It’s 2013, China is the world’s second-biggest economy, and still we are inclined to look down our noses at the Made In China label – particularly if that label is stuck on a car. Yet, more and more, this is an attitude that seems out of step with reality. Fact is, the Emgrand EC7 represents everything there is to like about a car made more or less anywhere: it feels well screwed together, has a decent level of finish and trim and comes with a comprehensive list of features as standard. Best part of all: it is ridiculously well priced. Note, not “cheap”: because that implies a judgment that only time will tell.
Clustered within a new Geely “luxury sub-brand”, the EC7 is essentially a premium compact sedan (think Toyota Corolla) at the price of a car an entire class lower (think Ford Figo). Of course, built into the price of the established brands is the peace of mind that comes with being established: the backup, the resale value, the track record, and the build quality. The Emgrand doesn’t have that. So what does it have, then?
Although in looks it clearly owes a debt to competitors from both East and West, the EC7 is based on a clean-sheet platform. Its slightly-bigger-than-compact outside is matched by a comfortable interior with an airy glasshouse, marred slightly in our test car by an intrusive whiff of burnt plastics, presumably from plasticisers leaching out. Plush leather trim and plastic finishes give the cabin an upmarket look and feel, too.
There’s a characteristic growl from the 102 kW 1,8-litre engine, perhaps not the last word in high performance or refinement, but capable of smart acceleration. Ride quality is fair, if a little harsh over bumpy surfaces. On the move, the body has a reassuringly solid feel, and wind noise is muted.
The 5-speed gearshift is super-light and slick, though the gate doesn’t separate the ratios (particularly 5th) much. A 6-speed auto will be added later; at this stage it is not yet available on righthand-drive markets.
Two models will be available to start with; both have CD/radio, climate control, headlight adjustment, daytime running lights, power windows and mirrors, remote central locking. The extra R15 000 over the base model for our R164 990 GT Executive buys you a powered driver’s seat and sunroof, electronic slip control and four more airbags.
According to Geely, the EC7 has achieved a notable first in becoming, to date, the only vehicle produced by a stand alone Chinese manufacturer to achieve the top 5-star score in the Chinese NCAP crash tests. In Euro NCAP collision tests it scored a 4.
DRIVETRAIN: 1,8-litre, fwd 5M
OUTPUT: 102 kW; 172 N.m
PERFoRMANCE: 0-100 km/h in 10,5s; top speed 185 km/h
PRICE: from R150 000, including 5-year/100 000 km warranty and 2-year roadside assistance (service plan optional)