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Landwind's SUV is a step above, step below

Road tests

Johannesburg - I’m in two minds. The Landwind 5 on test here is among the best Chinese-made vehicles we’ve driven, so half of me wants to pat its back and extend a commendatory well done to its maker, JMC.

But my other half wants to rate it on a fair’s fair scale of all small SUVs sold in our market, and that would result in an altogether different review. I’ll try to do both.

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JMC's Landwind 5 has a 2-litre turbopetrol motor, good for 140kW and 250Nm.

But first there’s a touchy, and confusing issue to clear up. In other markets this vehicle’s called the X5. Yip, a blatant disregard for the established badge on the back of BMW’s popular SUV. South African importer Jiangling Motors SA has at least made an attempt at distancing itself from the controversial X5 name, and in our market has called this vehicle, simply, the Landwind 5. And, judging by the skew chrome digit stuck on the tailgate, this name conversion happens at dealer level - probably with a razor blade and some double-sided tape.

Our experience with Chinese cars hasn’t been all that peachy since the first GWM and Chana vehicles hit our shores around a decade ago. Though priced relatively well we’ve taken issue with poor build quality, substandard safety systems and, on more than one occasion, some foul interior odours.

The Landwind rights a lot of these wrongs. The cabin still features plastics in abundance, but it’s all tidily assembled and the switchgear is of similar standard to rival Korean and Japanese makes.

It also does a good job with interior space, and though the driver’s seating position lacks some finer adjustments and is awkward to say the least, rear passengers get plenty of legroom and the boot (with space saver spare) is on par with similarly sized competitors. The smell, in case you’re wondering, is passable, though it too may have been adjusted at dealer level considering its rather fruity fragrance.

Landwind made headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent years, when some of its other models (one an Isuzu rip-off called the X6) failed various international crash tests dismally. So it’s unsurprising that this Landwind 5 has avoided such tests globally. Still, the dual airbag and ABS with EBD brakes-equipped vehicle received four out of five stars in its domestic Chinese Ncap tests, for whatever they’re worth.

Hot performance, lots of space

Only one version of the Landwind 5 is sold in South Africa - a front-wheel-driven, six-speed manual with a two-litre turbopetrol called the 4x2 MT Lux. Outputs of 140kW and 250Nm make this one of the most powerful soft-roaders in the market, and as surprising as it sounds, it’s truly a hot little SUV. I was amazed with how strongly it pulled through each of its gears, and though we didn’t strap our Vbox test equipment into this one, I believe it could hassle many a boy racer hatchback. Unsurprising really, considering this engine is a loose derivation of the one in a Mitsubishi Evo.

But, to balance this review, I do have to comment on how it rates against similarly sized and specced rivals - namely the Nissan Qashqai, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage. The Landwind is actually a bit bigger than all three, so it ranks quite nicely on space-for-money.

Disappointing aspects

It’s hard, however, not to notice some disappointing aspects such as the looseness in the drivetrain. It may be impressively quick, but there’s a slack between the engine, gearbox and wheels that results in some jerkiness when changing gears or lifting off throttle. The manual gear lever is also a bit too sloppy in action, and with each change there’s a plasticky clack against the end of each gate.

A simple stereo system with a giant centre volume knob is a breath of fresh air compared to all the complicated touchscreens today, but its integrated USB port only accepts basic audio files from a flash drive. And there’s no Bluetooth compatibility, so there’s no way to stream music from a smartphone. Radio or CD (remember these?) playback it is.

Back to the driver’s seating position, it’s an oversight we’ve come across in other Chinese models, but the limited range of steering and seat adjustments don’t allow for for a very comfortable position. At least not for my size frame, which was forced into a very high and upright posture with pedals at a piano-like angle in relation to my knees. Also, the way the seats are styled with decorative bolsters and stitching on sitting surfaces may look fancy, but it’s irritating on your back and thighs.

VERDICT

The Landwind 5 is a step above the rest of the Chinese offerings. But as a small SUV it’s a step below. It does offer decent space and power at its especially low price point, but these things might not be enough to sway buyers away from more trusted brands.

LANDWIND VS RIVALS

JMC Landwind 5 2.0 turbo - R289 880

140kW/250Nm

190mm clearance

3-year/100 000km warranty

5-year/100 000km SP

Honda CR-V 2.0 - R394 400

114kW/192 Nm

170mm clearance

5-year/200 000km warranty

5-year/90 000km SP

Hyundai Tucson 1.6 turbo - R439 900

130kW/265Nm

172mm clearance

5-year/150 000km warranty

5-year/90 000km SP

Kia Sportage 2.0 - R369 995

114kW/192Nm

182mm clearance

5-year/Unlimited km warranty

5-year/100 000km SP

Nissan Qashqai 1.6 turbo - R417 900

120kW/240Nm

182mm clearance

6-year/150 000km warranty

3-year/90 000km SP

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