When we said in December that the Geely Coolray was unanimously our top pick of the best vehicles we drove for the year, many were surprised. After all, it wasn't too long ago that vehicles that crossed the West Philippine Sea from the People's Republic were regarded as substandard in terms of quality, safety, and design.
Things have been changing though as more and more automakers from the PRC have been stepping up their act, poised to challenge even the biggest automakers in the world on their own turf and on their own terms. Chinese automakers are expanding their automobile development programs, moving from makers of cheap cars to sell for the sake of market share to good vehicles that can compete against other models on merit and still be attractive on price.
The Coolray, is a perfect example of that transition. Actually, it was more of a quantum leap forward in what we can expect from the PRC. And make no mistake about it: our discerning import-heavy market is being used as a testing ground for China's auto industry for their grander plans in other countries.
The Coolray, however, is a tough act to follow. I mean, how do you deliver an even better experience than that with your other models? Geely's answer is simple yet very clever: introduce something similar, but very different. That's exactly what the Azkarra is.
By the time you read this, the two variants of the Azkarra would be a year old in our market already, a model known as the Bo Yue (pronounced Po Yue, according to some friends) in the PRC. I was able to drive the Azkarra Luxury before the lockdown started last year and I thought it was impressive for what it is, and definitely for its price.
What I did say in that article many months ago, however, was that while I like the Luxury, the base variant -this Premium- is the one to watch out for. And those observations have been proven, at least in my opinion.
It took us a while to get our hands on this lower grade variant of the Azkarra because of the restrictions and the fact that the vehicle had been put to use quite a bit. Technically this is a 2020 unit, but it's still the same spec that they're offering for customers in 2021, so there's no change yet.
Walking up to it for the first time, I was hard pressed to find anything different. This is the facelift of the model that has been on sale in China in the last few years, and apart from the color, it looks almost identical to the Luxury variant. Geely didn't delete anything outside, except for the 48V EMS badges. Nonetheless, this is still a good looking crossover.
That front clip is properly handsome, especially with the Jaguar-esque snout that houses the grille that has a cosmic name. Those LED headlamps look good, as does that front bumper and those fin-like bulges on the hood. This may not be as boy-racer inspired like the Coolray, but it does have a lot of nice and rather premium details
From the side, it looks very executive indeed with the attention to detail. I'm generally not a fan of chrome, but the execution in the Azkarra Premium is nice; they put chrome accents on the window trim, but opted not to use it on the grab handles. This looks a bit more upscale than what a compact crossover should be.
Speaking of compact, the Azkarra isn't as big as its main competitors. At just over 4.5 meters long, it's slightly shorter than the CR-V and the RAV4, both of which are at 4.6 meters. The wheelbase is at 2670mm though; that means it has a longer wheelbase than the CR-V's 2662 and just under the 2690mm. That wheelbase will play a factor in what is the Azkarra's best characteristic, but more of that later on.
There's nothing much to write home about with the back other than it's cleanly executed; nothing to point out, other than the blacked out D-pillars and the silver trim on the bumper that has integrated tailpipe finishers. And no, those dual tailpipe finishers aren't just for show (i.e. like with the Territory); look closer and you'll see the actual tailpipes just a bit inboard of those chrome bits.
Pop the tailgate and you'll see my main criticism of the Azkarra: the cargo area. From photos, it looks alright, but after using the vehicle for a bit longer, I've found that it can be a bit limited. The opening is somewhat narrow at around 40 inches. I generally go imperial (inches) for these measurements for easier referencing.
The height of the loadspace is also quite high at 31 inches off the road because of that floorboard that conceals the spare tire, the toolkit, and a lithium battery in the Luxury model. Actually, Geely could have done more with that space, like an organizer-type thing similar to what Maxus has under the floorboard of the D60.
When you fold the rear seats down, there's a lot more space in the Azkarra Premium. It will enable you to fit longer items up to about 71 inches long in there, but the lack of width in the opening is really my main concern. Also, even with the rear seats folded down the load space isn't fully flat.
So for cargo space the Azkarra is good, but it could be better. From here on out, however, it's all uphill.
If you're the type that likes to sit in the back, the Azkarra is going to be a great option. I have a gut feeling that Geely prioritized getting in and out of the back because the B-pillar appears to be a bit more forward to allow for a wider opening. Also, once seated, rear legroom is also impressive, and the floor is almost flat. The center tunnel also doesn't protrude too much into the floor, meaning you can get in and out from either side easily, regardless of where you're sitting.
Even though the seats aren't leather (Geely says PVC), the cushioning is very nice. There are rear A/C vents for comfort as well as USB charging ports for your convenience. The center armrest is also great with a rather upscale cupholder mechanism. It's all in the details, and if you ever get claustrophobic and want a bit of sun, there's that massive panoramic sunroof that lets more light in but doesn't seem to let too much heat into the cabin.
In the driver's seat, this Azkarra is actually impressive. I half expected a lot of features to be deleted, but there isn't much to remark about. This still has the 12.3-inch touchscreen HD audio system, the climate control system is dual zone, there's a 6-way power seat for the driver, the steering wheel is still tilt and telescopically adjustable, the 360 camera system is still there (it's fantastic, BTW), and there's an electronic parking brake and auto hold for traffic.
The safety feature suite is still that: a suite. It's got ABS, EBD, traction control, hill start, hill descent and stability control. All the brakes are discs, and if things go wrong on the road, there are still 6 airbags around the cabin to cushion the impact. Sure, there are a few blank spaces where some features would have been, but not anywhere near enough for us to jokingly dub this Azkarra as Economy, not Premium. If they put in Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, we would have called this the Premium Plus.
The main difference between the Azkarra Premium and the Luxury is the power unit even though the engine is the same. Yes, it still has the 1.5-liter turbo intercooler engine, but the 48V EMS “mild hybrid” has been deleted. That means this one has “just” 177 PS and “only” 255 Nm of torque. Geely also opted for a front-wheel drive 6-speed automatic instead of the 7-speed dual clutch and all-wheel drive in the Luxury.
While that may seem like a downgrade, when you drive it, the reasons will become clearer. Around town, the Azkarra is impeccably comfortable. On rutted and pockmarked concrete, the ride is very composed and pliant. Even at times when I didn't spot a certain pothole, the Premium took it well. Even when you ignore a speed bump in the village, if it's not too high or rough, the Azkarra will handle it well. The only thing from the driver's point of view that seems odd are those massive side mirrors. It's not anything that a driver couldn't get used to and compensate for, but it's something to keep in mind. The 360 camera view does make it much easier though.
The 6-speed automatic is also great. While many automakers prefer CVTs or DCTs (wet, not dry), a good ol' slushbox, torque converter automatic is still our favorite for comfort in city driving. Low speed manners are kept well under control, and the shifts are smooth at the expense of a little more power loss. We're not quite sure how big the loss is, but you can't really feel it. If you mash the throttle, the automatic responds quite well.
What our concern was was with the fuel economy, as automatics generally can't compete against DCTs or CVTs in fuel economy if the engine and conditions were the same. But with the Premium, that wasn't a problem, as we were getting 9.3 to 9.5 km/L in urban driving (22 km/h average, decent traffic). On the highway, 15.2 km/L was our figure. Again, impressive.
Where we normally do our video shoots, there are a lot of open roads to play with. The Azkarra Premium was definitely enjoyable. No, this isn't a great, tossable crossover by any means; if that's what you're looking for, maybe check the Forester or the CX-5. But that doesn't mean the Azkarra isn't light on its feet; this version is able to do a 0-100 km/h sprint in 11.7 seconds. Not bad, and there's definitely a feeling of thrust once that boost kicks in.
When the road gets twisty, what the Azkarra has is composure. The weight management of the suspension is good considering the heft of the vehicle; Geely didn't release any weight figures, but we don't expect this to be light versus its competitors given the fact that it has a panoramic moonroof. The steering (in Sport mode) is firm and nice, but it's just for effect. I prefer to just leave it in Comfort mode most of the time because that's what the Azkarra is good at.
The vehicle does look and drive in a more premium manner than other vehicles in the category, and with far more features to boot. The rear cargo space may be a downer, but not a dealbreaker. As for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, no this doesn't have either, but there are some that are already hacking the audio unit to get it to function. Just don't tell Geely you did it.
If we compare the Azkarra Premium to the Luxury, we will pick the Premium without a second thought. It's not the first time we chose a mid or entry grade variant as a better option over the top spec unit, but that's how good we think the cheaper PHP 1.438 million (before the safeguard bond) Premium is over the all-singing, all-dancing Luxury with its fancy nappa leather, all-wheel drive and the 48V EMS. It's still too mild, in our opinion.
Here's where it gets interesting though: if we were to rank the Azkarra Premium amongst other well established crossovers in the category, car for car, then this is right up there with the stalwarts of the class. Consider this: for you to get a panoramic moonroof in a CR-V or a RAV4 you'll need to fork out between PHP 2.2 to 2.3 million.