Month: Nov 2021

China’s real Great Leap Forward with the Chery Tiggo 4 Pro

The motoring world has undergone a complete transformation over the past few years with the emergence of the subcompact SUV. In this time, Chery has become somewhat anonymous with introducing new vehicles to the market, selling their last new car as long ago as 2018. Instead of rushing a lacklustre option into our market (which has been done in bygone times) to appease the demand of this new segment, the Chinese manufacturer has taken its time to refine its offerings for an affordable yet premium experience. Say hello to the rebirth of Chery in South Africa with their launch of the new Tiggo 4 Pro. 

Over the past month or two, Chery has been gearing up for this day. Providing the motoring press and their marketing teams with snippets and teasers of the cards they hold in their hand. We attended the performance testing of the Tiggo 4 Pro at Gerotek recently and now we have been afforded the grand opportunity to be a part of this extravagant experience of essentially witnessing the rebirth of their automotive brand into the South African market. 

While our time before was considerably fleeting, we spent the better part of the day getting to know the top spec Tiggo 4 Pro 1.5T Elite SE CVT which is China’s real Great Leap Forward. 

From the outside, the silhouette of just about all subcompact crossovers are easily interchangeable to the untrained eye. They all share similar lines, lighting designs, overall dimensions and the Tiggo 4 Pro is no different with a design language that mimics those of their Korean and Japanese counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, this is by no means a bad-looking car. It has good proportions, an array of different exterior textures and materials and it utilizes a logical but safe design approach which will appeal to those shopping in the segment.

Where the new Tiggo 4 Pro really excels is with its plush interior. It is almost impossible to believe that the brand that was responsible for the sub-par QQ (which was in essence based on a Daewoo Matiz) has now produced something more attractive and pleasant to be inside than any VW offering in the segment. 

You are met with an array of soft touch plastics, leather surfaces, piano black finishes and commodious seats while the tech side of things is equally as noteworthy.

A digital 7” TFT dashboard display is recessed behind the steering wheel while a 10.25” central infotainment screen compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth sits above the air conditioning vents and minimal instrument buttons. A voice command system that actually works is equipped in the range and select models include a sunroof which sits above the first row of seats. The reassuring message which was echoed during the presentation of improved quality resonates strongly in the cabin. Everything feels sturdy and well assembled while driving produces a rattle free experience.

You have your choice of either a naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine producing a maximum of 85kW and 141Nm or a turbocharged derivative of the same displacement with 108kW and 210Nm. The naturally-aspirated motor is coupled to a 5-speed manual transmission or CVT while the turbocharged motor is paired to either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 9-step CVT.

We only sampled the turbocharged CVT Elite model and the motor was sufficient in its use and the transmission was comfortable, quiet and seamless which is not always the case with a CVT. After learning that the Tiggo 4 Pro weighs in just under 1800kg we can speculatively say that the figures produced by the naturally-aspirated motor may not cut lugging the sizable body around as comfortably as the turbocharged motor. For such a compact yet heavy car, the roadholding warrants a stable drive while the suspension setup comfortably soaks up any road imperfections and dirt roads. 

Throughout the route which was dominated by sedate open road driving, our test unit was displaying an unusually high fuel economy which averaged between 11-13l/100km. This can be partially accredited due to the fact that all of the vehicles had come straight off the showroom floor with less than 100km on the clock and still needed to be run before revealing their true performance and economy. Chery claims that the Tiggo 4 Pro equipped with the 1.5T motor can achieve as low as 7l/100km but Chinese manufacturers have a knack of greatly understating their fuel consumption. Take these numbers with a grain of salt since motoring journalists tend to have a heavy foot but the true figures might lie around 9l/100km. 

This is still a massive discrepancy between the Tiggo 4 Pro and chief rivals like the Kia Sonet, VW T-Cross and Suzuki Vitara Brezza/Toyota Urban Cruiser which average between 5.5 and 6.5l/100km. This can possibly be accredited to the Tiggo 4 Pro’s sizable weight which is almost 600kg more than its competitors. 

While economy numbers may not be impressive the pricing and after-sales figures are. The Tiggo 4 Pro pricing ranges from R269 900 and tops out at R359 900 which places it exactly in the middle of the segment. Chery are so confident in their R&D that every Tiggo 4 Pro sold will include a 5 year/60 000km warranty with a 5 year/150 000km warranty while the engine will include a 10 year/1 million km warranty. While there are many terms and conditions that accompany this bold claim, this should provide potential buyers with assurance that the Chinese brands’ quality has been improved and they are willing to put their money where their mouth is. 

In conclusion, Chery have made the right decision returning to our market full time with the Tiggo 4 Pro. While the next 2-3 years will see their model portfolio grow with larger SUV’s and even a bakkie, their 30 dealer strong national network and opening of a Gauteng parts distribution center have provided the brand with the correct foundations for their rebirth.

In a saturated market where youthful and aspirational buyers are spoiled for choice, the Tiggo 4 Pro simply can’t be ignored. While more trusted brands like Renault’s Kiger and Nissan’s Magnite can be had for slightly less money, the Chery seems to be punching above its weight in terms of quality and refinement.

Is bigger better? The new Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

Automotive brands are no strangers to pulling at the heartstrings of buyers. One such method is to revive a revered nameplate as a more commercially viable vehicle. The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross does exactly this. While it may have been reincarnated as a coupe SUV in 2017 to entice younger buyers who were familiar with the Eclipse of the 90’s, three years on and it has already received a facelift. The extra length and updated looks are intended to make it a more approachable option for buyers with an itch to explore. We spent a few days with it in the Lowveld to find out if the updates have allowed it to grow into what it was intended to be. 

Most of the buying demographic of a compact SUV like the Eclipse Cross are young, adventure-orientated individuals that prioritize versatility when shopping for a car. Options which do away with low profile tyres and focus more on ground clearance plays into the hand of automakers with a broad portfolio of SUVs. It is no secret that affordable sports cars and coupes are a dying breed with SUVs being at the forefront of the culling, so combining traits of both into one should be the solution to appease those who want both, right?

The Eclipse Cross could be categorized simply as a Compact Crossover SUV but Mitsubishi insist that their derivative is a coupe SUV, which is claimed to combine the best of both worlds. The intention is to morph an athletic and sporty aesthetic into a practical and usable vehicle that is not restricted by any road surface it may encounter.

The aesthetics are intended to be sporty, so both the front and rear have been significantly redesigned to encompass this methodology. The rear-end is the most significant change, it has gone under the scalpel and comes out 140mm longer than before. This not only affords bonus boot capacity but the rake of the reshaped bootlid creates a much sleeker looking design from the side profile which alludes to its supposed coupe DNA.

The Pontiak Aztek inspired split rear-screen has also been ditched for a minimal and neat LED rear tailight design that runs vertically adjacent to the rear screen. While it may not be something that Walter White would spend his money on, it does create a pleasant looking rear end that has greatly improved on its predecessor.

At first glance, the front end may seem similar from before but it has undergone a few aesthetic changes which create a much more cohesive and futuristic appeal. The imperative was to fully embrace Mitsubishi’s dynamic shield concept which is their internal design language that is intended to express powerful and dynamic design.

The split headlight configuration that is becoming more common on newer cars has been well executed on the Eclipse Cross while chrome accents frame the large plastic grille which feed into the sleek DRL’s. 

While it will always remain subjective, this is one of the more attractive offerings in comparison to its competition. The angular dynamic shield inspired front end from Mitsubishi, which is becoming a more prominent feature on their new offerings, also distinguishes the Eclipse Cross from the general monotony of the segment.

In terms of driving appeal, an SUV will always struggle to recreate the dynamics of a coupe or sportscar. While it is internally categorized by Mitsubishi as a coupe SUV, it simply lacks any true sportiness to set the world on fire. Marketing strategy and classification aside, it drives and corners very well for an SUV of its size despite its height and ground clearance of 180mm.

The front wheels are powered by one of two options, one of them being the latest turbocharged powerplant on offer by Mitsubishi; the MIVEC 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine which delivers peak performance of 110kW with 250Nm. Alternatively, the less desirable but slightly cheaper 2.0L GLS CVT 4×2 naturally aspirated derivative is equipped with 110kW of power and 198Nm of peak torque. In the solitary driving mode, both are claimed to achieve just below 8.0l/100km but our turbocharged derivative averaged 9.1/100km in extra-urban conditions while stretching its legs on the open road achieved a lower average of 7.2l/100km.

Our test car was equipped with the 1.5-litre drivetrain which is more than sufficient and undoubtedly the option you would want to drive. The power is readily available in all driving conditions and occasional but mild torque steer from full throttle pull aways can result in some unwarranted tyre shriek.

It comfortably managed with low speed, sedate urban commutes as well as comfortable open road cruising and this is credit to its transmission. As far as CVT’s go, the 8-step variation in the Eclipse Cross is the best one I have experienced so far. It is comfortable, refined and well suited to the turbocharged motor which is relaxingly quiet throughout most of the rev range. 

The chassis and suspension is more suited to the SUV side of things than anything coupe or sports car-like and that is ok since the rest of the experience inspires as much tranquility as the drivetrain does. Traversing on a multitude of surfaces including highways, rough countryside tarmac and even dirt trails exceeded comfort expectations.

The suspension confidently soaks up rough surfaces and potholed roads with very little disturbance to the cabin. Roadway noise is generally unnoticeable until speeds of 100kmh are exceeded, which even then remains ambient. 

Speaking of the cabin, it is a well laid out and comfortable place to be in – particularly from the driver’s seat. There is ample spaciousness in both rows with the driver and passenger receiving fully electric seat adjustment. The second row has angle adjustment only while isofix anchorage is concealed within the crevices of the seats. With these seats in their most upright position, the boot has a capacity of 437l while folding the 60/40 seats down allows for an impressive 1074l of cargo space. This is all without compromising on the spare wheel size but it does present a high loading lip and boot floor which is awkwardly shaped. While most new cars include many unnecessary gimmicks that add to the weight figure and price tag, the Eclipse Cross is a car that would have been well suited with an electrically operated tailgate since the redesign and sweeping profile make it heavy and difficult to interact with.

Other updates to the interior include a new 8” infotainment screen which has most of the functionality that you would expect in a new car. The overall user experience is let down by bootup latency and laggy operation but screen mirroring via USB cable is its saving grace. Once your music device is connected, the audio is projected through an impressive 8 speaker sound system which has enough bass to get the rear view mirror vibrating at full blast. The screen also projects a mediocre resolution reverse camera while park distance control is displayed on the drivers dials.

Other creature comforts for the front row include dual zone climate control with heated seats while a retractable Mitsubishi Motors Intuitive Technology (MiTEC) HUD is positioned just above the dashboard.

There are some gripes that the interior instills such as the hard to reach trip-meter buttons and a clumsy to interact with phone slot in front of the gear shifter but the worst offender of them all is the excessive use of piano black plastic and faux brushed aluminium which after a few thousand kilometers has already been tattered to the point where the car looks a decade old. That being said, there is still a premium feel within the interior, with soft touch points in every direction and a plush look dashboard.

While cheap, bottom of the barrel SUVs will continue to dominate sales charts, the more premium, value for money derivatives like the Eclipse Cross offer a more unique and high quality option that come loaded with standard features. The range starts at R459 995 for the 2.0L GLS while our top of the range test car, the 1.5L GLS comes in just shy of half a million at R499 995. Both models include 3-year/100 000km manufacturer warranty with a 5-year/90 000km service plan.

In comparison to some of its chief competitors which includes the likes of the Mazda CX-30 or Kia Seltos, the Eclipse Cross may be slightly down on tech but provides a superb ride with a high quality interior and an equally unique option in the generally monotonous looking market.