The Sweet Spot
Whenever an all-new model is launched, the bulk of the sales for the first few months (or even the first year) typically is the top-of-the-line or highest-grade variant.
People here simply like to have all the bells and whistles if a model or nameplate is new, especially ones with rather unique, new features. We can call it a kind of competition among neighbors; you want to be able to have neat tricks to show off. It's petty, but it happens.
But as a model spends more time in showrooms, more and more of the sales start coming from the mid-grade variants. People start looking more at practicality, and less at novelty. And that's why I've always put more value into reviewing mid-grade models as it is a very delicate and challenging balancing act. Manufacturers have to take out some features to reduce the price, but not to the point that it starts feeling “taxi spec”.
I remember reviewing the Emgrand Premium just over a month ago and thinking that Geely is out to recalibrate expectations in the subcompact sedan market. And what I'm talking about isn't specs (although it is impressive); what I'm referring to is more about how the car feels overall. You just don't get the kind of impression of quality in this price range and in this class; actually, even if you step up to the compact class, you won't feel it either, yet somehow Geely delivered it.
With the kind of expectation that was built up by the Premium, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the Comfort. Technically the Comfort is the mid-grade variant but it's the cheapest Emgrand you can get right now. The supposed cheapest model is the Emgrand S with the Emgrand Premium at the top of the order, but since they haven't launched the S yet, I guess the Comfort is the current base.
But walking up to the car at the Geely dealership, there's absolutely nothing about it that looks lower spec. Sure the sunroof is gone, as is the red LED light bar at the rear and the chrome on the beltline, but that's pretty much it. The headlights are still projector LEDs (not the cheaper multi-reflector halogens) and the grille has that chrome (which I'm not too fond of, but it is what it is). Even the wheels weren't downsized to 16” or 15”; these are still 17”, and the brakes are discs on all four corners.
The most obvious change is when you peek through the windows or sit inside. The white-blue interior color combination is gone when they removed the soft-touch pad on the dash and door inserts and selected fabric upholstery. In all honesty, I like the interior of the Comfort better. The fabric they selected I really prefer over the leather; especially the easy-to-stain white leather. That's really the trade-off.
Looking around the cabin though, it just doesn't feel cheaper. Most of the buttons are still there (blank covers are pet peeves of mine), the A/C controls look the same (with the push-button ignition), the steering wheel is still wrapped in the same leather as the Premium, the T-bar shifter is the same, and there's the electronic parking brake and auto brake hold. It was really surprising to see those features retained.
The audio system is also the same though it loses two speakers (4 instead of 6). It also doesn't have Apple Carplay or Android Auto like any other Geely model. That's just Geely's product planners in China being a bit stubborn; if they're reading this, those two connectivity options are major selling points for cars in the Philippines now.
Don't get me wrong: Geely did make some noticeable deletions. The driver's seat is no longer electrically adjustable, no power-mirror fold, and the instrument cluster is the more conventional analog tacho-speedo combination with a multi-info display. But really, I like the more classic style gauge, and they also retained the tire pressure monitoring; that is far more important to me than most of the features they removed. Well, except maybe the sunroof; that is a nice touch on any car, but not necessary.
The backseat is likewise nice. It still has the rear A/C vents which is a good thing. I was actually surprised that the pioneer of the feature in the class -the Almera- doesn't have rear A/C vents anymore, but that's what Honda and Geely can capitalize on as both models have those vents.
What really is surprising is that the rear seats are still 60/40 fold. It's not fold flat, but the system does allow you to put longer items that wouldn't go into the large 500-liter trunk. So if you popped on over to Ikea and picked up some long boxes of flatpack furniture, well your Emgrand Comfort can manage it without having to leave the trunk open like in a Vios.
Sitting inside an Emgrand is a nice experience, but driving it around is even more so. It is a smooth operator, bar none. The 1.5L naturally aspirated four may not have the punchiness of the turbo three in the Coolray, but it is so well refined. And the response from the CVT is actually pretty good; I was actually expecting the CVT to be the weakness in the whole thing, but I was proven wrong so far.
On the highway it's nice, and in the city, it's very smooth and quiet. It was efficient. In the city, my average was about 10.2 kilometers per liter in light to moderate traffic (22 to 23 km/h average) and on the expressway, I was doing 19.5 kilometers per liter.
Speaking of ride comfort, I actually had a rather unique experience on my first time out driving this variant. It was during a quick trip to Tagaytay, and as expected, I liked the ride quality. But I forgot to do one important thing: check the TPMS. It was actually still at the exceptionally high pressure that carmakers use for shipping. All tires were reading at 3.1 bar (which was around 45 psi); somehow the suspension managed it well that it was still nice on EDSA. When I got this Emgrand Comfort again for a drive, later on, we made sure the pressure was dropped to the correct 2.4 bar or 33 psi, and the ride was even better.
This Comfort variant actually has drive modes which you can access via the touchscreen unit. In Eco it is efficient but the response is a bit muted. In Normal mode, it's a good balance for every day. Sport mode, however, was surprisingly good; it held the gear ratio a bit better, and I found myself enjoying the manual mode on the downhill.
On a mountain road, the steering was actually good; the car points and turns reasonably well for a sedan that isn't really optimized for cornering like the City. When I drove the Premium, I noticed a little hum from the steering, but this one does not have it. All seems to be well. It brakes well too; the car stays fairly balanced even under hard braking.
After spending some time with the Emgrand Comfort on a variety of roads and conditions, what is clear is that Geely seems to have found that sweet spot on their first try. The build of the unibody is solid; no squeaking. The steering, brakes, and transmission performed well. The suspension is comfortable (it's called Comfort after all).
The level of specifications already present here are comparable to many high-grade models in the class (except for the connectivity package). I don't think I've ever seen a mid-grade variant that is as well-specced and as well built as this for such a good price, so much so that it's practically compelling.
When Geely launched the Emgrand, I knew it was going to be a disruptor and shake up what customers can expect for the money. That was very true of the Premium. That is 2x true for the Comfort.