Taste of the Chery J1 is in the driving

2009-10-23 11:52

AFTER launching the cheapest car in South Africa a year ago, Chinese carmaker Chery is back to contest the entry-level market.

While most people might cringe at the mention of Chery, the latest J1 hatchback could change such attitudes.

In most cases, cheap cars mean safety and convenient features have been sacrificed. But the Chery seems to be setting the bar high for competitors with the J1 launched this week.

While the Chery QQ3 is available for under R65?000, Chery also offers a sports utility vehicle (SUV) Tiggo and a J3 sedan.

When these cars were launched and after being tested by the motoring media, the outcome was disappointing for the company. Handling, safety and build quality was shocking. But the company has since improved on these issues.

The build quality is much better and the drive, in the top of the range 1.3?TX model, hold its own on the road. Nothing broke and even at 120km/h, the car drove better than its siblings which seemed to be falling apart when they were tested last year.

The highlight in the new J1 is that it come standard with two front airbags, anti-lock brake system with electronic brake-force distribution. These ­features, as well as air conditioning, alloy wheels, remote central locking and power steering, are standard in the entry-level 1.3 TE model which is priced at just under R110 000.

Both models – 1.3 TX and TE – come with a three-year/75 000km service plan and a 100?000km warranty over the same period.

The J1’s direct competition include cars like Daihatsu Sirion, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Getz and Toyota Yaris. These cars cost between R18 000 and R49 000 more but do not include all the safety and convenient features found on the two models of the J1.

The flagship J1 TX model offers electric mirrors and windows, and park distance control (PDC) over the other standard features in the base model. The air conditioner works instantly and very well, while the two-toned cloth seats could take some getting used to.

Although the J1 is a ­five-seater, we have to ­remember South ­Africans are generally bigger in build than our Chinese counterparts. So seating three “full” adults at the back could be a tight fit.

Chery management in SA explained that the cars had undergone stringent testing of 30 000km at the Gerotek testing facility outside Pretoria before occupying showroom space.

But they did admit that after all the testings, the J1 was put up against its rivals and seemed to be underpowered, which required an engine upgrade from the initial 56kW to a better one pushing out 61kW of power and 114Nm of torque. The company also added that it has an excess of R12 million in parts throughout their 30 dealerships countrywide.

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