Chery J3 is a Golf-sized car with a Polo-sized price. But is the saving worth it?
Chery J3 is a Golf-sized car with a Polo-sized price. But is the saving worth it?
Seats are rock hard, console intrusive.
Seats are rock hard, console intrusive.

Acceptable is a relative term. When forking out top dollar at fine dining establishments, only the best will do. Picture perfect presentations and flavours to match.

But if chowing five rand takeaway samoosas at the Oriental Plaza, I’d accept dripping grease and a paper packet as part of the experience. It’s a cost thing.

But, just because something costs less doesn’t mean it’s allowed to be sub par. If I found a fingernail in my samoosa I’d be just as ticked off as I would be with the same unsavoury discovery at a larney eatery.

Chinese cars use their low pricetags as a drawcard. And I’m happy to accept some quality shortcomings if the price gap versus a more well known product is big enough. But regardless of price, some flaws are unacceptable.

It’s impossible to give Chery’s new J3 hatch a direct, spec-for-spec rival in our market, but if we look at it next to something like, say, Kia’s 1.6-litre Cerato hatch, it’s similarly powered and sized but priced twenty grand less. Compared to other cars like i30, Focus and Golf, there are even bigger savings to be had.

SUB-PAR QUALITY

But in terms of quality there is no comparison. It’s hard for me to say if the almost non-existent seat padding is too hard, or if the loosely mounted third brake light looks too much like an afterthought, or if radio volume that resets itself to annoyingly loud every time you switch off are unacceptable at this price. In my opinion they are, but for some buyers they might not be.

The J3 costs R180 000, and while that might be a lot less than the other cars I mentioned, it’s still a big chunk of change. Regardless of your particular level of quality tolerance, things like a passenger door chaffing metal to metal on its frame, a gearshift so sloppy that it’s sometimes hard to engage first, and a hard plastic dashboard that was already fading with only 4000km on the clock, are simply non-negotiable at this price. In my opinion they’d be unacceptable at half this price as well.

Basically Chery is trying to sell a Golf-sized car at a Polo price. Not a bad, or immoral ploy, and with many Chinese alternatives available now it’s working. However, with my metaphorical intro in mind, Chery’s just left a couple of (easily rectifiable) fingernails in its dish.

But let’s leave quality issues aside for now, and look at the whole package here. The J3 comes in one specification only as a 1.6 TXE. This means it comes with leather seats, a radio/CD player with a mini USB port (this size is almost pointless in a car), remote central locking, six airbags, steering-wheel controls, rear parking sensors, and automatic headlights and wipers. Fairly good spec here, and unlike in some other Chinese vehicles, these extras actually work pretty well.

ENGINE ACCEPTABLE

The 1.6-litre engine is a relatively low-tech one with 87kW and 147Nm, but I’m happy to call it acceptable. It’s a little noisy compared to other more modern naturally-aspirated motors, and it doesn’t really like high revs but it pulls the fairly big J3 body around adequately. We averaged around 9l/100km petrol consumption over a very urban-based test route.

The ride quality is also good – no doubt with help from balloon-like 16” tyres and an independent rear suspension. It’s in no way sporty, but it absorbs most of what SA’s imperfect roads can throw at it comfortably. Pity about the unusually hard seats.

Space is also a strong point for the J3. Rear seating legroom is perfectly usable, and the boot is especially deep. I was also surprised to find a full-size spare wheel under what I considered an already very low floor. I also like all the little storage comparments that are cleverly hidden around the cabin.

There’s a flip-top lid right above the radio that’ll gobble up lots of cellphones and chargers, and there’s a neat little drawer under the radio for thinner objects like ID books and parking tickets.

But unfortunately front seat occupants must deal with a very wide centre console that intrudes on knee room. I found this very irritating, even on short journeys.

VERDICT

I doubt if many buyers shopping for cars in this size bracket (Golf, Focus, i30) will take a second glance at the J3 as a realistic alternative, even with the cash it will save them. Its noticeable imperfections, and overall cheap feel put it into a different genre of motorcar than these very popular C-segment hatches. It could, however, catch the eyes of smaller hatch shoppers, who might be looking at Polos, Fiestas or i20s because its size and spec level could look attractive.

But, at R180 000, I think it’s too expensive given its low quality.

Simple as that.

-Star Motoring