“Makakaakyat ba ng Baguio yan?”

Since I was a kid, I've always heard about the City of Pines as an important rite of passage in Filipino motoring folklore. If your car can reach Baguio City without a hitch, then that's a seal of approval you have a quality vehicle at your disposal.

Indeed, the roads leading up to Benguet have a lot of sharp turns and steep inclines, which will definitely subject a car's engine and suspension to more strain. Not to mention, since you're going against the pull of gravity climbing up to 1,400 meters above sea level, one needs more throttle effort to keep the momentum going, or in Tagalog, bwelo. With such conditions, it's a perfect way to put a new vehicle to the test.

First Drive: 2023 Changan CS55 Plus image

Changan Motor Philippines, Inc. (CMPI) is a relative newcomer in the Philippine market, but they quickly want to prove the quality of its vehicle offerings. They first did it by clocking 100,000 kilometers with the CS35 Plus within its first year, and now – after launching the 2023 CS55 Plus, we immediately took the fresh units on a trip to Baguio City.

Now the CS55 Plus is not just another brand-new vehicle from Changan, but the model also highlights the brand's level of improvement when it comes to design, technology, and of course, the all-important quality.

First Drive: 2023 Changan CS55 Plus image

At first glance, the CS55 Plus definitely is a looker. In this top-of-the-line Luxe variant, iPhone fans will quickly give the crossover the two thumbs up with its rose gold accent trims. Add that with the Supernova Red paint job on our unit, and we have a crossover that will sit right at home in Tony Stark's garage.

First Drive: 2023 Changan CS55 Plus image

While it looks identical to its bigger brother, the CS75 Plus, it gets some unique touches like the black chrome grille, the rear smoked taillights, and the twin high-mount stop lamps on the rear spoiler. Equipped with standard 19-inch wheels on Dunlop Grandtrek rubber, the CS55 Plus has one of the largest factory wheels being offered especially in the compact crossover segment.

First Drive: 2023 Changan CS55 Plus image

Changan interestingly made an interior that's both classy and sporty at the same time. Front passengers get bolstered seats with integrated headrests, but together with the rest of the interior, it's wrapped in a combination of black and brown leather with contrast stitching.

Another interesting aspect of the CS55 Plus' interior is its dashboard. It's the first Changan model in the country to have the new compact steering wheel which houses the controls for ADAS and infotainment functions. Moreover, the two screens for the gauge cluster and infotainment system have high-end smartphone levels of display. In fact, the center screen looks like an Android interface, but sadly there's no Android Auto; just Apple CarPlay.

First Drive: 2023 Changan CS55 Plus image

Other interior amenities include a panoramic sunroof that can be accessed via voice control, a 15-watt charging bay, and two USB ports for the second row. But what I really found unique to the CS55 Plus is the 360-degree camera with an HD driving recorder system. Basically, the CS55 Plus has its own dashcam that records 15 seconds before and after sudden braking instances – this could be useful in case you encounter a “kamote” on the road.

First Drive: 2023 Changan CS55 Plus image

Across the board, the 2023 Changan CS55 Plus is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder Blue Core Turbocharged Gasoline Direct Injection (TGDi) engine that puts out 188 PS and 300 Nm of torque from 1,500 to 4,000 rpm. It's paired with a 7-speed wet-type dual-clutch transmission with Normal, Eco, and Sport driving modes.

Unlike most of the drive events I've attended, the one with the CS55 Plus has to be the longest one by far in my young motoring journalist career. We took off from the Auto Resource Center in Calamba, Laguna, and set forth on a 300-kilometer plus journey to Baguio City. I shared the CS55 Plus with two other colleagues from the motoring media, which meant I had the chance to experience how the CS55 Plus feels both as a passenger and behind the wheel.

First Drive: 2023 Changan CS55 Plus image

For about two-thirds of the trip, I was just a passenger on the CS55 Plus. And I noticed on the expressways, the engine remained quiet with the revs down low thanks to the 7-speed DCT. It also helped that the CS55's engine was a four-cylinder, so vibrations were very much kept to the minimum when we had our rest stops. Since it's equipped with full ADAS suites like integrated adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and lane departure warning, the route from SLEX to the end of TPLEX was very much an effortless drive.

First Drive: 2023 Changan CS55 Plus image

We had our last stop at the gas station in the Rosario, La Union rotunda, and that was the time I switched to the driver's seat to see what the CS55 Plus can really do on Marcos Highway. And quickly, I was impressed by how composed the CS55 Plus was through the twisties, and how useful the torque was going on the steep inclines – complete with some traction control intervening wheel spins.

Most people may not notice it, but I found that most vehicles from Chinese brands don't particularly have positive feedback from the brakes, throttle, and steering – not with the CS55 Plus. In a way, the crossover's driving dynamics give a sure-footed feel during the times I drove it through winding roads going to Baguio and the expressways on the drive back. Now when it comes to its suspension, let me just say that none of us felt too tired after racking up more than 700 kilometers on the CS55 Plus.

First Drive: 2023 Changan CS55 Plus image

For a crossover that costs PHP 1.373 million with all that tech, style, and power, the Changan CS55 Plus is showing a lot of promise not just as a contender, but also for the Changan brand going forward. But let me be clear – I still want to experience what the CS55 Plus feels like as a daily driver to confirm my initial good impressions of the crossover.

So to answer the first paragraph of this article, it's a yes. The Changan CS55 Plus made it to Baguio... and back to Laguna. Stay tuned once we make a full review of the 2023 Changan CS55 Plus Luxe, as well as its lower-spec variants.