There is no doubt that Geely set the bar really high with the Coolray (AKA: Binyue), so much so that we are expecting more with every model that followed. The Azkarra (AKA: Boyue) met those expectations, even though I still feel the Coolray is the more well-rounded of the two. The smaller Geely, after all, is a full new generation model whereas the bigger sibling is a facelift.
That isn't the case for the Okavango, a model known in the PRC as the Haoyue. Like the Coolray, the Okavango is a new generation Geely, and that means we have higher expectations. But there's more to it than that: this is a seven-seater. That makes it a crucial model in a country where there is little distinction between extended and immediate family.
It's not our first time with the Okavango. My team drove an Okavango around several months ago just before its introduction into the Philippine market, but that was the Urban. This one you're looking at is the Urban Plus, and it's the new range-topping variant of the Okavango lineup.
If you spot the Urban and Urban Plus nose to tail from the curb, there's little to distinguish the two. The front is the same with that rather futuristic grille with a name that's straight-up Jamiroquai. The rear is the same with an almost Teutonic treatment about it. The body is the same with those indents to make it look more SUV-ish. Even the wheels are the same.
There are really only two major differences on the outside. The first would be the headlights. Instead of “standard” LED headlamps, the Urban Plus has a more special version called ADB matrix. Basically, they electronically control how the LEDs light up and follow the curve of the road as you turn. Some automakers use projectors that pan left and right to achieve the same effect, while others use corner lights that turn on and off depending on the steering lock, but I have to say I like Geely's execution. It just seems smoother.
The other major change is up top: the panoramic glass roof. That was actually a request from Geely customers in the Philippines because the Okavango was the first model from the brand that didn't have a sunroof-equipped variant. Ask and you shall receive.
Another matter that needs settling is whether this is an SUV or an MPV. Geely does refer to the Okavango as an SUV over in China, but when you actually look at it, the Okavango just doesn't look like one. Yes, they made it a bit boxier like an SUV, but the interplay between the length, the height, and the ground clearance of 194mm just doesn't give that impression. That is actually the reason why the people at Geely Philippines chose to use the term Wonderfully Distinct; they couldn't bring themselves to call it an SUV, but it's not quite an MPV either.
I think that could have been solved if they opted for a different type of rolling stock. The Okavango Urban Plus (and Urban) rides on 18-inch wheels with 225/55/R18 tires, meaning the combo has a total diameter of about 27.7 inches (about 70.4 cm). Had they fitted it with 18-inch wheels with extra width and 265/60/R18 tires (the common size used by the Fortuner, Montero Sport, etc.), then this would look much more like an SUV, provided that the larger 30.5-inch diameter combo can actually fit the wheel wells without rubbing, especially when cornering.
The inside, as expected, is very high grade. I have no qualms about giving top marks to the interior quality of Geely's new models, and that the effort and money they spend in developing and raising the interior quality is very well spent. The materials they chose for plastics, metals, leather, and other composites are comparable to European brands. The fit between the panels has the same precision as a Tamiya kit. Even the new car scent inside is really nice.
The space inside actually feels American in terms of generosity. It doesn't look like they tried to cram so much inside, and you can feel it when you sit in the driver's seat as you're a bit closer to the centerline of the vehicle. This feeling is something reminiscent of vehicles like the Ford Explorer.
The steering wheel is a similar one to the unit in the Coolray. The instrument cluster is a digital screen, and definitely very premium. The buttons are really nice; not brittle and definitely not cheap quality. The same goes for the shifter; it's that same unit from the Coolray.
The main display looks familiar with its super crisp graphics and it has the usual niceties like Bluetooth, USB, 360-degree camera, so on and so forth. Unfortunately, there's no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, though we've been reading that some owners have been hacking it to give their Geely that functionality. Another notable feature not in the Urban Plus is wireless charging which is unusual; the pad under the center stack is perfect for it.
Just below that is the three-zone automatic climate control. That means the driver can set it to the coolest temperature (e.g. me), the front passenger can enjoy 25 degrees, while the passengers in the back can have their own temperature setting. Just aft of the shifter is a drive mode selector with Eco, Normal, and Sport. Once you select a mode, the 12.3-inch main screen shows you which one you selected.
The middle row has a rather unique feature: it's the only vehicle I know of in its class that has individually adjustable backrests. So instead of having a 60/40 split which is common in many three-row vehicles, the Okavango has a 33/33/33. Actually, given the distribution, it feels more like 34/32/34.
The third row is actually a nice place to be though. Getting in and out is surprisingly easy because the cushions of the middle row seats actually lift and tilt forward; that's not a very common mechanism to have on a three-row. There's a good amount of width to the 50/50 split seats, and the wheelhouses are scalloped to give you more thigh room. That means it's good for chunkier people (e.g. me).
The tailgate is motorized, as expected. With all three rows occupied, there's about a 13-inch gap between the seatback and the tailgate. Geely also says there are about 257 liters of cargo space. With the third row down, the gap between the tailgate and the seatback of the second row is about 50-inches with a volume of 1,200 liters, and that can go up to 81-inches with a volume of 2,050 liters if you fold the middle row down too.
The versatility of the Okavango is nice. The generous space means you can fit a whole mountain bike in there if you want to (but we recommend an external rack) or even avail of the inflatable bed that Geely offers as an accessory so you can, uh, lie back and enjoy the view of the sky with the panoramic glass roof. This would have been perfect for that Lunar eclipse we had recently.
The first time I opened the hood of the Okavango Urban Plus, I was actually a bit surprised. Normally, I don't get to see so much of the engine bay of Geely's new models because they mask most of it up with plastic panels, but that's not the case for the Okavango. We'll find out later if that will translate to more noise in the cabin, but it's also nice to see the things Geely did.
As with other Geely models, this one has the 1.5TD; an inline-three turbo petrol engine that would normally make 177 PS and is mated to a 7-speed wet dual-clutch transmission. But what we're more curious about is the vibration management because this is a three-cylinder; more vibrations are expected compared to a similarly sized 4 piston engine at idle. Since there's no cowling, you can clearly see the massive engine mount on the passenger side of the engine.
Even though the internal combustion engine has good power, logic would tell us that such a small engine certainly can't get the Okavango Urban Plus moving at a nice pace. You could even believe the naysayers that think this vehicle can't possibly make clean and confident overtakes on the highway or make it up to the mountains. That is just not the case.
When doing our acceleration tests, I would be alone in the vehicle. But with the Okavango, I opted to have four of us in the vehicle (our video and photo crew) and our equipment. The Okavango Urban Plus was able to get a 0-100 km/h dash in 12.32 seconds. It's not quick, but it's quite good for a vehicle this big and this heavy.
One of the factors behind that is the powertrain: it's a mild hybrid just like the Azkarra Luxury. That means this has a belt-starter generator unit that charges and runs off of a compact 48-volt lithium-ion battery just behind the third row. All Okavango variants are actually mild hybrids.
Now while that may not qualify it for the excise tax discount of 50% (the electric drive has to be able to accelerate the vehicle to 60 km/h to qualify), it does make for a good cost-effective fit to ensure that the vehicle gets the best power and torque to match the size and weight. So instead of 177 PS, this one has 190 PS for power. And when it comes to torque, instead of 255 Nm of torque without the 48-volt unit, this one has 300 Nm.
I've been critical of the Azkarra's mild-hybrid system because it's just too mild, but if you treat it like a power booster, then you'll appreciate it. Surprisingly, the fuel economy was good too; this Okavango Urban Plus was able to consistently achieve 10.1 km/l (21 km/h average) in the city and 14.1 km/l on the highway (83 km/h average, 2 passengers).
The way it drives is perhaps the most surprising. In terms of positioning and price, the natural competitor and benchmark is the Innova V, but the feel from behind the wheel is more upscale and much larger. Actually, what the Okavango's driving manners remind me of the most is the Ford Expedition EL.
It's uncanny and weird for me to refer to the Expedition EL which is a much larger vehicle in all respects, but that's the impression that I'm getting. Perhaps it's got something to do with the ratio between the length and width of the vehicle, as well as how the heavy panoramic glass roof (and the accompanying mechanism) must be affecting the center of gravity.
Really though, it's about the riding comfort. When you go over a bump in this Okavango, it just soaks it up really well. It's very quiet inside and the dual-clutch is smooth. Braking is decent for its size. Handling and steering feel aren't outstanding as I expected, but the control of the body roll is quite measured and composed despite the presence of that heavy panoramic glass roof that must be affecting the center of gravity of this vehicle.
What Geely gave us is a vehicle that makes good on its promise as a comfortable runabout for a family of seven. The price is also the impressive bit, as this Geely retails for PHP 1,478,000; considering that this would be naturally stacked against the top-spec Innova, then the vehicle-to-vehicle comparison is leaning in Geely's favor. If this Geely can demonstrate long-term ownership reliability (which their other models are demonstrating so far), then we won't be surprised if this becomes a more common sight on Philippine roads... but I'm not finished yet.
There is one more thing about the Okavango that I need to point out, and it's my main criticism of a very well thought out and well-engineered vehicle: the middle row.
I feel it was compromised for lateral space per passenger when Geely split it into three equal portions (roughly). There's also that redundant side pod for the grab handle and power window switch; I say redundant because there's another armrest above it. They could have repositioned the power window switch, removed the lower armrest, and provided more width for the middle row. Or they can just put in a pair of captain's seats (which would make this a 6 seater) and be done with it.
The middle row is not a dealbreaker by any means, but if you thought my Expedition EL comparison was strange, then here's another one: I actually prefer sitting in the third row rather than in the middle. I've never thought that before about any three-row I've reviewed.
Wonderfully distinct, indeed.