive it out of the lot, and I must say it's pretty quiet on the road. NVH seems decent so far, and there were no unwanted judders or creaks. Even the air-conditioning was coping superbly with the tropical heat… even at high noon. Turn the thermostat to the right and you'll realize that the heater is still installed in the Tiggo. Don't know what purpose that might serve in this country, unless the climate changes radically.

Where other manufacturers are have already broken well up the PhP 1M mark, Chery undercuts them, pricing the Tiggo 1.6L at just PhP 699,000. Considering the price, it's a fairly decent derivative on a lot of fronts, but Chery still has an uphill climb when it comes to public perception… especially when it comes to build quality and consistency.

I hate to say it, but such doubts do have a basis. The jackknife-style key fob feels a bit flimsy, the dashboard is a bit brittle on first rap, the switchgear and buttons aren't as snug as should be, and some of the exposed screw heads are blemishes in plain sight. Upon closer inspection, there are some slight undulations on the dashboard and the rear seats aren't that neatly aligned with each other. That's not a good thing for a prospective owner to have doubts about a vehicle that he/she is going to own and pay for over the next couple of years. Will it be reliable or will you end up being liable?

After a while, despite the niggly little bits and pieces, it was somewhat difficult to part with the Tiggo. Once I got past its peculiarities, I've grown to like the cool-to-the-eyes blue hue of the gauges, the good A/C, the decent seats, light steering and relatively fun handling. The ABS works fine too, and with a 5 year/150,000 kilometer warranty, Chery (Iseway Motors) is certainly there to back their commitment up.

It may not be a convincing proposition for those who have already experienced owning other cars, but it certainly opens the doors for first time car owners, however tight the budget may be.