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The year is 1997 and this writer was still two years away from getting a driving license. However, my father would occasionally let me drive and one day he let me get behind the wheel of his then brand-new Isuzu Invader.

We were driving off-road near some old mining pools in Kampar, where I spent some time growing up. I am not sure how and why, but I drove too close to the pool and the sand underneath gave way and the car slid into the pool.

Partially submerged, we paddled out of the car. Back then, the front hubs needed to be locked for the four-wheel-drive system to work. But the hubs were already well under water so there was no way we could drive out of that situation.

With my father getting increasingly nervous at seeing his brand-new car sink further in, and me sweating from imagining the belting I was going to get that night, a hero appeared in the form of a tractor. The driver had chains too.

My father’s new Isuzu was pulled out in just a few minutes. The next challenge was to see if it would start, but the engine cranked at the first try and we were on our way in no time, with a soaking wet interior though. But that was a small price to pay for what could have been a very expensive afternoon, and besides, the interior dried up the following day and everything was great again.

And that is the beauty of Isuzu pick-up trucks, they are built tough and can seemingly survive just about anything.

Fast forward 27 years and Isuzu Malaysia has just introduced the cousin of the old Invader – the new D-Max X-Terrain. Ironically, we drove it on reclaimed land in Melaka where the sand was as soft as those around the mining pool which almost claimed the Invader many moons ago.

The new Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is the refreshed model for the X-Terrain that was introduced about two years ago to much fanfare. The X-Terrain has been credited for reviving the adulation of Isuzu pick-up trucks after a few years of stagnation.

With the pick-up truck segment becoming increasingly lifestyle oriented with more of them used on the road rather than for their original purpose off-road, pick-up truck manufacturers had to change their approach, and fast.

We first saw this with the Ford Ranger Wildtrak that despite plenty of tech designed for off-road use, was purpose made for life in the urban jungle. It was a sales success for Ford, and other truck makers wanted a piece of the urban truck pie.

It won’t be far-fetched to say that Isuzu was a tad late to the game, arriving much later than the models from Nissan and Toyota.

Isuzu had long ago built a reputation as some of the toughest and reliable work horses, but they were never anything more than that. People bought Isuzus because they were dependable work machines, it was never something people lusted over.

But that changed with the introduction of the X-Terrain. It was Isuzu’s answer to the Ford Ranger Wildtrak, the Nissan Navara Pro4X and the Toyota Hilux Rouge.

Fiercely focused on the new age buyer that spends more time in cities and traffic jam’s than life off the beaten path, the X-Terrain had the recipe right from the get-go. It had the wild and bright colour options typical of trucks of this segment, it had the dramatic body kit that looked like it belonged in a rally race and the interior was something we had never seen in an Isuzu.

Inside, the X-Terrain was an elegant blend of premium features and technology. The tanned leather seats were arguably the most comfortable in the segment and looked good too. It even had a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a shockingly good entertainment system with speakers mounted on the roof!

The X-Terrain elevated Isuzu’s brand from one that contractors preferred, to one that got you the girls.

Two years after the introduction of the original X-Terrain, Isuzu Malaysia has taken the wraps off the latest model, one that has been massaged, improved and packed with better features.

From the outside, the new model is distinguished with the new LED headlights that look sleeker with daytime running lights that hug and curve around the top of the frame rather than the bottom as before (as seen above). These are matched by new LED brake lights with a new design.

The grille and front bumper too has been redesigned and has a new air curtain integrated to the sides of the bumper. This has small slits that open outwards towards the front wheel wells and allows air to blow through. This makes it easier for the truck to cut through air, effectively making it more fuel efficient as well as reduces air turbulence that can be noisy.

Other updates include a new welcome light and new tailgate panel with integrated locking mechanism.

You can be forgiven for assuming the interior looks the same, but the devil is in the details. The infotainment screen for one is now larger, growing from nine-inches in the old model to 10-inches in the new one. The driver gets a new seven-inch digital meter panel as well, replacing the old analogue unit.

The bigger screen together with the digital dash, and silver accented air-conditioning controls lends an air of sophistication to the interior. This is also augmented by the new Miura design elements around the door panels and across the dash.

There is also a new scuff plate with LED lighting that greets you when you open the door. But more importantly, the seats are new and continue with the black-leather theme we first saw with later models of the previous generation X-Terrain. This is an important update because the new seats also have anti-vibration elastics that absorb anything before it reaches the occupant, effectively making it more comfortable, especially for longer journeys.

The interior of the X-Terrain has always been a purposeful one with an upmarket feel to it. This has been retained in the new model, in fact, the driving character too feels better than before though nothing has been done to the powertrain.

As before, a 3.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder diesel engine powers the X-Terrain, with drive sent to the wheels through a robust six-speed automatic transmission. Power is rated at 190PS and 450Nm of torque, which is lower than some of its competitors.

But what it loses in numbers, the truck makes up for with feel. On the move, the double wishbone suspension with coil springs handles the front of the car while the rear has the usual leaf springs with gas shock absorbers. Rather than hopping and skipping over road inundations, the suspension does a great job at soaking everything.

The interior too feels more refined than the previous model. It feels quieter at highway speeds, allowing occupants to have a conversation without raising their voices, even at well past the legal speed limit.

Safety and off-roading technologies have also been updated. The new X-Terrain features something called Rough Terrain mode that ensures the truck can get out of a difficult situation by itself.

In the previous model, the traction control system sent power to either the front or rear axles to manage grip and power delivery. The new mode allows power to be sent to individual wheels. So, in the event that three wheels are stuck, power can be sent to an individual wheel to dig itself out.

We tested out the system on the reclaimed land in Melaka where sand was soft and thick. The truck would simply beach itself when in two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive mode. But individual tyres could easily claw away at the sand and pull the two-tonne truck out when Rough Terrain mode was activated.

On the safety front, the new Isuzu has a feature called Rear Cross Traffic Brake. This is on top of the eight Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) the truck already had. This lets the truck brake automatically when reversing and the driver does not see an oncoming obstacle such as a car, motorcycle, or pedestrian.

It is common for manufacturers to introduce mid-life updates, or as we Malaysians like to call it, facelifts. But rarely is a facelift so extensive as we see with the new Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain. Facelifts are usually involve cosmetics upgrade, but this time we get a major design revamp as well as a technological update.

So, is the Isuzu the better buy now compared to the competition? At just under RM158,00, the new Isuzu is cheaper than the Ford Ranger Wildtrak and is similarly priced to the Hilux Rouge and Nissan Navara. But it offers more safety technologies, interior features and has a fresher design, so yes, it may be the new kid on the block, but it has all the latest tricks that the competition does not.

Specifications
Engine: 3.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder, diesel
Power: 190PS @ 3600Nm
Torque: 450Nm @ 1600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with sequential shift
Suspension: Independent double wishbone, coil springs and stabilisers with gas shock absorbers (front) / Semi-elliptical leaf springs with gas shock absorbers (rear)
Price: RM157,938.40 (As tested)

We like: New design, interior features, tough
We don’t like: Some interior parts feel hollow

When people talk about smart nowadays, they aren’t referring to the smart fortwo or the forfour, you know the one where in the movie Expendables, Arnold Schwarzenegger rips the door open and says “my shoe is bigger than this car.” Well because no one really remembers those cars because of the recent impact that smart has made in the Malaysian market with the smart #1. 

Designed by Mercedes, built on Geelys sustainable electric architecture and is under Pro Net, a subsidiary of Proton.  Just over a 100 days in the Malaysian market and the Smart #1 sold 100 units within a month which set a new sales record.  They have been offering the smart #1 in 3 variants, the Pro, Premium and top of the line Brabus. 

Pretty impressive. But they are not done yet. To extend their lineup, smart has introduced the new smart #3. We attended an exclusive preview event held at Proton’s headquarters in Subang Jaya. Spanning three days, the event provided attendees with an immersive experience, offering a firsthand look and driving impression of smart’s latest addition to its product portfolio: the all-electric smart #3 SUV Coupe.

Power

Just like the #1, the #3 also comes in different specs and configurations, including the top-of-the-line Brabus version. The Premium variant gets a single motor driving the rear wheels which puts out 268hp and 343Nm of torque. It can go from 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds, up to a top speed of 180km/h.

Meanwhile, the Smart #3 Brabus gets a twin motor setup putting out 422hp and 543Nm of torque. 0-100km/h takes just 3.7 seconds, up to a top speed of 180km/h.

These specifications are similar to the #1, therefore the power delivery seemed very identical. However, the #3 is a more mature version in the sense that the throttle response is slightly better and the pickup efficiency along with a new launch control system, allows it to hit the 3.7 seconds mark, compared to the #1’s 3.9 seconds. Due to this tuning, shooting out of corners is a little more satisfying.

Handling

The #3 has a front MacPherson and rear five-link suspension structure which translates to controllability and a more precise steering response which gives you a more flexible control of the car. The AWD version uses a thicker front and rear stabiliser bar which effectively reduces body roll and improves on the cornering limit. 

The slalom-like test made it seem like we were not even driving an SUV. It felt more refined due to the 5.5 minimum turning radius. This gives you more manoeuvrability control if you ever need to swing away from a real-life scenario.

Because the smart #3 is longer and wider than the #1, it was planted to the ground during corners at 100km/h. We felt confident and we just kept wanting more because, like we said, shooting out of corners is so much fun. 

Comfort

This writer has a rather bigger build compared to the average human size so comfort plays a big role in every car. The #3 does not compromise on that. Yes, the #1 was comfortable too but in the #3, we felt a little bit more comfortable because of the wider stance. 

Drivers get plenty of legroom and for those who are sitting at the back, don’t worry because there is ample legroom for you too. We thought headroom would be an issue due to the coupe-like shape but we were wrong. There is plenty of space to move your head around which makes it easy to get in and out of the car. 

Just like the #1, the driver and front passenger get ventilated seats (Premium and Brabus) which adds to the comfort experience due to our “beautiful” Malaysian weather. 

Battery

The higher-spec variants support 22kW of AC Charging and up to 150kW for DC charging. The base “Pro” model only supports a slower 7kW of AC charging and DC charging up to 130kW. This gives us a  455km driving range for the Premium and 415km for the Brabus. With a 0.27 ultra-low drag coefficient thanks to aerodynamic optimisations, the #3 has a 15km driving range more than the #1.

Speaking of aerodynamics, the optimisations include aerodynamic rims, front and rear wheel wind deflectors, active air intake grille and wind blade air curtains.

The #3 is launching here soon and further details will be provided very soon.

Ask anyone who has been following the latest trends in the electric vehicle industry, and they would probably tell you that BYD is the most impressive EV company at the moment.

The Chinese car and battery maker has been making waves around the world for everything from its battery technology to the cars that it builds. There is little doubt that BYD is currently the best at the game.

But before BYD or any other company started making waves in the EV industry, there was the Nissan Leaf. It is widely regarded as the granddaddy of the industry and credited for laying the groundwork for others to follow, in Malaysia at least.

The Leaf was one of the first mass distributed electric vehicles that Malaysians could buy. The first-generation model was introduced in Malaysia by Edaran Tan Chong Motor (ETCM) at the 2013 Kuala Lumpur International Motorshow. Back then it was priced at RM168,800.

The Nissan Leaf was also the world’s best-selling electric car up until 2020 when Tesla snatched the crown which it then subsequently lost to BYD in 2023.

The first-generation Leaf (above) was more of a novelty car, a toy even. With a range of just 195km, it did not go very far, but it found love in a number of homes, enough to convince ETCM to introduce the second-generation model.

The second-generation Nissan Leaf was introduced to Malaysians about four years ago, and since then it has been constantly overshadowed by stiff competition from China.

While the Leaf may have chartered the path for the other brands to eventually make inroads to the Malaysian market, it has ultimately been beaten at its own game. Or has it? Let’s first look into the numbers.

The Leaf costs RM168,888 without insurance and comes with a three-year or 100,000km warranty on the vehicle as well as an eight-year of 160,000km warranty on the battery.

For that money, you get an EV that has a 311km range on the NEDC cycle, but we saw a range of about 230km with the battery at 98% state of charge.

The sole electric motor that the Leaf is powered by is rated at 150PS and 320Nm of torque that drives the front wheels. The sprint to 100km/h is done in 7.9 seconds while top speed is rated at 155km/h.

Charging the Leaf can be done in about seven hours with a 6.6kW AC charger, or an hour using a 50kW DC charger. However, the Leaf will also happily charge up using your home’s 3.6kW three-pin-plug, and that will take you 12 hours.

Now for comparison’s sake, lets dive into the numbers of what is arguably Malaysia’s most popular EV for the moment – the BYD Atto 3.

BYD’s SUV comes in two variants, the standard range, which is priced at RM149,800 and the extended range, which has a price tag of RM167,800. There are some discounts that are currently being offered which drops the price of the Atto 3 by a further RM20,000, but for the sake of this article, we will ignore that just to make it a level playing field for the Leaf (though it really isn’t).

Since the extended range (ER) is more closely priced to the Leaf than the standard, we shall use that for comparison. The ER has a 60.48kWh battery that offers a 420km range. It sends 204PS and 310Nm of torque to the front wheels while the sprint to 100km/h is done in just 7.3 seconds.

The Atto 3 is built on a 400-volt platform and that allows it to support 7kW of AC charging and up to 80kW of DC charging. The latter will let you juice up from zero to 80% in just 45 minutes.

The Atto 3 also has vehicle to load capability, which lets you power up appliances such as a small coffee machine or a kettle, making the car ideal for picnics or camping by the beach.

But that is not all, the Atto 3 also utilises a BYD’s proprietary Blade Lithium Iron Phosphate battery, which is widely regarded as the safest battery in the industry.

The Atto 3 also has a better interior with a rotating infotainment screen, a full-sized panoramic sunroof, wireless Apple CarPlay and can even be locked or unlocked using a NFC key card.

The BYD Atto 3 is obviously the clear winner in the battle of the spec sheets. But anyone who buys the Atto 3 or any other EV in the country, is taking a step into the unknown.

Because the EV industry is still in its infancy, the market does not have a clue about how used EV’s are going to be accepted. In the UK for example, used car dealers are shunning used EV’s because they argue that the batteries of the used EV’s cannot hold as much charge as when they were new. This impacts range, which is an inconvenience, and replacing the batteries is very expensive, and buyers are aware of that and steer clear of used EV’s.

And then there is the issue of battery replacement. Should an EV owner wish to hold on to the car longer than the eight-year warranty that most manufacturers provide for their cars, there is a good chance they will have to take on the cost of battery replacement, or deal with battery degradation.

This is where the Nissan Leaf provides an ideal solution. ETCM has come up with a plan where you don’t buy the Leaf in the traditional sense, but rather you lease the car from the company, or subscribe to it, which is just a play on words that means the same thing. This might sound weird to some of the traditionalists, but it makes perfect sense, especially when it comes to an EV.

Called the Leaf Subscription Plan, the plan requires no down payment, and the monthly payments are just RM1,800 for a three-year contract. At the end of the contract, you can simply return the car.

This makes perfect sense for several reasons. For starters, you don’t have to deal with depreciation of the car, which is one of the main hole burners in your pocket. And then you don’t have to worry about disposing the car in the event you want to upgrade to a bigger car.

And most importantly and perhaps the biggest relief is not having to worry about the cost of the battery in the event it needed replacing. Sure, you would have paid RM64,800 at the end of the contract, but that is still much better than having to deal with depreciation or any unplanned maintenance issues.

This alone makes the Nissan Leaf a viable choice as your first EV or perhaps a second car. If your lifestyle revolves around the city and you don’t usually travel more than 30 to 50km per day, then the Leaf would be ideal. You don’t even have to worry about installing a wallbox since the Leaf can be charged with a domestic socket. And if you live in a high-rise building, then being able to charge up using an AC or DC charger is convenient as well.

For the purpose of daily use, the Leaf offers Apple CarPlay, Android auto and arguably some of the most comfortable seats in its segment. In fact, the Leaf is ideal for life in the urban jungle. Even its size makes it easy to live with, offering enough space for luggage and for five average sized adults to get comfortable in.

If safety is of concern, the Leaf has you covered as well, offering six airbags, and Nissan Intelligent Mobility systems, which is basically Nissan’s way of saying the car comes with advanced driver aid systems (ADAS).

So, if the EV bug has been gnawing at you but you have been hesitant to take the leap, then perhaps dipping your toes into the segment with a leased EV would make better sense than simply leaping blindfolded into the unknown. And though the Leaf may be outgunned and outpowered by the competition, but it is the only EV in the market you can lease now. So no, it has not been beaten at its own game, the Leaf simply changed the game, and won.

Specifications:
Motor: 110kW AC Synchronous Electric Motor
Power: 150PS
Torque: 320Nm
Range: 311km (NEDC)
Charging: 1 hour (50kW DC) 7 hours (6.6kW AC) 12 hours (3.6kW AC)
Price (As tested): RM168,888 (RM1,800 per month on subscription)

We like: You don’t have to buy it, can charge anywhere
We don’t like: Range, feels basic

It would be too cliché to start a review by saying Chinese car makers have come a long way, but it really is true. While some have been in the market for only a few years, others have been ploughing away at the industry for decades.

Of course, the automotive industry is unforgiving and is one of the most highly regulated industries in terms of safety, technology and emissions. So, there are mountains after mountains to climb for any car maker to succeed.

Sometimes they fail too. The recent safety concerns concerning a Chinese brand has put car buyers on edge over the manufacturing standards of cars from China. But this should not affect the entire Chinese industry and blanket statements regarding the Chinese car makers in their entirety should be avoided, because there are other brands that have been in the market for longer, comply with every requirement, and even do their own research and development to create some of the most impressive cars the world has seen.

Take GWM for example, it has been in the automotive industry for over 40 years and has sprawling complexes dedicated to research and development, manufacturing and has even invested heavily in current technologies such as electric vehicles and batteries. As well as in future technologies such as hydrogen, the cleanest form of combustion there currently is.

GWM also has a number of brands under its wing such as Ora, Haval, Wey, Poer (pronounced as pao) and the mightiest of them all, the Tank brand.

Each of these brands have their own unique proposition. The Ora brand focuses on electric vehicles with a touch of femineity. Wey also is an EV brand but is more upmarket and goes up against the likes of BMW. Poer is a pick-up truck brand that is making waves in markets such as Australia and then there is Tank, an off-road focused brand that creates some rugged vehicles that look like they can survive a nuclear fallout.

The Tank brand is the focus of this article as it will soon be available in Malaysia. There are a number of Tank models, the Tank 300, 400, 500 and the 700 (we are not sure why there is no 600 in the range). The 700 is the flagship SUV and looks like a cross between a Mercedes G-Class and a Land Rover Defender. It is filled to the brim with tech. Its headlights for example incorporate 32 different patents and are one of the most advanced in the industry.

But it will be available in our market since it is only available as a left-hand-drive model, for now. The Tank 300 though has been marked for a Malaysian introduction and will apparently make its debut this year.

The entry level Tank has all the good design cues of a Suzuki Jimny and a four-door Jeep Cherokee. It also has some classic design lines such as the bulbous bumpers and side skirts, the rounded headlights, the spare tyre mounted on the side-hinged tailgate as well as that evergreen boxy side profile.

It is not exactly a very original design, but it is one that has stood the test of time, like the Jimny and G-Class, there is no mistaking them for anything else. So, as far as design goes, the Tank 300 is in the right direction to become an icon.

However, GWM has borrowed heavily from Mercedes-Benz for the interior of the Tank 300. From the vertical dashboard to the rounded air-conditioning vents as well as the digital meter panel that seamlessly merges into the centrally mounted digital infotainment screen to create one massive 24.6-inch screen. Just like in a Mercedes-Benz. In fact, even the positioning of the all-wheel-drive controls are in the same place as a G-Class.

The influence is clear, but while some car makers will try to hide their influences, GWM did not make much of an effort at all, for better or worse, we admire that.

If you are unfamiliar with Mercedes-Benz interiors, you will find it to be very impressive. Quality feels good, even after hours of torturing the car off-road and driving it up and down a flight of stairs (really!), nothing rattled or fell out.

As for comfort, the electric seats are big and well bolstered. The rear too offers generous leg space while the 400-litre boot space is decent. Interestingly, GWM has also incorporated a picnic table into the boot space. The boot floor panel doubles up as the tabletop while the table legs are neatly tucked away near the tools. So, if you ever find a nice spot, all you have to do is remove the boot floor panel, screw in the legs and you have a fairly big picnic table.

There are only two problems for us – the first being the boot floor is carpeted, so if you ever spill anything on the table, you risk stinking up the entire car. And secondly, there is no tonneau cover, so it is either you heavily tint the hind three windows, or everyone that walks past your car will be able to see what you have in there.

The GWM Tank 300 has been designed and built for the rugged outdoors, and this is evident in its design, build quality and some of the incorporated features as well. Even its powertrain is a pleasant balance of efficiency and ability.

Powering the Tank 300 is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine putting out 220PS and 380Nm of torque. Power is sent to the wheels through an eight-speed gearbox while drive can be switched between all-wheel-drive and two-wheel-drive at the press of a button, and in the latter, power is sent to the rear wheels exclusively.

Fuel consumption on the other hand is rated at 9.5-litres per 100km, which you could argue is quite high. But the car is quite big, measuring in at over six feet tall and about six and a half feet wide, it is over 15 feet long and weighs 2110kg. All of that heft requires some power to move which in turn requires quite a bit of fuel.

On the move, the Tank 300 does a surprisingly great job at keeping noise and vibrations level down to a minimum. The double wishbone front and multilink rear suspension is brilliant on and off-road, absorbing the bumpy stuff while maximising traction. All while keeping interior noise down to a minimum thanks to double glazed windows supported by a soundproof windshield. This makes the interior feel as comfortable and quiet as some luxury cars, which is something you need to feel to believe.

But don’t let all that fool you, the Tank 300 is a serious off-roader as well, and offers electronic features designed to crawl over the toughest of terrains as well as traditional set ups such as a differential that can be locked at the touch of a button. It also features nine different driving modes that adapt the car to life on the tarmac or the rugged outdoors.

GWM was keen to let us try out the abilities of the Tank 300, so they let us drive the car down some flight of stairs where traction was minimal since the car only sits on the edges of the steps. It did not lose traction up or down the stairs.

Next, they let us drive up a slippery 45-degree incline that was quite slippery. But the Tank 300 has something called a Creep Mode where the powertrain works with the electronics to provide power without breaking traction so the driver could focus on steering the car. So though it looked intimidating, it was quite a breeze.

They also let us loose on a dry riverbed that was riddled with rocks that could tear the tyres, firmly embedded into the soft sand. Usually you would have to reduce the air of the tyres to enlarge the contact patch so that the tyres don’t get bogged down, not with the Tank 300 though. As long as you kept your foot on the accelerator, the clever electronics distributed power to the wheels that could keep the car going forwards. In all honesty, it made you feel like an off-roading hero.

The SUV segment is demanding where only the very best do well. This is especially so with off-road SUV’s where toughness needs to meet comfort and safety. It is a segment that has long been dominated by the likes of the Toyota Fortuner and the Ford Everest, and you need to have quite a product to compete against such giants of the industry.

But with what we experienced with the GWM Tank 300, there is no question about its ability. It even has a complete ADAS suite that makes life safer on the road. The real question though is the price. GWM did not reveal its price and did not drop any indications either. But we only need to look at our neighbours in the north to have a clue.

In Thailand, the GWM Tank 300 is priced at about the RM220,000 region. Would GWM Malaysia offer the same price range? That is all speculation for now, but as far as we are concerned, the Tank 300 is a proper off-roading SUV that would appeal to those whose lives dances on the fringes of the urban rat race and the great outdoors. We sure hope that GWM Malaysia makes it more affordable than a Toyota Fortuner.

Specifications:
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Power: 220PS
Torque: 380Nm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Suspension: Double wishbone (Front) / Multilink (Rear)
Price: Not yet available

We like: Design, interior, off-roading prowess
We don’t like: No tonneau cover

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.

Specifications:
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

Heritage is an important thing in the automotive business. It provides valuable marketing material for brands who leverage on the past to either show how far they have come or how long they have been doing it for, just to prove their credibility.

Big brands know this and also know how to use heritage to their benefit as well. Volvo milks its safety related heritage while Mercedes-Benz talks about how innovative it has been. Lexus likes to show how far they have come when it comes to building one of the most refined cars in the market while Rolls-Royce and Bentley can’t seem to stop talking about how long they have been in the business for.

Then on the other hand of the spectrum of luxury and heritage, you have cars like the Suzuki Jimny, which has largely remained unchanged for the better part of 40 years.

Just like the shape of the iconic Volkswagen Beetle, the general silhouette of the Jimny too has been the same and unchanged over the years.

That same boxy design with thin tyres and a spare mounted at the back on the third door, a feature that has persevered since the original was introduced in 1970s. The interior remains small with barely enough room for three adults and their luggage.

Powering the little Jimny is a humble 1.5-litre, naturally-aspirated engine making 100hp and 130Nm of torque. Sending power to the wheels is a four-speed gearbox, which can only be described as ancient when compared to the multi-ratio gearboxes in similarly priced pick-up trucks.

It is also a part-time four-wheel-drive machine, but you need to work the lever of the low range transfer case to select four-wheel-drive (four high or four low) or two-wheel-drive. That is something this writer has not had to do since the 90s when I almost showed an Isuzu Invader the bottom of a mining pool.

There is not much in terms of comfort inside the Jimny either. Because the interior is small, you sit shoulder-to-shoulder with adult passengers. The rear seats are only good for kids, pets, luggage or groceries.

The audio system too seems like it is stuck in the 80s, and it takes a very brave development team to introduce a car with only two-speakers in the 2020s.

But all is not lost for the Jimny, it may seem like a lost cause on paper, but in reality, it is an incredibly charming car to own and to drive. And despite the odds being so obviously stacked against it, I used to look forward to driving the car.

So what makes it so charming then? The design for one is a blast from the past. In a time and age when car makers talk about co-efficiency of drag and how their aerodynamically slippery cars help to increase the range of their cars, the Jimny is a brick in your rear view mirror.

The Jimny does not care about conforming but at the same time, it does try. The lights for one are LED’s which is quite modern for a car that seems to be stuck in the 90s.

There is also cruise control, a seven-inch touch enabled infotainment system complete with Bluetooth, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

But that is as far as it goes, you don’t even get reverse sensors. You do however get a reverse camera that looks like it has been installed at an accessories shop that prioritises revenue over customer satisfaction.

But driving the Jimny is a true occasion, and a big part of its charm. As soon as you step behind the wheel, you will notice how far the windscreen is placed away from the driver and front passenger.

The near 90-degree rake of the A-pillars too are not something you see very often, well, probably in a Mercedes-Benz G-Class or a Jeep Wrangler. This is an essential element for the classic, squarish, jeep design.

Starting the Jimny is a very traditional sequence. You have to first reach into your pocket to search for that all important key, prod it into the key slot and twist it. A sequence that is almost alien these days, and something that modern drivers don’t have to do anymore unless they have an old-ish car at home. I for one, can’t remember the last time I started a car that was made in the 2020s, with a physical key.

On the move the Jimny again shows that it still has its heart stuck in the old days. The steering wheel is powered but not electronically. Instead the steering rack is made up of an old-school high-geared recirculating ball configuration, and that means that you have to turn the steering wheel more than usual to take on simple turns.

That makes it feel like you have to work the steering harder than what you usually would in a modern day car. Newer, younger drivers may not like the steering feel of the Jimny. For the uninitiated, it may feel like there is something wrong with the steering, but those who have driven older cars will recognise the feel, and perhaps even love it.

The ladder frame chassis of the Jimny further adds to its character. It too adds to the old school feel and those who have driven the early day pick-up trucks which had stiff suspension that jiggled the car (and its occupants) at every given chance and provided for sloppy handling will find the Jimny to be the same as well.

The ride and handling quality of the of the Jimny is typical of olden day cars. It is comfortable when you are driving around town or on kampung roads, but as soon as you try to push it, that is where it starts to feel .. scary.

The tall centre of gravity, softish suspension and lack of steering feel can make tackling corners a rather dauting task. I also found it difficult to lay my trust in the skinny 195/80/R15 tyres, especially in the wet. With such numb steering feel that is typical of 90s off-roaders, I didn’t think I would feel the Jimny breaking grip fast enough to correct it. So I had to tune my driving style to match the character of the Jimny, and that is where I truly fell in love with it.

To appreciate the Jimny, you have to slow things down a couple of notches. It has a top speed of 140km/h but it is at its best between 100-110km/h.

In town, you learn to take it slow but you can easily keep up with traffic. It’s tall ride height provides for an excellent vantage point of everything around you and its small size and short wheelbase makes it easy to park just about anywhere. It also does not take much space on the road, which allows you to weave through traffic just like you could in a Myvi or in an Axia.

The Jimny, despite feeling like it is stuck in the 90s, is a refreshing prospect in a world dominated by EV’s and advanced tech. It reminds me of how life once was and that it is absolutely okay to slow down and turn things down a couple of notches.

And despite staying true to its roots, the modern Jimny comes with safety features such as ISOFIX mounts, side impact door beams, ABS brakes, Electronic Stability Program, LSD, Hill Hold, Hill Descent Control and dual airbags.

It is undoubtedly a charming car to drive and to go about your daily business in. The only downside to it is its price.

The model you see here is called the Jimny Black Edition. It differentiates itself from the standard model with a multi roof rack, carbon fibre finish on many of the interior and exterior panels, it also has dual-tone Nappa leather seats, tinted glass and blacked out elements inside and outside the car.

The Suzuki Jimny Black Edition sits second in the local line-up of four variants and is priced at RM171,900. The base model on the other hand will set you back RM158,900 but you lose out on a number of things and you get fabric seats. The top of the line model is called the Rhino and it is priced at RM174,900 and you get more features like a differential box guard and a Suzuki Heritage grille.

You could turn to the parallel-import market but the price is not much different and you lose out on the official three year of 100,000km warranty.

That is why you see a number of Jimny’s on the road but particularly in upmarket areas like Damansara and Bangsar. The rich folk seemingly don’t mind forking out for the Jimny, and that is also why it is Suzuki Malaysia’s best-selling model. It may not be perfect, but it is an expensive toy, though an extremely fun one.

Specifications:
Engine: 1.5-litre with Variable Valve Timing
Power: 100hp@6000rpm
Torque: 130Nm@4000rpm
Transmission: 4-speed auto
Suspension: 3 link rigid axle with coil spring
Price (as tested): RM171,900

We like: Character, convenience
We don’t like: Two-speaker sound system, no keyless entry and push start button

Proton has come a long way since the launch of the first-generation Proton Saga back in 1985. They have evolved and adapted to current trends to ensure their survival in the ever-changing automotive market.

How? Well, we all know Proton’s collaboration with Geely to introduce models that can compete with other manufacturers. But does it stand out from the rest? We recently got to test out Proton’s latest model, the Proton S70. Now, Proton claims it to be a C-Segment sedan. This means the S70 is competing with the Toyota Corolla Altis and the Honda Civic.

However, the S70 is a rebadge of the Geely Emgrand sedan, which is a B-Segment sedan. So we don’t think that the S70 belongs in the C-Segment and it should actually be competing with the Honda City and Toyota Vios. But even then, is the S70 better than the two?

Visually, the car looks pleasing. It has a sporty yet elegant design with refined lines and curves. The LED taillights are something we really love because of their striking light bar that does a little dance when you unlock and lock the car. The front grille is adorned with chrome pin inserts and LED projector headlamps, which also does a little dance.

If you’re getting the Flagship X, which is the variant we drove, you get a sunroof. Not ideal for our Malaysian weather, but it looks cool. It also comes with 17-inch 10-spoke wheels wrapped in Goodyear Assurance TripleMax 2 tires.

There was nothing not to like about the S70’s visual cues because it is a pretty good-looking car. We were given the one in Teal Bayou Green, which is one of the best options because it brings out the elegance in the car. We managed to turn some heads too! However, the more popular choice is Marine Blue because it has a three-month waiting period.

Moving on to the interior. This is where we have some complaints. Now, the S70 measures 4,638mm long, 1,820mm wide, and 1,460mm tall and has a wheelbase of 2,650mm. This makes it slightly smaller than the Emgrand but larger than the Proton Preve. This writer has owned a Preve before and would like to point out that the Preve had more legroom than the S70. For the driver, it’s no issue to adjust the seat to however you’re comfortable with. However, if you’re a rear-seat passenger, you may struggle as the rear legroom space is horrible.

For it to be a family sedan or a “C-Segment” sedan, this should not be an issue. We took our family for a drive, and they struggled to get in and out of the car. The driver and front passenger had to get out of the car and push the seats to the front to allow the rear-seat passengers to get out. If the ones sitting at the back are elderly, tall, and people, they might struggle a bit more. So we were very disappointed with the interior spacing. If it’s just the driver and a front passenger, it’s fine because you have the luxury of pushing your seats to the back.

Now on to the infotainment system. The S70 comes with a 10.3-inch instrument cluster and a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen. Decent sizing compared to the TV screens that some cars nowadays get. The biggest flaw is that it does not have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and we absolutely hate this. If this were integrated, it would have made life so much easier. But not to worry, Proton has stated that these features will soon be added, and a simple software update is needed. Unless you own older models, then a hardware upgrade will be needed.

Adding to the frustration, the positioning of the infotainment screen on the S70 is rather annoying. We feel like it is too close to the air conditioning vents. If you are the type of person who relies on using your phone for Google Maps or Waze, it’s going to be an issue because the only option you have for a phone holder is the one with the suction cup that sticks to the windshield.

Although it can be done, it will leave a mark on the windshield. This writer personally uses the one that clips onto the air conditioning vents and that was a hassle because the pop-out buttons that are below the vents were in the way of the phone, and the infotainment screen was bulging out a bit that the clip could not fully be latched on. So we had no choice but to use the driver-side air conditioning vent. Which meant that the said vent was useless, other than cooling down the phone.

Yes, we know that there are many options when it comes to phone holders, but it is still a hassle to find one that suits this car perfectly.

Sometimes, physical buttons are the best way to go, in our books at least. But some somethings were not taken into consideration such as switching the drive modes, adjusting the air conditioning temperature, and operating the sunroof. You must go through the infotainment screen to do so.

The integrated GPS can be a little buggy as it stopped halfway while we were using it. But thankfully Proton’s voice command worked well so we were able to set the GPS again without messing around with the screen.

Now let’s talk power. The Geely Emgrand is powered by a 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated inline-four petrol engine that puts out 102PS and 142Nm of torque. Proton S70 has a 1.5-litre turbocharged inline-three which is also found in the Proton X50. This pushes the power a little bit higher to 150PS and 226Nm of torque. It’s paired with a seven-speed wet dual-clutch transmission.

The S70 struggles a little bit when you hit the throttle because the power only kicks in after a few seconds. Only when it gets going, you will feel the power. We find it to be just enough. If you need a little bit more kick, you can switch it to Sports mode which sharpens the throttle response and the brakes become a bit more sensitive in a good way. However, the throttle can feel a little choppy at times but it takes getting used to. The auto-hold function works perfectly fine and you can play around with it to see which suits you best.

Another thing that we noticed is that the engine sound can get a bit loud especially if the car is idling. Inside, you won’t hear it that much unless you floor it, but when standing outside, it is very noticeable.

The flat-bottomed steering wheel feels comfortable and gives us the confidence to take corners and because of the front MacPherson struts and a rear torsion beam, the S70 takes corners like a champion. On the highway, Sports mode is the way to go, unless you’re stuck in traffic then we suggest switching it to Eco mode but around the city, Comfort mode would be the better choice.

When we picked up the car, we had a full tank and a total driving range of 777km. After all the driving and testing, we still had around 250km left. So it is safe to say that there will be no range anxiety when it comes to the S70.

For a car that is priced at RM94,800 (OTR without insurance), it comes with a decent amount of safety features. The ones that we used often were the Lane Departure Warning and Lane Departure Prevention. And if anything were to happen, the S70 comes with six airbags.

The S70 1.5T Executive is priced at RM73,800, the Premium at RM79,800, the Flagship at RM89,800 and the Flagship X at RM94,800. We were amazed by how low the prices were when Proton first announced them.

The Honda City’s pricing starts from RM84,900 to RM111,900 and the Toyota Vios is from RM89,600 to RM95,500. So the S70’s prices are more affordable compared to the two competitors.

The question now is, would we get the S70? If we were willing to sacrifice legroom space, not having Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, then perhaps we might get it. But this is just our two cents about it. Perhaps you, the readers, might have a different perspective about the Proton S70.

Specifications

Engine: 1.5 litre turbocharged inline-three

Transmission: Seven-speed wet dual-clutch

Power: 150PS

Torque: 226Nm

Price (as tested): RM94,800

We like: Looks, Feel and Price

We don’t like: Lack of space, infotainment system, and choppy throttle

Have you ever wondered what people mean when they say that a car is nice to drive? What do they mean by that? How is it nice and what makes it nice?

To this writer, a car that is described as nice to drive could mean that the suspension is smooth, and you glide over anything without noticing much. It also could mean that the seats are soft, and you sink into them, and the comfort levels is better than most other cars, making the car nice to drive.

It could also mean big power. A big mighty V8 engine will always make a car nicer to drive than one than runs on a puny three-cylinder engine that huffs and puffs on its way to the top.

Handling though, is one part where most people miss out. To appreciate handling, there needs to be a prerequisite – you should have driven some crappy cars that handle like wooden tanks to be able to appreciate one that handles like it were on rails. Or vice versa. How else will you know that a car handles well?

The term “nice car” is often used with SUV’s, which is unsurprising since they are big, spacious, and more often than not, quite comfortable. It is difficult to get the recipe wrong for an SUV, but it sometimes happens.

This article though is about one of the nicest SUVs to come out of Japan in recent times – the Mazda CX-5.

It is not very spacious though, as families with growing children will fast realise their kids will be kicking the front seats in a matter of months. Space is one of the biggest prerequisites that defines a nice SUV, and unfortunately the CX-5 runs out of it quite fast.

The model you see on these pages is the latest CX-5 that was launched in Malaysia in February of this year. Specifically, it is the 2.5G High variant, and it sits just below the flagship – the 2.5G Turbo.

It took about two years for Bermaz Auto, the assembler and distributor of Mazda cars in Malaysia, to offer the updated version of the CX-5 after its global launch.

Priced from RM173,400, the 2.5G High is the fun-loving, thinking man’s choice. It’s 2.5-litre, naturally-aspirated, four-cylinder engine is not as powerful as the flagship, but still has quite to offer with 192hp and 258Nm of torque. The flagship and its turbocharged engine offer 228hp and 420Nm of torque, but because it runs on an all-wheel-drive powertrain, it seemingly has an unquenchable thirst for petrol.

The regular 2.5G High though has some impressive fuel efficiency. In fact, it is possible to travel well over 700km when it’s 56-litre tank is full, a distance that will make Turbo owners re-consider their purchase.

Visually, the new CX-5 can be distinguished by its new headlights with LED daytime running lights, LED taillamps, new 19-inch wheels and a new grille design.

Inside, it is business as usual, but there are some important updates. The front seats have been updated and are now ventilated, a much-welcomed feature to deal with our torrid Malaysian weather.

The other update is the wireless Apple Carplay while Android Auto users will still need to rely on a cable. The new CX-5 also gets a wireless charge pad.

Depending on how much you love to drive and how much control you like over your car, the new CX-5 also gets shifter pedals, which is great for those who like to indulge in the performance aspect of their car. All but the entry level model get this addition, and it lets you have better control over the power delivery of the car.

Besides that, everything about the interior of the new CX-5 is the same as the old. Placement of buttons and overall design is the same, and quality is still great. The CX-5 does not feel cheap inside, in fact, it is well thought out.

So, if the updates are few, what makes the CX-5 such a nice car then? A Mazda is a car that not only looks good, but it needs to be driven to appreciate that famous Mazda experience.

Just like every other manufacturer, Mazda spent a lot of time in ensuring that its cars were comfortable to drive, felt good, had all the latest safety tech and were easy on the eye.

But Mazda took it a step further by incorporating a tech that no other SUV in its category has, called the Mazda G-Vectoring Control Plus, or otherwise known as GVC Plus.

This simple but brilliant tech works by regulating engine torque and braking to provide effortless and seamless control over the car.

GVC Plus is basically a software algorithm that works by tying together the power steering control computer and the engine control computer.

Through super-fast calculations that is beyond what humans can feel, the software reduces engine power when the driver starts to turn the steering wheel during the entry of a corner.

This then moves the weight of the car forward very quickly and forces the front tyres to respond to the driver’s input more directly, making the car feel more obliging and consistent with minimal steering movement.

But that is only part of the story. The GVC Plus feature also works during the exit of a corner. To do this, the system applies a tiny amount of brake pressure to the outside front tyre of the car. So, if the car is turning left, very little brake pressure is applied to the front right tyre of the car. This helps to straighten the car during exit, which inadvertently makes the car feel more agile during entry and exit.

This also means that passengers get a more comfortable ride quality because the driver drives more smoothly and makes fewer steering inputs. Mazda says this also helps with reducing fatigue as the driver does not have to work the steering wheel as much.

This is all part of Mazda’s Jinba-Ittai concept, which translates to horse and rider as one. In this context, it basically means that driving Mazda cars should feel completely natural and intuitive where the car responds to the driver as it if was part of our own body.

The feeling that you ultimately get when you are behind the wheel of a Mazda is different from any other Japanese SUV. You don’t expect the Mazda to feel so good and effortless. The naturally-aspirated engine has a metallic rasp to it that frankly, sounds really good, better in fact than the whooshing sound of its turbocharged sibling. And this sometimes coxes you to get on the accelerator pedal just to indulge in that sound.

And if you are into tech, the new CX-5 might impress you again with the newly added adaptive cruise control and adaptive front-lighting system that automatically illuminates dark areas and sign boards. That is not to mention the armada of safety tech that includes an impressive ADAS suite.

This then brings us back to the original question then, what do people mean when they say that a car is nice? Nice is undeniably subjective and what is nice to one person may not be so for another, but the next time someone says that a Mazda CX-5 is nice to drive, believe them.

Specifications:
Engine: 2.5-litre, naturally-aspirated, four-cylinder, 16-valve, DOHC
Power: 192hp @ 6000rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission: SKYACTIV DRIVE 6 speed automatic with manual paddle shifters
Suspension: MacPherson Struts (Front) Multi-link (Rear)
Price (as tested): RM178,260.40 (On the road without insurance with Premium paint)

We like: Driving experience, efficiency, comfort
We don’t like: Can feel small after a while

It seems impossible to escape Chinese car makers these days. Where Chinese cars once offered boring designs with interiors that left much to be desired, these days Chinese brands are leading the world with technologies and designs that sometimes put them far ahead of the establishment.

Take Chery for example. There is a lot that has been said about the brand and while not all of them have been savory, the fact of the matter is that Chery is back in Malaysia, and it means business.

Unlike before, Chery has ditched the middlemen and is officially present here in Malaysia with a full blown local assembly program, which it is doing with Inokom at the latter’s assembly plant in Kulim, Kedah.

Chery has made Malaysia its regional hub and will not only sell its cars in the local market but will also ship Malaysian-assembled Chery’s to regional markets as well. So, no matter what your opinion is about the Chery brand, it has returned stronger than ever with plans that will create jobs and bolster the economy.

Chery deserves credit for this bold move as well. In fact, even Proton with its Chinese funding through Geely and government backing started its X70 as a CBU product before moving to a local assembly program. Chery dived right in with a local-assembly program, so a tip of the hat is much deserved.

One of the cars that Chery is building locally is the Tiggo 8 Pro. The D-Segment flagship SUV counts the Proton X70, Proton X90, Toyota Innova Zenix, Mazda CX-8, and even the new Honda CRV as direct competitors.

Priced at RM159,800, it is also surprisingly good value for money as well.

In terms of proportions, the Tiggo 8 Pro is a very big car. But if you delve into the numbers, the Tiggo 8 Pro is both shorter and narrower than the Proton X90 by a few millimeters.

The design is what turns heads as well. The front is undeniably handsome with a jewel crusted grille which Chery calls the galaxy grille. It is flanked by headlights that incorporate twin LED daytime running lights that lend a premium touch to the overall design of the car.

The rear of the car features an LED light bar that connects both taillamps, something that a lot of new cars seem to feature these days. And typical of new cars is a light display that puts on a little show every time you lock or unlock the car. No matter your take on that, it is undeniably impressive.

The interior matches the exterior as far as good looks go. Everything is well placed and feels well built. The car we drove for this review had been around for a while and had been passed around from one reviewer to another, which means it had been put through its paces.

Despite that, it felt good and there was none of that odd buzzing or knocking that is typical of cars that had been driven harder than most.

And no matter how hard we tried, there was no getting away from the Mercedes-Benz influence everywhere around the cabin. It is hard to miss unless you have never been in or driven a Mercedes-Benz before.

The start button is identical to the one in the previous generation Mercedes, as are the seat controls, the buttons and icons as well as the two screens that seem to merge into one gigantic one that measures in at 24.6-inches in total.

Even the speaker grilles look like they have been influenced by the Burmester system found in a Mercedes.

But that is not necessarily a bad thing, because though heavily “inspired” by the German carmaker, Chery’s design team has done well to add its little touches around the cabin.

The seats deserve a special mention as not only are they ventilated, but also look great with unique stitching. They are also impressively comfortable with the supple leather soaking up the weight of the occupant, giving a feeling where you sink into the seats rather than sit on them. We would go so far as to say that the seats of the Tiggo 8 are probably the best in its class, as far as comfort goes at least.

However, we also must mention that the design of the dashboard and the raised centre console makes it difficult for tall or broad drivers to get comfortable. Knee space takes a hit due to the curvature of the dashboard and the raised centre console means there is nowhere for your knee to go but down, and that takes some getting used to.

It takes all of two days to learn to deal with that though, and as soon as you get over it, you can start to appreciate the finer things that the car has to offer. Such as the plush suspension that seems to soak up everything Malaysian roads can muster.

The suspension is set up for comfort than anything else. And it is perhaps a little too soft as there seems to be noticeable body roll, just like that of an early 2000’s SUV. But it is difficult to fault because it is not a performance SUV but rather one that is focused on comfort and convenience. And it does that job brilliantly.

The one place where it might be difficult to get comfortable though is in the third-row seats. They are small with very little legroom, so it is best left for shorter people or children. But whoever it is that takes those seats though will surely appreciate having their own air-conditioning vents and blower settings.

But just about anyone can appreciate that gargantuan booth space when the third-row seats are folded in place. And we are awe struck by the fact that the tonneau cover has its own special storage area that holds it in place and out of sight. That is something that car makers like Mazda and Honda can take a card from.

Driving the Chery Tiggo 8 Pro is something that you will either love or hate. The 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine makes 256hp and 390Nm of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that is silky smooth. The output figures makes the Tiggo 8 Pro is one of the most powerful in its class, but it is not esy to drive it smoothly.

Every time you get on the accelerator, there is a moment of nothingness and then a wall of power surges in. This tends to catch you off guard initially, and in response you tend get off the power immediately. The result of this is a tired neck as your head bobs forward and backward with every touch of the accelerator. And, as some of our passengers said, a nauseated feeling.

Perhaps it was a fault with the car that we drove because it is difficult to believe that a manufacturer of Chery’s stature did not iron this out. But we found a way around it, to make the car easier to drive smoothly.

The Tiggo 8 Pro comes with three driving modes – Eco, Normal and Sport. It was perfectly fine when we drove in Sport mode and in fact the car generally felt better to drive as all systems felt more alert. The steering had a better feel to it, the gear shifts were quicker and more importantly the accelerator was easier to regulate with none of that choppy accelerator feel; the Tiggo 8 Pro is at its finest in Sport mode.

And so, at RM159,800, it is difficult to ignore the Chery Tiggo 8 Pro. It is simply too good of a proposition to ignore. Its design is nearly faultless, and the interior is one of the best in its segment as far as space and comfort goes. We also love the eight-speaker Sony audio system and the fact that it comes with Wireless Apple CarPlay.

Then there is the suite of Advanced Driver Aids systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, front collision warning with auto brake and a 360-degree camera with crisp display.

And if you are worried about the Chery brand and are unconvinced by its resurgence here in Malaysia, well the Tiggo 8 Pro comes with a seven-year or 150,000km warranty on the car, but if you are willing to spend an additional RM2,000, Chery Malaysia will give you a 10-year or one-million-kilometer warranty on the engine. And the real cherry on this Chery (pardon the pun) is the five-year free service package with alternating free labour.

Chery Malaysia is undoubtedly pulling out all the stops to assure Malaysians that it is here to stay and that its products are much more than just your regular run of the mill cars. And after driving the Tiggo 8 Pro, we think it is just a matter of time before Chery starts vying for the top of the sales charts.

And finally, is it a better buy than a Proton X70? The X70 is undeniably cheaper, but it has been around for a while. And while the top of the line variant will cost you RM128,800, the Tiggo 8 Pro will still cost you about RM30,000 more. However, if price is no issue, then the Chery has our pick.

As compared to the Proton X90 though, the Proton has a more functional third row and is bigger as well. But the Chery feels more refined, and more premium, so we are undecided on this, for now. Look out for our comparison review where we compared the Tiggo 8 Pro against the X90.

Specifications
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Power: 256hp
Torque: 390Nm
Price (as tested): RM159,800
We like: Design, Features, Spaciousness
We don’t like: Choppy accelerator feel

Vehicle safety is undeniably an essential aspect of modern transportation, encompassing a wide array of measures designed to minimise the risk of accidents and injuries on the road. 

From advancements in structural engineering such as crumple zones to the integration of innovative technologies such as collision avoidance systems and airbag deployment mechanisms, proving that the safety of occupants and pedestrians alike remains a paramount concern for automakers, regulatory bodies, and consumers worldwide. 

Volvo needs no introduction and has long been heralded as a pioneer and advocate for automotive safety, with a legacy that traces back to the invention of the three-point safety belt by engineer Nils Bohlin in 1959. What set Volvo apart from the rest of the world is not just the creation of this life-saving device, but their decision not to patent it, instead opting to share the technology with other automakers for the greater good. 

This altruistic gesture fundamentally changed the landscape of vehicle safety, as the three-point seatbelt became a standard feature in cars worldwide, saving countless lives over the years. 

Volvo’s commitment to safety extends beyond technological innovation; it embodies a philosophy deeply rooted in the belief that protecting human lives on the road is not just a responsibility but a moral imperative.

Just like the older “tank” models, modern Volvo cars are equipped with an array of cutting-edge safety features that embody the company’s unwavering commitment to protecting occupants and pedestrians alike. 

These include advanced driver assistance systems such as collision avoidance technology, pedestrian detection, and lane-keeping assistance. Additionally, Volvo’s models boast robust structural designs engineered to withstand and dissipate impact forces, along with comprehensive airbag systems strategically placed throughout the cabin.

Models such as the C40 Recharge, XC60 and XC90 have all received five-star ratings in the Euro NCAP tests. 

Just recently, although Volvo did not have to do it, but did it anyway, Volvo Car Malaysia (VCM) organised its first-ever Safety Driving Experience as part of its For Life campaign in Sungai Besi, at the country’s iconic first airstrip.

What is the For Life campaign? The Volvo “For Life” campaign was a marketing initiative launched by Volvo Cars to emphasise the brand’s commitment to safety, sustainability, and innovation. Introduced in the early 2000s, the campaign aimed to highlight Volvo’s holistic approach to automotive design, focusing not only on building safe vehicles but also on creating a better future for people and the planet. 

The Volvo “For Life” campaign goes beyond emphasising the importance of passive and active safety systems within vehicles; it also delves into the psychological aspect of safety while driving. Recognising that factors like fatigue, distractions, and absent-mindedness can contribute to road incidents, Volvo Cars urges drivers to reconsider their approach to safety. 

The Safety Driving Experience focused more on how one should be aware of their surroundings when driving. So, activities during the event included the “brake, swerve, avoid” exercise to build drivers’ confidence in handling unexpected obstacles on the road. As well as training reflexes for challenging situations like sudden lane changing without braking to avoid head-on collisions. 

We were given the Volvo XC40 to carry out the braking and swerving exercises. At speeds of 70km/h, a braking point was placed and the end of the stretch which gave us enough time to slam as hard as we could on the brakes, which activated the ABS system, to show us how efficient the system is.

Anti-Braking System, which is what ABS stands for, works by grabbing and releasing the brakes in rapid sequence. Most of us would have felt a pulsating brake pedal during emergency braking, that is just the ABS working. By grabbing and releasing the brakes, this allows the driver to steer the car under heavy braking. A wheel that is locked up cannot be turned, hence why cars without ABS tend to skid when the wheels are locked. 

For the swerve exercise, at speeds of 70-80km/h, a cone was placed in the middle of the track without hitting the brakes, and we were asked to swerve without hitting the cone and then hit the brakes. Our cone survived, though some cones did not fare as well.

According to Volvo, the reason some drivers hit the cones was because of the position of their hands on the steering wheel. Most of us like to use the “one-handed” driving position, which is not ideal. The best position is to have both your hands on the wheel at the “9” and “3” positions. This makes it easier for a driver to get a full turn without struggling. 

Next off, Volvo showed us some of the neat features that the XC60 Recharge has, such as the Cross-traffic alert with auto brake, Autonomous driving (Lead Car Follow System) and the Surround view camera which gives us a 360° bird’s eye parking view. 

Now to the fun part. We were handed the cars mentioned above on a 1.8km-long runway so we did what any car enthusiast would do – we floored it. Reaching speeds of 180km/h, putting 462PS and 709Nm to all four wheels and hitting the brakes at the end. Of course, without a doubt, the cars handled it very well. 

We also did a slalom run to test the handling and stability of the XC60 Recharge. We were surprised by how a 2170kg SUV handled those tight turns at high speeds. Volvo also had a little challenge set for us. The fastest time around the slalom course would win a decent-sized display model of the XC90. Sadly, we finished three seconds behind the winning time. 

 

Fun and games aside, these exercises were just a glimpse of what could happen in a real-world situation such as braking when there is a sudden obstacle on the road. Or when the vehicle in front of you hits the emergency brakes or needs to swerve to avoid said obstacle. 

With Malaysia’s questionable road conditions and naive drivers out there, we need to do our part and be aware of our surroundings at all times to ensure the safety of ourselves and others. Because as Volvo puts it, “When you feel safe, you can be truly free.”

 

Specifications: Volvo XC40 Recharge Pure Electric

Engine: Two electric motors

Power: 402hp

Torque: 660Nm

Top Speed: 180km/h

0-100km/h: 4.9 seconds

Driving Range: 438km

Price (as tested): RM278,888

 

Specifications: Volvo XC60 Recharge

Engine: 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder Petrol Engine/Rear electric motor

Power: 455hp

Torque: 709Nm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Top Speed: 180km/h

0-100km/h: 4.8 seconds

Electric-Driving Range: 81km

Price (as tested): RM355,888

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