How much would you expect to pay for a new 2.0-litre petrol SUV-style vehicle about the same size as a Honda CRV? According to our pricing guide, this type of vehicle starts at around $26,000 plus on-roads. Not any more.
Chinese brand Chery has just launched its new five seater J11 model that is about the same size as the original Honda CRV (looks a bit like it too) for $19,990 drive away. That makes the recommended retail price (without on roads) around two grand less or roughly $18,000.
Even more impressive is the fact that the J11 is feature rich with goodies like leather trimmed upholstery, aircon', cruise control on the auto, power windows, remote central locking, decent audio, two air bags, ABS and 16-inch alloys all thrown in.
It also has a full size alloy spare mounted on the side hinged tailgate. Not bad.
This is the first Chery available here to be followed in a few weeks by a 1.3-litre small hatchback called the J1 at an attention getting $11,990 drive away, once again, fully equipped.
The J11 comes out of a relatively new factory in China and utilises technology refined by the world's major automakers. Chery is China's largest and most diverse independent vehicle manufacturer with five assembly lines, two engine plants, one transmission plant and combined production last year of 680,000 units.
The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 16-valve, petrol engine is good for 102kW/182Nm output and drives the front wheels via a five-speed manual or optional ($2000) four-speed auto. Mindful that potential buyers might be nervous about committing to a totally new brand in this country, Chery offers a three year/100,000km warranty plus 24/7 roadside assist.
Chery is part of the Ateco Automotive Group which, among other things, distributes Ferrari and Maserati in this country as well as other Chinese brand Great Wall. Chery will be sold through a 45 dealer network, expected to rise significantly before the end of the year.
We had the first local drive of the J11 last week over a decent 120km route that included suburban, highway and freeway motoring. It was the four-speed automatic that would be preferable for mostly city driving. You can't miss the vehicle's familiar lines that are more than a bit similar to the first generation Honda CRV mixed with a touch of RAV4.
But don't criticise the Chinese for that - just about every other carmaker on the plant is guilty of copying in some way. The interior has a familiar look too - generic Japanese/Korean is the best way to describe it, perhaps not quite to that standard.
The test vehicle had reasonable performance given its 1775kg bulk and seemed fuel efficient though we couldn't really check. Chery claims 8.9-litres/100km combined. It whizzes along the freeway easily at the speed limit exhibiting minimal noise or vibration and has a comfortable ride. It felt solid and had no squeaks or rattles even crossing driveways and on rough bitumen.
We took it for a squirt on a winding mountain road where it was much the same - uneventful and not that much different from the average Japanese or Korean compact SUV. The drive position was acceptable as was seat comfort and rear seat passengers have plenty of room. The load space is a decent size with a low load height courtesy of the side hinged tailgate.
We opened the bonnet held up with twin gas struts. It looks fairly conventional there too. Our over-riding first impression of the J11 is positive. It's an innocuous, compact SUV that fits in without ruffling feathers. It could be any number of similar vehicles from other manufacturers, except the J11 is many thousands of dollars less and better equipped.