Review: Jaecoo J7 AWD – Brawn and Beauty in a Muscular Package

Never heard of Jaecoo? Don’t worry, up until recently, neither did we. In fact, up until a few years ago, Malaysians were never really exposed to automotive brands coming out of China except for the major ones such as Chery, Geely and GWM.

Of course, automotive fan boys would have known that Chinese car makers were growing quickly and were gobbling up troubled brands, like what Geely did with Volvo and Lotus.

But there were others who chartered their own path rather than flashing their wads of cash to buy up brands. Chery is one of those brands. Having been in the automotive business for 27 years now, Chery has grown from humble beginnings to selling close to two million cars a year, in the Chinese market alone.

It is also an ambitious company that reinvests profits into research and development. This has resulted in some very impressive cars such as the Tiggo 8 Pro and the Tiggo 7 Pro.

But that is not all for Chery, it also has a diverse portfolio of brands, one that it has built from scratch rather than outright buying out. Part of its diverse brand portfolio includes Exeed, Omoda (marketed in Malaysia as a model rather than a brand), Jetour (soon to be launched in Malaysia) and the topic of this article – Jaecoo.

Jaecoo, which is an acronym for the German word Jager, which means hunter, and the English word cool, which is quite self-explanatory.

The Chery sub-brand was created to cater to an upmarket, premium clientele which Chery could not access with its main brand. Chery has long been associated with everyday cars that most people can afford. So, to reach the upper masses, Chery needed a new brand, and that’s where Jaecoo comes in.

Founded in 2021, Jaecoo is relatively new to the automotive game (figuratively speaking), but judging from its product portfolio, it is confident about its capabilities.

Malaysians got a first taste of the Jaecoo brand just recently when the company started making waves with media previews and roadshows where its first model was introduced – the J7. And interestingly, Malaysia is the first country in Southeast Asia to welcome the J7, which says a lot about the importance of Malaysia to Jaecoo and Chery.

The J7 has been well-received by Malaysians, with glowing first impressions by local motoring media and successful roadshow campaigns indicating that the J7 will be a success story for Jaecoo on its first rodeo in the country.

The design is arguably its biggest allure, with no angle that sits out of place as an eye sore. In fact, some say that it looks like a baby Land Rover, specifically the Range Rover Evoque. We can see the design inspiration and the sprinkles of Land Rover design bits around the car, such as the hidden door handles that pop out to greet you when you unlock the car.

Though some Chinese car and motorcycle makers are notorious for copying designs of popular car models, the Land Rover stimulus is not a simple copy and paste job by unimaginative designers and neither is the J7 a joint venture of sorts between the Chinese and British brands. It is in fact a little more complex than that.

Back in 2012, Chery and Land Rover had inked a joint venture where the former would assemble the latter’s cars for the Chinese market. That went well, and since then there has been some learnings and knowledge transfer which has obviously benefited Chery. And that’s where the design inspiration and some underbody mechanical know-how comes from.

Talking about the mechanicals, the J7 is powered by a 1.6-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine making 197PS and 290Nm. There will be two variants for Malaysia, an all-wheel-drive (AWD) model (which we drove briefly off-road recently) and a regular front-wheel-drive (FWD) model. Both have a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission sending power to the wheels.

So, during the recent test drive, Jaecoo Malaysia was eager to show the off-roading prowess of its AWD variant. It is rare for SUVs of this segment to be used off-road and Malaysians rarely take their cars off the beaten path.

But with traffic getting worse by the day and the rise of the “jalan tikus” thanks to GPS systems like Waze and Google Maps that have an uncanny ability to reduce your time on the road by suggesting roads that will get you home quick as long as you are willing to get your car muddy. So, it is good to know that your car has a little off-roading prowess to tackle whatever the GPS suggests.

And the Jaecoo J7 AWD has more than just prowess, it was built to tackle the paths regular drivers will never dare venture onto. For this, it has some built in talents such as the All-Road Drive Intelligent System (ARDIS) that provides for multiple drives modes and other features such as the 21-degree approach angle that lets you climb up some steep slopes, and a 29-degree departure angle, ensuring you do not scrape anything as you get back down.

It also has a 200mm ground clearance which means that Malaysia’s monster potholes will never be a problem. And just in case you have to deal with a flooded road, you can rest easy knowing that the J7 has a 600mm water wading depth capability. That is impressive considering pick-up trucks like the Toyota Hilux, Isuzu D-Max and Ford Ranger are able to manage 800mm of water.

It also has some advanced driving modes that are designed to maximise power, grip and efficiency in all situations. So, to say that the Jaecoo J7 is off-road ready, now that will be an understatement. In fact, the J7 is probably the only SUV in its segment that has these talents. Its competitors such as the Honda CRV and the Mazda CX-5 are tarmac Princesses in comparison.

Besides its obvious capabilities, it is also a pleasant car to drive and to be in. Unfortunately, we did not get to drive the car on-road, which is a bit of a pity since that would have highlighted the comfort and refinement levels of the car (but we’re sure that will happen in no time), but we did spend decent time to absorb the interior.

Just like the exterior, the interior too has some Land Rover inspiration, particularly the “all-sense” seats that are broad and comfortable, probably the best in the class considering that they are heated and cooled with 10-levels of adjustability functions. But we will finalise that judgement after spending more time with the car.

We also like the exposed screws and overall design of the interior; it looks tough and masculine. And as you would expect, there are dual screens up ahead, a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel and another 14.8-inch infotainment screen.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are to be expected of a car in this segment and they do make an appearance, and your favourite music is piped into the cabin through a Sony audio system.

We are sold as far as off-roading capabilities are concerned since we did try to twist its chassis but the tensile steel body with 80% rigidity stood up to everything the specially laid out course could throw at it. We were even given the chance to drown it in 650mm deep water, just to test out Jaecoo’s claim about its water wading capabilities, and yet it survived, which is again impressive for an SUV of this segment.

As you would imagine, it also has an armada of safety systems that includes a suite of ADAS functions that includes 21 different functions. The J7 just can’t seem to put a wheel wrong, but the ultimate judgement will come after driving it on tarmac and that will tell us a lot more about its refinement and comfort levels. For now, we know that it has some impressive off-roading abilities.

But the biggest question of them all is the price tag. Since the Jaecoo J7 has yet to be officially launched in Malaysia, we only have an indicative price. According to Jaecoo Malaysia, the 2WD model will be priced around the RM150,000 region while the AWD model will cost around RM160,000. And to put it simply, that is a bargain considering everything that you are getting.

Engine: 1.6-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder
Power: 197PS
Torque: 290Nm
Transmission: 7-Speed Dual-Clutch
Suspension: MacPherson Strut (Front) / Multilink (Rear)
Price (As tested): RM160,000 (Unconfirmed)

We like: Design, Interior quality, Off-road abilities
We don’t like: Imposing front grille

A car stirs the soul, a motorbike is the soul. Keshy has been a motoring journalist for over a decade and has written for and founded a number of Malaysian motoring titles including Piston.my, Bikesrepulic.com, Motomalaya.net and other mass media titles.

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