The general pre-conceived notions of Chinese automobiles aren't any good.
The first few generations of Chinese automobiles exported to foreign markets were poorly received, rolling off the line like a sci-fi cloning program with little semblance of quality or driving performance. It can get nasty too, with some saying these vehicles are unsafe pieces of crap that were cheaper than dirt, and that the people driving them are unwitting crash test dummies. Sorry if that last phrase hurt, but you only have to look at how Chinese automobiles generally performed at international crash tests to see why.
But that was then, and we knew that it was really only a matter of time before Chinese automakers with real ambitions to excel on the global stage to come to the fore, and tell the world that things have changed.
That's where Geely comes in, and they started off with the Coolray. After spending quite a bit of time with it, we think this new crossover will usher in a new era for Chinese vehicles, and show that the period that preceded it was BC... Before Coolray.
A strong statement, right? I don't use words like exceptional or excellent very often, but much of my experience with the Coolray -especially this hot looking Sport model- is leaning in that direction. In the design department, this is leaps and bounds over what we've known about China's automobile design capabilities. Some carmakers even boasted of their studios that had the ability to digitally scan a whole vehicle in 3D, and slap on different headlights, taillights, grilles, and garnishes like a Mr. Potato Head.
Geely didn't do that with the Coolray, otherwise known as the SX11 internally or Binyue in the PRC. China's automakers have been busy recruiting international design talent, and it shows. The Coolray is a very original design that looks properly modern and stylish, particularly with the black greenhouse with the black roof and black pillars; if you add a somewhat medium window film, it'll look even better. They're also developing a signature touch with the “expanding cosmos” grille across their model range in the same way that BMW has the dual kidney grille or Audi has that singleframe grille.
This being the Sport model, it also has quite a few cosmetic upgrades that give the Coolray that boy-racer appeal. I like the aero look of that front splitter, the red ring on the grille is a nice touch, and the carbon fiber (ish) cover on the wing mirrors don't look out of place. The spoiler is also very neat, as does the (faux) rear aero diffuser with the quad pipes poking through. The wheels complement the handsome design, and more importantly, the soles aren't of the never-heard-of Chinese tire variety; this Coolray rolls on Continentals.
Sit in the driver's seat and prepare to be impressed, as the Coolray's cabin is comparable to far more premium European marques. The first thing you'll notice is the attention to design; it just looks so cohesive, so premium, and so well built. I particularly like the integration of the inner door handles to the design.
The steering wheel is fairly small but has a very nice texture and grain to the leather. The shifter looks very futuristic, and the shape reminds me of the flight stick I had back in the day for my flight sim games. The buttons feel great when you press them; definitely quality. I even particularly like the flame surfacing-inspired panel on the dashboard. Even the A/C vents appear to be a bit of a throwback: it reminds me of the jet exhaust on the VF-1 Valkyrie. Yes, the one from Robotech.
There are no gauges; this is a glass cockpit with the digital gauge cluster that has all kinds of information on it, as well as the 10.25-inch screen on top of the dash. The main screen is really impressive, and the operating system feels like a modern smartphone, and I like it. The audio quality is great, and the connectivity pack is good. I like the quality of the climate control panel, as well as the very cool air that can easily cope with our summer heat in a vehicle that has a panoramic glass roof. The Vertu-style button panel behind the shifter is perfect, and there are only a few blank spaces where features would have been deleted. This is a very well loaded vehicle.
The back seat is also very nice. The seats are plush and are elevated enough to reduce that uncomfortable claustrophobic feeling. There's a USB charging port on the center console, and there's an armrest with dual cupholders. The only real issue is the lumbar support; there's an unusual bump there that really feels weird. If you slouch, it's not a problem for long drives, but you shouldn't have to.
But overall, the cabin of the Coolray is impressive and that's important; the cabin is where you'll be in our kind of traffic. It smells good in here too; older China cars had a somewhat noxious version of the new car smell, but not in this Geely.
Pop the trunk and you'll see the 330-liter boot with the rear seats up. That rating means it's behind its sporty contemporaries like the Honda HR-V RS or the Subaru XV GT Edition. Standard boot space is actually the only part that we find to be truly lacking in the Coolray, but it does have a near fold-flat system that expands the capacity by quite a bit which is good.
Pop the hood, and you'll find, uh, a lot of plastic. Geely worked to hide and mask the mechanical bits under plastic panels which is what premium or luxury automakers do (i.e. Lexus). Powering the Coolray is a 1.5-liter direct-injection turbo petrol engine. If the hood is open and the Coolray is idling you'll notice that there's a bit more vibration from the engine itself, and the reason is that this is a three-cylinder engine. According to many mechanical engineers we spoke to before, three-cylinder engines tend to be unbalanced as compared to four-bangers wherein the even number of cylinders cancels out the vibration. It's noticeable at idle but never bothersome; at higher RPMs the engine smoothens out.
In the city, the many features of the Coolray proved very neat and useful. The lane change warning system is nice, as is the auto-hold system which is a godsend in heavy traffic (i.e. driving towards a quarantine checkpoint bottleneck). I like the 360 camera system and how it activates when I use the turn indicators. Parking is ridiculously easy with the camera system, and there's also a parlor trick up the Coolray Sport's sleeve: automated handsfree perpendicular or parallel parking, and these features do work well. Amusingly though, the system refers to perpendicular parking as “vertical” parking. A little copy editing would have been nice.
When being driven in an urban setting, the Coolray is a smooth performer. The suspension is very good even on our bad roads. Geely's new platform is good; it feels rigid and safe. You can tell if you hear weird noises when taking speed bumps or ramps at a weird angle; a poorly built unibody wouldn't feel good, and wouldn't sound good too. And the platform one in this was engineered to surpass the highest EuroNCAP standards. No creaks or unusual noises emanate from the cabin, and the vibration I saw in the engine bay at idle and low RPMs is very well mitigated; it's there, but suppressed. The one cause for concern is the gearbox; I had expected that the dual-clutch gearbox in the Coolray will be rough at low speed (shifting irregularly, jerky) but that wasn't the case. This is a smooth transmission when paired with the 1.5-liter.
Dual clutches have been receiving a bad rap, and that can be largely attributed to the failures of the Ford Powershift gearboxes. But those DCTs are the dry type, meaning there's no fluid in the transmission to keep things cool. The one in the Coolray is the wet type, which basically means there's fluid in the system. The downside is that the wet type isn't as efficient on paper as the dry type (fluid means resistance, meaning a slight loss in power), but the former is seen as the more reliable and smoother option. That appears to hold true for the Coolray with smooth shifts, but we'll have to wait and see how the reliability is long term.
As for efficiency, I was getting 9.6 km/l with the Coolray Sport in city conditions, but mind you that was during GCQ with traffic a little lighter (average speed: 25 km/h) than pre-ECQ/pre-GCQ conditions. On the highway, don't be surprised if you get 14.6 km/l (88 km/h average) and without really trying too hard. So long as you don't mash the throttle, you should be getting decent numbers. The Coolray also has a drive mode feature for Eco, Normal, and Sport.
With Eco activated the gauge screen will turn blue and the powertrain is, uh, restrained from reacting too quickly to throttle inputs. That means it'll feel more sluggish when accelerating but will help save fuel. Normal is, well, normal and balanced, while Sport mode is the more enjoyable setting, relaxing the powertrain's programming for quicker throttle response and faster downshifts. The last one is perfect for an open road.
When you do drive onto a nice winding road, this is where the Coolray really shines. The engine, while a tiny 1.5-liter to comply with import tariff breaks from China, is eager to get going. The turbocharger and the direct injection system means this dinky little motor can punch with the big boys with its 177 PS and 255 Nm of torque. By comparison, the 1.8-liter in the HR-V has 142 PS and 172 Nm, while the 2.0-liter flat-four in the XV has 156 PS and 196 Nm of torque.
Theoretically, the dual-clutch in the Coolray is not as performance-oriented as other dry DCTs given the supposed power loss, but I really don't feel it. The gearbox responds to my throttle inputs quickly, and when I do want to shift on my own, I can just pull on the paddles at the RPM I want for the gear I want.
Cornering balance is surprisingly good; not much yawing or pitching, even from a vehicle classified as a crossover. It's easy to keep under control even when being driven hard. And the brakes too are confidence-inspiring; the Coolray squats instead of nosediving too much under hard braking maneuvers. As for steering, not much can really be expected of motor-driven power steering units, but it's precise, and I particularly liked the D-cut shape of the wheel itself.
Overall, the Coolray Sport scores very high marks in my opinion. This Geely has exceptionally good looks, a high-quality interior, a long list of features, and lots of safety equipment too because, you know, Volvo. The powertrain is efficient when you need it to be and eager when you demand it to be, so much so that it feels more like a hatchback rather than a crossover. I wouldn't go so far as saying it has “hot hatchback” credentials, but it's pretty warm, and I like it that way.
Some would see the almost PhP 1.2 million price tag and think that it's not worth it, but consider what the direct competitors of the 2020 Coolray Sport are and how they're priced. The HR-V RS costs PhP 1.5+ million while the XV GT Edition costs PhP 1.7+ million. And judging by my experience with it, the Coolray has a very strong chance of coming out ahead, car for car.
There are many that would doubt that this Chinese-made Coolray Sport can compete against these established models from already successful brands, and that's alright. But before you doubt and post an angry comment below, try visiting their dealerships and test the Coolray for yourselves.