Out to Impress
Not too long ago, vehicles coming from the PRC were very much ridiculed for being substandard in terms of quality, safety, and most especially, design.
The early influx of Chinese cars indeed looked like cheap rip-offs of existing models from other brands. Some of them still do these days but really, you never thought the day would come when you'd look at a Chinese-made automobile and say “Wow”.
That's what's going on right now with vehicles coming left and right from China. They stepped up their act, and are seriously mounting a challenge to established brands with the way they could produce attractive cars in terms of design, quality, and features.
Brands like Chery, Geely, GAC, and MG come up as the most popular Chinese brands in the country right now. But as we found out, there's also one to keep a close eye on. Something that looks to be flying under the radar. That brand is Changan.
Last year, I was able to drive the CS55 Plus Luxe to Baguio City, and honestly, I was left with a lot of good impressions about their compact crossover. For quite some time I was itching to drive it again for a full review but for some reason, Changan decided to discontinue that variant. So instead, I was given the keys to something quite similar, but more premium - the UNI-T.
For starters, the UNI-T and CS55 Plus are both compact crossovers. And size-wise, the UNI-T actually measures exactly the same as the CS55 Plus in terms of length, but it's wider and it's much lower.
At first glance, you'll know that the guys over at Changan know their thing when it comes to style. And yes. I said “Wow” when I first saw it. In fact, back when it was launched, we had a hard time taking pictures of it because everyone wanted to snap the UNI-T's striking looks. It's as sporty as it gets with the curves, the low roof, and the steep rake at the back.
Clearly, this one's no cheap rip-off. It has its own identity, but we do notice a few design cues inspired (take note, inspired, not copied) from supercars, specifically the McLaren P1. The swan-shaped element that houses the DRLs and the LED headlights are a dead giveaway, while the frameless grille completes the aggressively styled front end.
But really, for me, the UNI-T's best angle is when it's viewed from the rear quarter. It's from this view that it gives the impression of being more like a large hatchback than a crossover. You can see the huge 20-inch wheels wrapped in Continental tires, the flush door handles, and that sexy rear end. When you see it on the car's side mirrors, it's almost as if you're looking at a Formula One car's side pods. Yes, the Ferrari side pods, not the ones from Mercedes.
One more thing Changan does well in terms of design is the rear spoilers. They like doing it differently. You see it in the CS55 Plus with its twin 3rd brake lights, and with the Changan UNI-T, they have done a V shape. I'm not quite sure what effect this does on the car's aerodynamics, but it does blend in nicely with the rest of the crossover.
However, I saw something in the UNI-T's design that begs to be asked “Y?” (no pun intended). The quad exhaust pipes are indeed functional, but when you look closely the tips are not part of the exhaust system itself, and you can clearly see the space in between them. I'm really not sure why that's the case, but I'd still take this over faux exhaust tips any day of the week.
So impressive looks, check. What about the interior? Well, it was done differently, but still, it's a nice place to be in. They did not go overboard when it comes to the layout. The controls and the switches are very much where you expect them to be. The sporty seats have nice thick bolsters on the sides. The red stitches are a bit thick but give off a nice accent to the black and silver theme, plus the leather feels nice along with the soft padding on the door cards and the armrests.
The seats in front are electronically adjustable, plus the driver's seat has adjustments for lumbar support so finding the proper and comfy driving position is very much attainable with the UNI-T. The flat bottom steering wheel has controls for the infotainment and information displays, with a neat trick called voice control. Essentially it allows you to open and close the windows, turn the A/C on and off, as well as answer calls.
The dual-screen setup immediately draws your attention, especially with its very crisp resolution. It has all the nice features like a 360-degree camera and even a video recorder. However, like most Chinese vehicles, the UNI-T does not have Android Auto but it does have Apple CarPlay.
The center console has a pad for wireless charging, and a USB port to connect your smartphones. This is also where you'd find the shifter that has been nicely integrated to the point where it looks like a jet fighter's throttles. It has an electronic parking brake with auto brake hold, plus a drive mode switch to choose between Eco, Normal, and Sport modes.
In the second row, the UNI-T has a single A/C vent and a USB charging port in the middle. The panoramic glass roof cannot be opened, but it does give you a lot of sunlight inside as the cover fully retracts.
Space is no issue with the UNI-T both at the front and the back, as there's generous head and legroom. However, if you're the claustrophobic type you might get a bit uncomfortable in the 2nd row with its high rear windows. I'm 5'9” but somehow I can only peek out of the windows showing only half of my face. But if you're the type who wants to be nice and cocooned inside, then you'd like it when the sports seats hold you nicely in place.
As for cargo space, this is where the UNI-T's design has its drawbacks. With its low roof, you might want to think twice about putting taller luggage at the back. Also, the loading height is a bit high, so it could be a challenge for vertically-challenged individuals.
While you do have about 40 inches wide and 20 inches long cargo area, you may find yourself wanting a bit more from the UNI-T. But when you just need the length and not the height, the second-row seats when folded give you 65 inches of length and a totally flat loading area.
The Changan UNI-T has the looks of a hybrid or even an electric vehicle, but under the hood is a conventional combustion engine. It's a 1.5-liter BlueCore turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out 179.5 PS and 300 Nm of torque. Basically, this engine is the same thing that's powering the CS55 Plus, but this is making a bit less horsepower but the same amount of torque. The engine sends power to the front wheels through a 7-speed wet dual-clutch transmission.
Speaking of DCTs, we know it won't be the smoothest transmission out there especially when you compare its behavior to the likes of a CVT or a conventional torque converter automatic. Some of the DCTs we've tested before can get a bit jerky and sluggish during inclines and stop-and-go traffic, but not with the UNI-T.
This in particular is what impressed me with the CS55 Plus before, and it's more of the same in the UNI-T. You know it's still a dual-clutch, but the shifting and the engagement of the gears are really smooth. Throughout most of my time with the UNI-T, I did not even find the need to switch into sport mode to get a sharper response from the transmission and the throttle. In fact, the UNI-T's normal mode can be comparable to the sport mode of the others. It's already that good.
Also, every time I step inside any vehicle, the one thing I'm always critical of are the controls. This is where we found some Chinese vehicles will need a lot of improvement, especially with precision. But with the UNI-T, I did not have any problems at all. You can really feather the throttle and the brakes to get very smooth on your driving.
The transmission's smoothness and the precision of the pedals also translate to great fuel efficiency numbers. Even for a crossover wearing 20-inch wheels. I averaged around 11 km/l during my short drive from my home to the office. When you take it to the expressways, it will go up to about 15-16 km/l.
Speaking of the expressways, that's where you can take advantage of the UNI-T's many ADAS features. I really like the proximity sensors of this one, and it displays on the screen if you're following a truck, a bus, or a motorcycle. And it even detects pedestrians.
However, this is also where you can find some areas for refinement, or adjustments. Somehow, Changan may have made the UNI-T a bit too safe. The adaptive cruise control, for example, can use a bit more response, especially when the road in front of you has already cleared up. It doesn't accelerate right away when the car in front of you has moved to another lane. Plus, the lane-keep assist can get a bit intrusive. Once you start to veer off, the lane keep assist kicks in and quickly steers the wheel back in the middle. It's almost like you're getting slapped on the wrist by the backseat driver for not paying attention.
If you're also the type of person who listens a lot to music while driving, the safety systems can somewhat interrupt your listening because it mutes the radio every time the blind spot monitoring triggers. Plus, whenever you're maneuvering for parking or making U-turns, the system also mutes the audio system when the 360 camera activates. Don't get me wrong, it's good that the car has these equipped, but I believe Changan can still make a few refinements on these. I know for a fact the safety systems could work well without overriding its other features because I've seen it with other vehicles I've tested.
Lastly, you might find the UNI-T to ride a bit stiff in terms of riding comfort. It tends to get better as you load it up with more passengers, but you can really feel its firmness. The 20-inch wheels may be playing a huge part in that, and maybe it would ride better if it had somewhat 18s or 17-inch wheels. But as car enthusiasts say, it's not gonna look as good on 18s compared to 20s. And of course, the stiff suspension means you can take on corners with confidence, especially with how wide the tires are.
Other than that, the UNI-T has good NVH, and build quality will leave you impressed. It's really quiet inside and there are no rattles with the plastics and the panels inside.
Overall, Changan has a promising product with the UNI-T crossover. It's stylish and sporty, it has a powerful engine, and the driving dynamics are good.
But then again, we found some minor issues that could be addressed with some software updates in the future, especially on the safety systems side. Also, it wouldn't hurt to add a paddle shifter or a manual mode in its next update. While the DCT is already good, there will always be a time when you want to do the shifting yourself to utilize all that power the engine is packing.
At PHP 1.679 million, the UNI-T is on the premium side of things when it comes to pricing, but that's what Changan is exactly going for with the crossover. It's only available for indent orders, so it won't be one of Changan's volume drivers in the country. Basically, it's a CS55 Plus in a different, and more dapper-looking body. To a much lesser extent, the UNI-T for me is like the Acura Integra Type S, while the CS55 Plus is the Civic Type R.
The UNI-T is for those who like something that's not going to be too much of a common sight on the roads, and for those who like to roll in style for the daily drive.