ROAD TEST: Chery J2 1.5 TX
While a number of Chinese car brands have turned the corner and are slowly starting to improve their refinement and build quality, some still feel like a throwback to an earlier cheap-and-nasty era of Chinese car manufacturing.
When Chery recently added the J2 hatchback to its South African model line up, the R129 900 pricetag was a big attraction. That’s an i10-like pricetag for an i20-sized car and on the surface the J2’s quite a bargain. On top of this the single 1.5 TX model comes with a fairly decent array of standard gizmos including aircon, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, and a six-speaker audio system with CD player and USB port.
On the safety side there are two airbags and ABS brakes, and the car has a four-star Chinese N-cap crash rating (but hasn’t yet been through the more respected EuroNcap crash test).
There’s little to say about the five-door hatchback’s exterior design except that it’s generically modern and inoffensively blends into the scenery. Front and rear foglamps, along with a high-mounted stop light and alloy wheels, give it some street cred, while a heated rear window with wiper, and height adjustable headlights are part of the standard spec sheet.
Inside, the Chinese origins are obvious with the hard interior plastics, but the fit and finish are acceptable and there aren’t any gaping panel gaps. The cloth-covered seats are fairly comfy if not particularly supportive, while the height-adjustable steering caters for drivers of varying physiques.
Space and practicality in the five-door hatch conjure no complaints. The boot’s fairly large and houses a full-sized spare and the rear-seat backrest folds down (in a single piece, not a split). Rear legroom’s fairly decent and will take a pair of adults without complaint.
Imperial and Bidvest, the joint shareholders of Chery SA, offer the Chery J2 with a five-year/120 000km factory warranty with roadside assistance and a two-year/30 000km service plan.
All good so far. But the J2’s shiny, happy facade hides some unpleasant scars. Once the wheels are rolling things start going awry, and the Chinese car’s plagued by a cheap and unrefined feel that falls way short of rivals like a VW Polo Vivo, Ford Figo, Kia Picanto or Hyundai i10. Noise, vibration and harshness levels are unacceptably high.
The flimsy-feeling chassis is where this car really loses out to the more established brands, which feel much more substantial and solid. The J2’s cigarette packet-like torsional rigidity leads to untidy handling and a generally fragile demeanour. The suspension’s very soft, which causes soggy cornering with plenty of bodyroll that doesn’t breed much confidence. But somehow, even with those marshmallow springs, the ride quality isn’t great, and bumpy roads cause the body to judder disconcertingly.
Power output in the 1 500cc petrol engine is tolerable at 72kW and 140Nm, and the J2 makes a reasonably content commuter without feeling hopelessly underpowered. Out on the open road it needs plenty of encouragement to gather some cruising pace, however. The gearshifts are light but reverse is sticky, sometimes requiring a couple of tries before it can be rammed into its slot.
Wind noise is reasonably well muted but there’s a clatter of mechanical noises that necessitates constantly cranking up the radio volume the faster you drive. The engine gets fairly loud once the revs start climbing, but it’s the transmission that really sets the decibel meter ablaze by whining like a toddler who didn’t get his ice cream.
All round it feels like a Korean car from three generations ago, maybe four.
The Chery J2 offers decent practicality and a lengthy list of features for a relatively good pricetag, but that doesn’t make up for some major shortcomings in refinement and build quality. This particular Chinese car falls into the cheap-and-nasty category, I’m afraid. There are much better choices out there. -Star Motoring
Chery J2 1.5 TX
Engine: 4-cyl, 1.5-litre petrol
Power: 72kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 140Nm @ 4500rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 15.1 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 171km/h
Consumption (claimed): 7.4 l/100km
Price: R129 900
Warranty: 5-year/120 000km
Service plan: 2-year/30 000km
Chevrolet Aveo 1.6 L (77kW/145Nm) - R129 800
Ford Figo 1.4 Ambiente (62kW/127Nm) - R128 600
Honda Brio 1.2 Comfort (65kW/109Nm) - R131 700
Hyundai i10 1.25 Fluid (64kW/119Nm) - R127 900
Kia Picanto 1.2 EX (65kW/120Nm) - R131 995
Nissan Micra 1.2 Visia+ (56kW/104Nm) - R130 500
Renault Sandero 1.6 Dyn (64kW/128Nm) - R129 900
Toyota Etios 1.5 Xs (66kW/132Nm) - R131 000
VW Polo Vivo 1.4 (55kW/132Nm) - R129 000