Let me make this clear: any review you read about a car needs to be taken with salt. For some just a grain is fine, for others a whole shaker full is needed while for a few, well, a whole sack wouldn't do. That's just honest advice.
So where do you think the Jiangling Motor Company (JMC) Orion qualifies? Shall we find out?
For one, it doesn't look too shabby. Design is still in the eye of the beholder, but I have to say the overall look of the car is a leap in the right direction. There seems to be definitive agreement in how the car was designed and detailed, and that's always a good thing. The shape, the ride height and overall presence of the Orion (called the Yusheng in its native China) is proper given the intended market. More on that later.
When I opened the door, much of the car's interior was still covered in plastic so I quickly removed them, revealing the leather upholstery; unusual for a vehicle of this price range. Again, more on that later. For features, everything is powered, though the jack-knife-style keyfob's remote system only works when you're about 10 feet from the car. Also, some components bear an uncanny resemblance to Toyota's parts bin, like the control panel for the side mirrors as well as the wiper and headlamp stalks.
The interior design actually looks better than I thought. There's actually a decent attention to detail, something you don't see often in the Orion's compatriots. Panel gaps are quite consistent, everything works flawlessly including the rather oddly shaped (read: hexagonal) audio head unit. I do wish it had either a standard headphone jack auxiliary audio input or a regular USB port, as this one for some strange reason uses the USB-mini interface.
There's ample room for 7 passengers, and the guys over at the 3rd row won't have too difficult a time as legroom and headroom is quite decent. Both the 2nd and 3rd rows fold flat with ease, and that's always a good thing if you like to load up cargo every once in a while.
Powering the Orion is a 2.4 liter Duratorq TDCI engine. Sounds familiar, don't it? It's because JMC has a partnership with Ford, and thus acquired some of their tech like this Duratorq TDCI motor. The engine produces 140 PS at 3400 rpm and 290 Newton-meters of torque from 1600-3200 rpm, and it's matched with a 5-speed manual transmission driving the rear wheels.
Initial acceleration is good, as the torque of the 2.4 liter TDCI engine does well to handle the Orion's weight. What are unusual are the ratios for the gears. 1st is just too short while 2nd gear is a bit taller than usual. The 5th gear is shorter than what I'm accustomed to in these SUVs, and does generate quite a bit of transmission noise at higher speeds... and I'm talking at just 100 km/h. As such, fuel economy on the highway is a little lower than expected of diesels at 10.8 kilometers per liter with two passengers.
The suspension system does make the car quite comfortable at speed or within city limits. There's a pair of airbags for the driver and front passenger, and ABS and EBD are standard. Everyone has seatbelts (of course) but the belts are actually quite short; so short in fact that I can't reach over to open the glove box from the driver's seat. While we won't test airbags, the ABS did kick in during a deer-in-the-headlamps moment on a long provincial road, and worked quite well to allow the driver a bit more control in an emergency maneuver.
Now, this is the important bit. The Orion is a 7 seater SUV, meaning technically it's matched up against the likes of the Fortuner and Montero Sport. Price-wise, however, it's PhP 1,130,000 price tag puts it more in the range of MPVs. Also, it's assembled here at the Star Motors plant in Laguna, which is probably why the panel gaps and fit of the components appear more consistent.
Does the Orion make a good case for itself? It has some niggles and quirks that need working out, but overall, JMC has a pretty solid vehicle considering the price.
If you do get one, buy a mini-USB adaptor for your flash drive. It just makes listening to your music much easier.