Punching above its weight
To say it was a ‘WOW’ moment when Chery launched their new crossover back in January is pretty remarkable. That's because it says a lot since most of us still remember the brand's less-than-stellar start more than a decade ago.
In just two years, the brand has come around under a new distributor, UAAGI (United Asia Auto Group, Inc.,). They are moving at a very confident pace, releasing its fourth model in just two years: the Tiggo 7 Pro.
The first impressions were good. The comments section was flooded with praise, price inquiries, and reservation requests. Some were immediately impressed and went straight to a Chery dealership. Sold out was the answer I got when I inquired about its sales numbers.
If you aren’t privy to all things Chery, here’s what I learned after spending a week with this (super)model. In case you haven’t seen it, then you wouldn’t understand the last reference.
It’s a looker for a compact SUV, and it all emanates from that huge and elaborate ‘Sunshine Galaxy’ grille that sports a diamond mesh with shiny rectangular elements that when combined, simply look elegant. On either side are slim LED headlamps Chery calls Tiger Eyes. That’s just the front fascia, ladies and gents.
What follows is the ‘Life in Motion’ body which is already at version 3.0. This design concept is by Chery Europe Executive Director (and former Ford, Daimler Chrysler, General Motors designer) James Hope. It shows a very sharp character line along the side, a floating roof effect with the blacked-out rear pillars, a pair of LED taillights, a lightbar, and a spoiler with a high-mount stop lamp at the rear.
On top is a pair of load-bearing roof rails, a shark’s fin antenna, and at the bottom are ten-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels. The whole exterior package is great but perhaps a set of 19-inch alloys would make it stand out more. But the point is Chery took the time to put it together. The result is a compact SUV that looks great from any angle.
It only gets better inside, and it starts with the welcome light. If you have the smart key with you, all you have to do is approach the vehicle, and it lights up (taillights, dome lights, cabin ambient lights). While it’s thanks to sensors in the key and the vehicle, it establishes a warm connection between man and machine.
One of the most noticeable interior visual cues is the orange-white double stitching on the seats that extends down to the floor mats. It does its job in adding a touch of color in the predominantly black cabin. Adding more zing inside is a silver trim that runs across the dashboard. Taking center stage is a wide 10.25-inch touchscreen that houses the infotainment system.
Speaking of infotainment, Apple CarPlay is standard along with Android Auto and MirrorLink. The operating system seems to be third-party, but the interface is clean, responsive, and neatly arranged so that all menus and sub-menus can be easily found. In this interface is where I found the controls for all the fancy features like the welcome light and the seven customizable colors for the ambient lighting system.
Audio coming out of the six speakers can be controlled via the steering wheel controls or by clicking the toggles just below the center air vents. Also, the multi-function, flat-bottom steering wheel feels great to grip as it’s thick and leather-wrapped.
Behind it is a large, colorful, and purely digital LCD instrument panel. It's great eye candy for drivers tired of looking out at traffic but my gripe is it still has these acronyms like DTE (distance to empty), AFE (average fuel economy), and IFC (instant fuel consumption). It desperately needs an update to be more user-friendly.
The Tiggo 7 Pro comes with a glossy touch panel that houses the climate control system. One of the things Chery is mighty proud about is its N95-level filtration, which should help ease your worries about keeping airborne particles out of your cabin.
Move further down and you get to the electric shift lever and the electronic parking brake. But what’s ingenious about this design is they placed the wireless charger right beside it. No longer do you have to fumble and shove your hand into some nook and cranny as this cubby is placed conveniently where your right hand usually goes as a driver.
If you need more storage space, there’s a huge area right underneath to lay down bigger stuff like tablets and/or to charge using cables plugged into a 12-volt outlet, two cupholders in the middle, and a large center console.
The front leather seats are nicely padded for comfort, come heavily bolstered for a snug fit, and extended for added leg support. The electronic adjustment made it simpler to find the proper driving position, but I wish it came with a memory function. The second-row seats are more bench-like but are padded enough to feel cozy and offer good legroom. Rear passengers also benefit from air-con vents to keep them cool on a warm day.
The fit and finish of this cabin are superb and worthy of praise. Its layout, design, and even the materials used are of very high quality and will be a big plus for people on the fence about it. If there’s one minor thing, they should have given the rear door cards soft-touch materials.
As for practicality, the Tiggo 7 Pro has a cargo capacity of 475 liters behind the back seats. Fold those down, and it offers a maximum volume of 1,500 liters. A noteworthy feature is its power tailgate that uses a sensor and opens when you have the smart key and stand in front of it for at least three seconds.
Then there's the massive 1.13 square meter panoramic sunroof. It's a great feature to have and awesome to take advantage of when you’re cruising at night in a place like Baguio.
Moving this almost 1.5-tonne compact SUV is a 1.5-liter turbocharged gasoline engine that sends 145 PS and 210 Nm of torque to the front wheels. It keeps the revs low on Eco mode in favor of fuel economy, so it wasn’t a surprise that throttle response was just a tad delayed, and acceleration was more graceful than eager. Sport mode changes the color of the instrument panel to red and makes the vehicle react to throttle and steering input much quicker, so you get power faster for a more energetic drive.
What is impressive is the performance of the sound-absorbing materials. It worked as advertised – dampening noise from the engine and even the tires to keep the cabin quiet, although it does ride a little firmer than I expected.
Slightly deceiving is the feedback from the steering wheel. The feel and feedback are super light, and it doesn't reflect the heft of the vehicle. Drivers who prefer a sedan-like drive will love this but I’d caution people who are too cavalier in their driving and especially their overtaking maneuvers because it would be easier to inadvertently sideswipe another vehicle. But despite how tall it rides, rollover resistance was decent for the segment.
The 9-speed continuously variable transmission (CVT) is smooth and can handle metro traffic without getting confused with the low gears from all the stop-and-go on EDSA. It works the ratios very well to keep the engine at optimum performance and efficiency. Fuel consumption is between 9 to 10 kilometers per liter in moderate traffic, city driving.
While all of the above is already a lot to take in, its safety features are remarkable, as well. It has a 360-degree HD camera that gave me the option to see obstacles and things around the vehicle in a 2D view, 3D view, front-wide view, and rear-wide view. Granted, the Tiggo 7 Pro on the screen looked a little cartoonish, but it was a great help on the road when underbones sidle up against you real close and when precision parking in tight slots at the mall.
Chery also equipped this with an Electronic Stability Program that gives the vehicle protection against skidding. Chery says the ESP is from Bosch and that it weighs only 1.6 kilos, making it the lightest ESP system yet. If that's not enough, it also has six airbags, a seatbelt minder for all second-row occupants, front and rear parking sensors, traction control, and hill-assist and descent control. The Tiggo 7 Pro has a brake override system that suppresses the throttle during unintended acceleration. An emergency signal system automatically flashes the hazard lights during sudden high-speed stops.
For skeptics who need some form of guarantee that this vehicle is as advertised, the folks at United Asia Auto Group, Inc. (UAAGI) – the exclusive distributor of Chery vehicles in the country – even threw in a 1,000,000-kilometer (or 10-year) engine warranty, a five-year/150,000km vehicle warranty, and free PMS and roadside assistance for the first three years.
This vehicle, how it looks, what it brings, and what it offers quickly overcomes whatever bad taste the old Chery left in your mouth. It’s big, beautiful, and blessed with features for the modern driver. Best of all, it is competitively priced at Php 1.198 million, inclusive of safeguard duties.
Sure, it could improve on a few things here and there, but the Tiggo 7 Pro, in its current state, is desirable, to say the least, and should be on the list of anyone in the market for a compact SUV.