Here’s Changan’s take on the sub-compact crossover
Sedans are still the go-to vehicle for many vehicle owners and buyers in the Philippines. There’s also no denying the rise of the crossovers, though, simply judging by how many we already see on the roads. Manufacturers from all over the world have entered this arena by coming out with their own take on crossovers that (maybe) fit for the Philippines, and Changan is no different.
Having re-entered the market late last year, their vehicle lineup consists of one sedan and three crossovers. This review deals with the smallest of the three, and that is the Changan CS 35 Plus. With 100,000 kilometers on the clock, how did the CS 35 Plus hold up against the daily rigors of Philippine traffic?
Before getting to the specifics, let’s talk about its looks first. The CS 35 Plus goes the more traditional route with a boxy profile. Most of the competition has gone with rakish and/or sweeping lines, but this one applies a more gruff stance. The front end looks like one solid piece if not for the chrome strip running below the headlight assemblies. The faux skid plate at the bottom adds a bit of a sporty touch, too, and that’s good.
On the side, you’ll notice that it looks taller and wider because of a high beltline. Its character line and a recess right below it balance out the side profile rather nicely. Add the fact that from the front all the way to the rear, the chins and side skirts are finished in black, and you have a decent-looking crossover in your hands. And the chrome trim on the skirts, a good touch of class for the exterior. One thing that looks out of place with the overall theme is the reflector pieces at the top of each fender arch. It makes the CS 35 Plus look overly adorned, and it’s something the vehicle can do without.
A bit more bulges and angles are carried into the rear. The taillights along with its center garnish make for a wider-looking tailgate, but we can’t help but notice the rather small back glass. Visibility from the rearview mirror is okay at best, so a future redesign could address this, yes?
On to the interior, you see a lot of black hues; and you can’t go wrong with black. There’s no fancy contrast stitching, just black upholstery, dark (gunmetal-ish) brushed trim pieces, piano black accents, and soft-touch materials adorn the cabin. Personally, I also like the brushed aluminum-finish door openers, very classy.
Given that there’s still an abundance of plastic, most of it is soft-touch. The main quip we have about the plastics is that the window and lock buttons feel very low-quality. Same with the center console, which has two cupholders that are rather narrow and shallow. Putting two cups in proved to be a tight fit, so much so that the cupholders feel like an afterthought during the design process.
The gauge cluster has a 4-inch display, but controlling it takes some getting used to. Nonetheless, it has all the important driving information ready to view. Speaking of information, the CS 35 Plus comes with a massive 10-inch infotainment system. It comes with the usual standard features such as Bluetooth audio and phone integration, navigation, an AM/FM radio, and also serves as the same screen for the reverse camera, as well as the blindside camera (mounted on the right side mirror).
Another thing we noticed is that while the steering wheel is both tilt and telescopically adjustable, it doesn’t lift or extend as much as we would like it to. While the seats are rather comfortable, finding the ideal driving position is a bit difficult. Perhaps it’s another thing that Changan can remedy with a future model.
Overall, we didn’t see much fading or damage in the materials. Sure there are a few touchpoints that may need some deeper cleaning, but you won’t see corners starting to lift off or tears that may need stitching.
Now let’s move to its performance, starting with comfort. Admittedly, the ride is decent. Save for a lot of rattling (AKA “kalampag”) on the entire front suspension, the CS 35 Plus maintains firmly planted, if you can get past the suspension noise. There’s also this feeling that while the springs are well-matched to the vehicle, the struts feel quite short. On smooth roads, again the ride is decent, but in rough patches, you can’t quite get a grasp of whether it is wallowy or bouncy. It’s that confusing.
The seats, as mentioned above, are adequately bolstered in both the front and rear. Another thing that may need improvement is the air-conditioning. Given that its main purpose is to cool the cabin, it feels… lackluster. A similar temperature setting in a different vehicle would feel more than comfortable, but in the CS 35 Plus, we had to turn it up a notch or two to be to our liking. Fortunately, it was a bit rainy while we were reviewing this unit; imagine if the sun was up in the middle of rush hour traffic.
As far as space goes, the only thing we need to note is that the middle of the rear seats will be a tight affair, though, given that this is supposed to be a five-seater. The front seats were wide enough, and the cargo space looks more than adequate for a good number of bags. But you can fold the rear backrests, allowing you to have a pretty spacious cargo hold in the CS 35 Plus.
And now, the engine. The CS 35 Plus is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged gasoline mill. On paper, Changan claims about 158 horsepower and 235 Nm of torque. And yes, you can feel it. Power tops out at about 5,500 rpm (on paper, and while actually driving) but the torque is something you can definitely feel at 1,500 rpm. But however good the engine is, the transmission leaves a lot to be desired.
The CS 35 Plus’ plant is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), and with it comes a pretty confused feeling as you need to move up or down the gears. For example, when you’re already running at speed, shifting up comes naturally. In the same situation, if you find a need to overtake, the transmission kicks what feels to be two gears down, so that’s a pretty bad push back into your seat. At low speeds, the transmission dwells too high on low gears, and on a few occasions, kicked up a gear quickly and again shifted down, and then back up again. Not a good experience in an automatic vehicle.
Here’s where we get a bit confused: fuel consumption. On paper, Changan said that the CS 35 Plus has a 53-liter tank capacity. On the MID (multi-information display), we’re supposed to be clocking about 9 kilometers per liter; and that’s decent. But the fuel gauge begs to differ. At already half a tank, it makes us wonder where the disconnect might be: the computer, or the actual tank capacity. Now, whether the fact that this particular unit already had more than 100,000 kilometers on the clock has a part in this, we're really not sure. Either way, it's still a point of concern.
Changan has priced the CS 35 Plus at PHP 999,000. At that price point, you’re getting a whole lot of vehicle if you’re looking at it from a sedan VS crossover standpoint. But for what the CS 35 Plus is and what’s it’s supposed to offer, we find it lacking. It looks good, that’s a given, but some things can definitely, and greatly be improved upon.
Sure you get a good number of safety features, but they’re pretty much standard across all vehicles, regardless of country of origin. The Changan CS 35 Plus positioning is done properly, but getting behind the wheel of one leaves much to be desired. Sure, this is Round 2 of Changan’s entry into the Philippines, and there’s a lot more to be (re-)learned in the PH market and our consumers’ preferences.
Finding a good balance between price and features will prove vital to the brand if they want to get a good share of consumers. Honestly, buyers would rather pay more to get more, than to pay less and, well, get less; or end up wanting more.