Proton Preve 2013 Review
It's tough out there in car land, and tougher to get traction if you are a peripheral player -- which Proton has been for nigh on 20 years.
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Price-sharp Chinese entrant Geely swipes the used-car market with the classy small Emgrand EC7 sedan.
The national importer of Geely, Perth-based Chinese Automotive Distributors which is part of the multi-franchise John Hughes Group, this week pinned a $14,990 drive-away sticker on either the sedan or its hatchback sister.
The cars arrive about September, first in WA then progressively around the country via about 20 dealers starting in Queensland and NSW this year and Victoria and other states in the new year.
Geely, which owns Volvo, is one of China’s biggest car companies and the biggest publicly-owned concern. Many rivals are government owned. Geely has a presence in WA with its $9990 drive-away MK 1.5 hatchback but because it doesn’t have electronic stability control - to be mandated on all passenger cars in Autralia from January 2014 - it is being phased out in December.
The next Geely is this car - the EC7 (called Emgrand in domestic and some export markets) - which comes as a hatchback or sedan. It will be followed next year by an SUV.
The $14,990 drive away price and three-year or 100,000km warranty are instant head turners. The price buys a slick, Cruze-size sedan or hatch with a strong crash rating, six airbags, leather upholstery, 16-inch alloy wheels and full-size spare with Bluetooth and iPod connectivity.
For $1000 more, the luxury version adds features including sunroof, sat-nav, rear-park sensors, six-speaker audio (the base has four speakers) and electric driver’s seat. The only downside is it comes in - initially - with only a five-speed manual transmission. An auto will be added next year.
The EC7 has conservative, trim lines in both sedan and hatch though subjectively looks classier as a sedan. The boot is huge, aided by a split fold rear seat. Leg and headroom equal or exceed the class average and leather is a standard fit, even though it feels more like vinyl.
The dash is simple yet effective and though hard plastic abounds, contrasting colours and subtle trim overcome any tactile disappointments. Nice touches include the push-button boot release on the dash. The overwhelming impression is that this is a more expensive car.
Simplicity is the key. Geely is one of the few Chinese car makers to build engines and transmissions as well as the bodies. Its four-year-old factory in south-eastern Hangzhou Bay - one of two exclusively making the EC7 - is Japanese-level squeaky clean and run to military-grade order with European robots and hundreds of workers that produce 120,000 cars a year.
But the car’s specs are simple - 102kW/172Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol with variable-valve timing that drives a five-speed manual gearbox (a CVT auto comes next year) to the front wheels aided by four-wheel disc brakes and hydraulic-assist steering.
The car has a four-star Euro-NCAP rating but is to be tested to ANCAP standards. The distributor is adament it won’t get less than four stars, or he will pause the launch date - set for September - and get it fixed until it reaches that rating. There’s also electronic stability control, six airbags, heated side mirrors, full-size spare (on an alloy wheel), ABS brakes and electronic brakeforce distribution and the Luxury model ($15,990) gets rear park sensors.
Expectations can be frustratingly anti-climatic. Take my planned drive in Geely’s new EC7 sedan that didn’t materialise. Instead, I was a passenger as a test driver shook down a car that had minutes before rolled off the production line. The rough test track that attempted to unbolt my skeleton didn’t produce a squeak or twist in the chassis and didn’t meet expectations of a lightly-built car that was underpowered, noisy and harsh-riding - all attributes coincidentally of Korea’s first car, the Hyundai Pony (later rebadged Excel), that I tested in Perth in the early 1980s.
Aside from myself and the driver, passengers were Queensland construction manager Glenn Rohrig (at 186cm tall) and the CEO of multi-car Brisbane-based franchise Motorama, Mark Woelders (183cm). All are impressed by the leg and headroom, ride comfort and quietness. This car will sell for less than $16,000 drive away and though it is - initially - only a manual, Mr Woelders predicts strong demand.
“The quality of the car is much better than I expected,’‘ he says. “It has exceptional ride and quietness and is a fantastic, quality package.’‘ Mr Woelders says there remains a market for a manual transmission car though expects the upcoming automatic to signal volume sales. “As a used-car alternative, it has a strong warranty and safety features. Certainly, to a degree, it will affect our used-car operation.’’
Impressive effort and one well worth considering.
GEELY EMGRAND EC7
Price: from $14,990 drive-away
Warranty: 3 years/100,000 km
Service interval: 10,000km/12 months
Capped price service: No
Safety rating: 4-star
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl petrol 102kW/172Nm
Transmission: 5-spd manual, front drive
Body: 4.6m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.5m (h)
Thirst: 6.7 1/100km; 91RON; 160g/km Co2