The Return of the Comeback
Never in a million years did we think we were going to be behind the wheel of a Chery again.
I was there, 13 years ago, when Chery first came into the Philippines. The first distributor, well, they had a very different concept of media. To say the least, they had a very “old-school” idea of dealing with us in the motoring press; things that, to this day, make me cringe, much more so than the cloned cars and crossovers they sold.
For better or for worse, Chery has returned. But this time things are different, as it has the backing of a much more professional and experienced outfit that knows the ins and outs of building a Chinese automobile brand to a very intelligent and brand-conscious market. And we'll see if their new line of models -particularly this Tiggo 5x Luxury- has what it takes to make a much better impression.
The Tiggo name is familiar to our market already. The old Chery Philippines marketed the Tiggo in 2007 as a very affordable alternative to crossovers like the RAV4 because it was essentially a clone of the RAV4, albeit the already outdated second generation model
Technically though, the Tiggo is a sub-brand of Chery, and the actual model is the Tiggo 3. But the new Chery Philippines, under Foton distributor UAAGI, decided not to market the Tiggo 3, and rightfully so; that's how you try to break away from the bad rep.
UAAGI instead opted for the other Tiggo branded models of Chery. The Tiggo 2 is the smallest crossover, priced from PhP 695k to 770k. The larger Tiggo 7 is priced at PhP 1.195 million, while the even bigger and somewhat more luxurious Tiggo 8 are priced at PhP 1.280 million up to PhP 1.340 million.
The one we're driving is the Tiggo 5x, and it's the top version: the 5x Luxury priced at PhP 950,000. It really sounds odd to append the word “luxury” to a Chery, but like any other model we review, we have to be very open minded about it. Dare we say, there's a bit of potential with Chery's return.
Firstly: this isn't a clone anymore. Actually, it looks quite decent. The design is neat, clean, and modern, with the big black grill, the projector headlamps, the nicely chiseled look, and rather intricate taillamps. If it's cloned from something else (as was the standard practice in the Chinese auto industry a decade or so ago), then we can't tell from where or from what. Ground clearance is also OK; we weren't given the number, but it seems to be in the region of about 200mm.
Of course, we don't just stick with what's obvious, but we're straining to find something wrong with the exterior. The grille is a bit soft, but it's not like you're going to push it with your hand regularly. We examined the panel gaps, and there's a very good consistency about those. That speaks of quality manufacturing. The alignment of the doors is spot on. The welds under the hood appear to be ideal too. Heck, we even checked the kind of steel they used for the screws, bolts, nuts, catches and hinges. There was none of the cheap rainbow-colored, zinc-coated variety that you normally find at a nearby auto supply; it was all painted white, coated with black, or stainless.
Inside, we found ourselves in a cabin that far exceeded our expectations. Older Chery models had cheap plastic; the kind that is shiny, gets discolored with exposure to sunlight, and turns brittle over time. This one doesn't seem to follow that trend anymore.
The top of the dashboard is soft to the touch, and the plastics appear to be of good quality. Also, the steering wheel feels nice to the touch and the seats are firm, but fair. Panel gaps on the other hand seem alright as well. There's none of that squeaking when you press on certain plastic panels. There is only one issue: the gap between the inner door panel and the B-pillar is wide enough to see the painted metal on the B-pillar. But that's only cosmetic.
From the driver's seat, we can tell that the features are impressive. The gauge cluster is basically a digital screen, and has good graphics. The audio system is a rather large Linux-powered unit that has Bluetooth, two USB ports (with mirroring), Apple CarPlay but no Android Auto; instead, there's Baidu Carlife, which we didn't try out.
The driver's seat is electrically adjustable. There are buttons on the wheel for the audio system and for cruise control. The A/C is an automatic climate control unit. In a bid to bring it to the modern age, its parking brake is the electronic kind and even has an auto brake hold function for traffic. Hill start assist, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, a tire pressure monitoring system, and a rear view camera are standard. There's even a power moonroof above. This thing is well and truly fully loaded.
With a click of the button on the key, the tailgate unlocks itself. The space in the boot is decent, and has a 340 liter cargo capacity with the rear seats up. Chery used a space saver tire under the floorboard to generate that space. If the rear seats are folded, the space balloons to 1100 liters. The only thing that's we would have wanted is for it to be fold flat for truly larger items.
Powering the Tiggo 5x is a 1.5-liter engine as it has to be 1.5-liters or smaller in order to maximize the ASEAN free trade agreement with China. Unlike many other engines in China-built units though, this one doesn't have a turbocharger; it's naturally aspirated.
The result is an engine that makes 114 PS at a very exact 6150 rpm, and 141 Nm of torque at a fairly high 3800 rpm. Those numbers (and the rpms) will come into play a little later. Also, it's worthy to note how low the engine sits in the engine bay; that may cause a problem in the future since it also means the oil pan is a bit low.
The Tiggo 5X is actually a decent car to drive around the city. Visibility is good, the brakes respond quickly, and the steering is light. The horn is also not the dinky high-pitched kind. The only really strange bit about the 5X is that it looks and feels a little wider to drive than you would normally expect given its actual size.
On to the subject of the gearbox, it isn't a gearbox really; it's a CVT, and it's smooth around town. Parking was made easy by the rear sensors and the rearview camera. We were really surprised with how at home it felt in the city: the suspension manners are alright given our rather rough concrete roads.
There was no creaking or odd sounds from the body or the panels; older Chery models made a bit of noise even when new, especially when you hit a speed bump at an angle. We honestly didn't expect anything good from the tires that were made by a company that sounds more like fried rice (Read: Chao Yang), but the set of rubber on the 5X is comfortable in town and quiet at speed. No complaints here.
The smoothness and decent manners did mask a specific aspect about the 5X: the fuel economy. We were able to get 8.5 kilometers per liter (20 km/h average) out of the 5X, but just barely. On a provincial highway it went up to just 11.7 km/l (55 km/h average). It's not as fuel efficient as we thought it should be in the city, and we think it's linked to two key reasons.
One is the torque curve, particularly how much torque it has on the low-end of the rev range. The 5X doesn't seem to have much at 2000 rpm, or at least that's how it feels from the driver's seat. The other is weight: with all the features, this Chery weighs in at 1321 kilograms. That's pretty heavy given the dimensions.
That weight also plays a factor when you start driving it faster, or at least when you want to drive faster. Acceleration, even when floored, isn't exceptional; it's just OK. Actually, the front-drive 5X seemed to make more noise than speed with the pedal to the floor on an uphill; we didn't expect much from the engine, or from a transmission that isn't suited to more spirited driving. One thing we did notice was the noise from the powertrain: the engine's own noise seems to have been masked by the noise of the CVT. The only way to describe it is like a supercharger that need maintenance, or a sewing machine.
The manners of the engine aside, one thing that did surprise us was the handling. By no means is the handling exceptional, but we can tell that there's a big improvement when we recall how the old Tiggo 3 (RAV4 clone) drove. That crossover drove like an unbalanced, creaky mess. This one is far more solid. Go over a bump at speed, and the 5X settles down. Turn into a corner, and the suspension and chassis hold up well. The braking is also decent, and pedal feels quite positive when you dive on it. Stability control is standard and it works, and so does the ABS; we tried. It feels solid and safe... odd as it may be to say that.
Honestly we thought UAAGI must have been nuts to try to bring Chery to the Philippines. It wasn't just about bringing back a brand, but about digging it up from six feet under; they were starting from well below zero. But they pushed through, and based on our drive of the Tiggo 5x we can see why.
All in all, the Tiggo 5X is a neat crossover. We like the serious progress that Chery has made with design, overall quality, a better attention to detail, and the long list of features. We're confident about the safety, and the improvement in handling. We think they can do a lot better with the tuning of the engine, or perhaps even opting for the turbo version. We also think they should focus on finding ways to reduce weight without sacrificing rigidity or even improving it further; perhaps use more high strength steel on the monocoque.
At PhP 950,000, the question remains: will the Tiggo 5X sell? Car for car, there's a lot of promise. But what's really important is for UAAGI to rebuild the brand, a task more akin to climbing Everest. Can they do it?
With a strong after sales program centered around 3-years of free PMS, a credible 5-year warranty on the car and a ridiculously long 10-year, one million kilometer warranty on the engine, they have all the tools and the capability to really make a miracle happen. Only time will tell.