Chery Tiggo (2015) First Drive

Chery Tiggo 11 1800x1800

It’s a wonderful occurrence on a new-car launch when a device that you are just about to consign to the “yeah, cheap, but pretty indifferent” heap turns up trumps in an unexpected arena.

Chery Tiggo Bargain Beater

This happened on this week’s revised Chery Tiggo launch. Okay, you have to be impressed with the amount of equipment, space and practicality offered by a car of this size at a price of just under R230 000, but as for dynamics, well the Chery still has a way to go. I was acceptant, rather than impressed, by its roadability on the freeway and reasonable-quality secondary roads out in the Delmas area. The steering was still a touch on the vague side, the directional stability could be classified under the “twitchy” heading, and the power, rated on paper at 93 kW, seemed more like a solid 82 kW.

Then the launch route directed us onto a particularly baaad section of dirt road and the initial feeling was, it’s a damn shame, because this is where the inherent sloppiness of the body shell and the indifference of the damping and springing would make the next 10km of pot-holes, ruts and downright dongas (it had rained heavily two days prior to our jaunt) a grit-your-teeth and bear-it experience.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Me and my driving partner, fellow freelancer Gavin Foster from KZN, were late for our rendezvous with the group, having dozed off as far as the route instructions went and travelled an extra 40 km. So I needed to pour it on.

So pour it on I did. And the more I did, the worse the road became. And as the ruts turned to sloots, and wash-aways turned to mini-earth banks, this little Chinese-designed-and-built Tiggo absorbed everything. I kid you not, obstacles  that would have had many a European-orientated compact SUV threatening to poke suspension struts through the fenders were dealt with contemptuous ease by the Chery. It’s almost as if it had been specced as a Dakar support vehicle. I found it much more pleasant on dirt than on tar!

So, prospective Chery Tiggo owners, rejoice in the fact that while this is in no way a real off-roader (it's front-wheel-drive), it is superbly competent on those rippled, ungraded dirt roads where you sometimes need to venture over a weekend, either to get away from it all or to see relatives who never joined the rat race in the first place.

Improved Styling

The styling has undergone some improvements too, gone are yesteryear’s black-painted under-sections, in their place are body-coloured panels, contrasted by a black grille surround in the lower regions that actually looks quite funky. The increase in wheel size from 16 to 17-inch has also done a lot for the aesthetics, the visual balance of the car.

Talking of balance, an odd feature is the tailgate, which extends right through to the lower edge of the bumper, so when you load luggage, you have no intrusive lip to heft stuff over. Boot space at 827-Litres is good (how they measured it we're not sure since this figure makes it larger than a BMW X5), and even better with the rear seat backs folded flat when it expands to 1 935-litres.

Further on a practical level, there is plenty of leg and headroom and the seats are leather covered as standard – there is only one model in the range and that is an upper-spec model, as far as standard equipment goes.

Comprehensive Features

Convenience features naturally include air-con, audio, electric windows all round and MP3-USB compatibility. The safety levels are good. While there are only two airbags, on an active safety platform there is ABS braking, electronic bake distribution (EBD) and unusually in an SUV in this price range, electronic stability programming, to control skidding via the ABS braking system. There is also hill-start assist.

But the Tiggo still has a way to go in certain areas, namely the dynamic ones where design and engineering in a hard-core mechanical sense are concerned. The gearshift is rather ratchety in operation, nothing fluid about the action across the five speeds on offer. And I suspect with a full load of five people and their luggage it is going to feel distinctly wheezy, particularly at the Reef.

Pricing and Competition

But then, remember the price! This car costs just R229 900, and yet at a quick glance, as well as creature-feature-wise,  it’s going to compare favourably to a German or Japanese or Korean-sourced vehicle costing between R50 000 and R100 000 more. Imperial’s Chery division isn’t expecting to challenge the likes of Ford’s Ecosport or Renault’s Duster  in terms of sales, but they will be happy to move between 80 and 100 units a month. And for those people who don’t take too much  notice of the slightly rough interior edges, but have a lot of dirt road travelleing to do, this car is well worth a look.