It’s been just over three years since Chery, the No 1 passenger car seller in China, launched a new product in South Africa. And to break the silence the carmaker has targeted the popular B-segment of the market by introducing the J3 hatchback.
According to Chery, the local hatch market (think Toyota Auris/VW Golf size) was worth about 14 000 sales last year, and the Chinese are keen on getting their chopsticks’ worth with this new five-door contender.
At launch, there’s just a sole offering – the J3 TXE five-speed manual priced at R179 900 and powered by a 1.6-litre engine good for 87kW and 147Nm.
The Euro 4 emission engine is designed and developed in conjunction with Austrian powertrain developers AVL, which have worked with other manufacturers including Audi, Citroën and Renault.
Designed by famous studio Pininfarina, the J3 was shown at last year’s Johannesburg Motor Show and, after the QQ3 and J1, is the third hatch available in Chery’s South African range.
As the TXE badge suggests, the newcomer is range-topping in terms of spec level.
Standard fare includes leather seats, climate control, auto headlights and windscreen wipers, MP3 audio with six speakers and controls on the steering wheel, alloy wheels, rear-park distance control, electric windows and rear-view mirrors, alarm, remote central locking, and follow-me-home lights. But, oddly, no cruise control or Bluetooth connectivity.
On the safety front, buyers can expect six air bags (which is a first for a Chinese car in South Africa) and ABS with EBD – leading to a five-star Chinese NCAP rating (claimed to be similar to the Euro NCAP system).
The cabin has a modern look with finishes of reasonable quality, and fancy-enough switchgear.
There’s an unusual slide-out storage tray in the centre console, which I liked, and many other storage nooks, including a double-decker glovebox. Odd, though, are the centre cupholders in different sizes, with only one of the two able to hold a soft drink can.
NO BALL OF FIRE
The ride and drive at Gauteng altitude earlier this week was quite short, but presented a decent offering. That 1.6-litre engine is no ball of fire and smaller force-fed engines from German competitors will have it for breakfast – especially with claimed performance figures like 12.3 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint and a top-end of 183km/h.
Handling is not bad, thanks to independent suspension all round, but I did notice a bit of play in the steering. Overall, the newcomer felt safe and well built, and is definitely a sign that cars from that part of the world are getting better.
Included in the price tag is a three-year/100 000km warranty, three-year/75 000km service plan (15 000km service intervals) and three-year roadside assistance.
Chery hopes to move 30 to 40 J3s per month locally and has 33 sales and 35 service dealerships in South Africa – parts availability sits at between 89 and 92 percent, according to recent research undertaken by the carmaker.
Coming next year will be the J3 sedan, the smaller J2 hatch, and one more product, which the Chinese would rather not divulge. There’s also a good chance that smaller 1.2 and 1.4 engines, and possibly an auto box will be introduced in the J3, but it’s unlikely that a diesel will reach our shores. -Drive Times