Well, here we are, another review for another crossover. And it’s not just any crossover, mind you. It’s another one from China, and this time, it’s from JAC and it’s called the S3. Not exactly a normal introduction, isn’t it? But this isn’t exactly your normal vehicle to start with.
With crossovers gaining a big chunk of car sales in the Philippines, it’s a good thing to have a lot of choices to pick from. But really, how much of an option should Chinese cars be, let alone something from a brand that entered the country just last year? Let’s find out what the S3 has to offer, then, shall we?
Okay, if you think the S3 looks familiar, that’s because it does look something like a certain Ford crossover (read: EcoSport) up front. On the side and rear, it also seems to have borrowed some design cues from another Asian neighbor (read: Hyundai Tucson). What you may think leads to a hodgepodge look did work for the S3, though.
Overall, it takes on a pleasant and rather streamlined sihouette, save for the front. Sure its massive grill and angular headlights look nice, but we think it’s a bit too flat. No, that’s not in descriptive design terms, but it’s literally flat. From the front quarter and side you can see the angular accents on the bumpers, but from there you can also see that the S3 is rather snub-nosed. If the front end could be redesigned for it to jut out just a little bit more, it could’ve brought a sleeker profile to the car.
What we do like about the S3’s looks, though, are its lines and the greenhouse. Regardless of the flat front, it still has a very sporty vibe courtesy of the former, and a very classy and roomy appearance care of the latter. Add to that the fact the black accent pieces running from the fenders all the way to the rear bumper, plus a welcome addition of a chrome strip on the side skirts, and you have yourself a looker of a crossover.
As for its interior, you may have expected that it too has taken, err, inspiration from its compatriots the world over, and you’re right. But then again we’re not here to talk about that. Instead, let’s take some time to appreciate how good the S3’s interior actually looks.
Yes, there’s still an abundance of plastic all around, but what takes your mind away from the fact that this is a China car are the soft touch material covering the dash, the red stitching on the leather wraps, a sizeable infotainment system, faux aluminum trim pieces, and carbon fiber accents on the dash and and door cards. While the cabin is predominantly finished in black, the lighter pieces and red stitches add a fresh contrast to an otherwise drab interior. Subtle, but it serves to spruce the cabin up pretty well.
Just as noteworthy is the upholstery and material used for the S3’s seats. Leather is the draping of choice which is likewise accented with red stitching, plus a big “S3” logo embroidered on the front seats. The shape of the seats themselves isn’t plain jane, and instead has a sporty form with side and seat bolsters plus a slim but heavily padded headrest. The seats are comfortable to boot, but could still be made softer in perhaps a future model update.
Another novelty for the S3, by the way, is the cabin air refiner/purifier. It can be turned on manually via a switch located on the center console armrest, and it comes with its own information screen so you know that it’s functioning as it should. Nifty, but as mentioned a novelty; a useful novelty.
When it comes to people space, the front seats afford good head and legroom. It’s lateral space for your knees and shoulders that may need a bit more of, but it’s space that is still liveable in. At the back, the same observation remains. While there is space enough for 2 albeit a bit of a snug fit for 3 full sized adults on the bench, shoulder space remains limited at best.
For cargo, the S3 does impress. While size is relative, this little crossover can compare with its longer, wider competitors. With the second row seats up, you already have a sizeable trunk for all your wares, and that's for both vertical and horizontal storage space. As expected, the rear seatbacks fold and that gives you even more space should you need it. If you need it in numbers, JAC declares the S3 to have a total of 600 liters of boot space. To put that into perspective, the Subaru XV has a declared 385 liters. Granted, the XV’s number is with the seatbacks upright, but given just how much smaller the S3 is, that 600 liter declaration is pretty impressive.
In the comfort department, the S3 offers a very comfortable ride. Dampers and springs complement each other very well and what you get is a crossover that goes speedily through rough patches with no teeth rattling vibrations, and slowly through potholes without swaying every which way. What’s odd, though, is that the seemingly good suspension does not translate to sharp handling. The S3 has some struggles with quick steering wheel input and with taking corners at (a bit of) speed. Yes it’s not exactly what a crossover is meant to do, but being able to quickly carve into a turn or good response to quick input are somethings that could give you more confidence with your vehicle.
Powering the S3 is a 1.6 liter engine that churns out about 118 horses and 155 Newton meters of torque. For power, it really isn’t much on paper, and on the pedal either. The CVT, though, does a good job of getting the S3 moving, but it does lack in keeping it going. The “shifting” feels clunky and would sometimes hiccup going both up and/or down the simulated gears. Overall, though, the engine-transmission combo works well as far as fuel economy is concered. You can’t and shouldn’t really expect to go zipping by and blasting through with a car such as the S3, but rest assured that what it may lack in breakneck speed, it more than makes up for by way of 9.2 kilometers per liter in city traffic. That’s with no conscious effort to be frugal, either, and we think that’s a good and practical trade-off.
So now come the answers to our earlier question: what does the JAC S3 have to offer? What gives it a good value proposition so much so that it becomes an option worthy of a second look, or to be an actual choice for would-be car buyers?
What may look like an attempt to copy other brands’ visual styling cues may not rub off nicely on some folks, but as we said, the S3 did so quite well. Now, we know that this is not a product of outright “copying” but rather a form of taking inspiration, so for a package to come out as attractive as this crossover, that’s already a good job in itself.
It has a good engine under its hood that is very economical in the city, but has just enough in it to let you enjoy a cruise on the highways without burning too much fuel. The ride is comfortable and with just the right amount of people and cargo, you can be assured that no one and nothing is cramped for space.
Ultimately, it has a price tag that sits well below those of its other competitors. At PhP 940,000, and with all that you’re getting, the JAC S3 really does have a lot of good things going for it. If you can get past whatever stigma China brand cars have, then really, you can get your money’s worth with the S3. It’s not luxurious, neither is it flawless, but overall, with all its safety features and good quality finish and materials, it is still worthy of your consideration.