Chinese automaker Chery has launched its J3 hatchback in South Africa, intent on taking on heavy hitters such as VW’s Golf and Hyundai’s recently launched i30. So, what would you get for your R180 000? We drove it to find out.Image galleryVehicle specificationsChery is no stranger to South Africa’s market conditions. Its vehicles have been available here since 2008 and its Tiggo SUV, Chery SA’s MD Brett Soso said, is its biggest seller, followed by the QQ3. PROMISE OF MORE CHERYSThe automaker is on the offensive, planning to push product to South Africa more regularly – perhaps two new models a year, Soso said. The brand has 12 models in development for right-hand drive markets. Its J3 hatchback, previewed at the 2011 Johannesburg international auto show, is expected to clear the way for its siblings entering the market from 2013, including the J2 and the J3 sedan arriving by mid-2013. The J3 sedan is also expected to sport a number of running changes over the hatchback. Meanwhile Chery is taking a hard swipe at the competition with only the range-topping 1.6 TXE available but packed with kit and priced very attractively. The competition is quite formidable; Soso mentioned the Opel Astra, Peiugeot 308, Nissan Tiida, Hyundai i30, Toyota Auris and VW Golf. To take them on, the Chery J3 comes with six air bags (a first for the brand in SA), anti-lock brakes and electronic brake pressure distribution, parking radar, auto-on headlights and wipers, auto aircon and leather upholstery. It uses an engine that complies with Euro 4 emission standards and delivers 87kW at 6150rpm and 147Nm from 4300 to 4500rpm. MARKED IMPROVEMENTSSoso emphasised that getting the quality right was a big consideration for the brand. In fact, he added, the J3 might have been in SA a lot sooner had it not been for a few specification issues that needed to be resolved. To that end the more robust leather seats and the addition of four airbags were probably worth the slight delay.A short drive through the eastern suburbs of Pretoria revealed that there are some marked improvements over the Chery models I’ve previously experienced. For one, the J3 is perhaps the most attractive Chery and even sports a prominent rump. The ride is quality was rather pleasant and the steering feel nice and firm. We didn’t engage in too many high-speed runs but the car did exhibit a reassuring level of grip. The gearshift was a bit notchy, but there was just under 1500km on the odo so that could be expected to loosen up. The 1.6 engine felt slightly flat at altitude, though not uncomfortably so. The quality of the cabin materials, at first glance, still appears to lack that of the family hatchback segment’s front-runners but the layout of the instruments was neat against the two-tone black-and-beige dashboard. We also had some fun finding the luggage hatch release button hidden though it was hidden in plain sight on the central dropdown.EXTRA ENGINE SERVICEExpect more to come from Chery and the J3 line-up although Soso said there was, as yet, no diesel available for right-hand drive markets and the development of an auto transmission was still under consideration.For R179 900, the price includes a three-year or 75 000km service plan and a three-year or 100 000km warranty. Service intervals for the J3 are 15 000km but Chery SA will insist on an initial service at 5000km, too. On the whole, Chery’s attempt at a family hatchback is not bad, although there are slightly smaller hatchbacks from more established brands to be had in that price bracket and buying used would also be an option.