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Road test: Poor man's Cadillac?

2013-08-08 07:48

FAKE IT GOOD: Chinese auto importer Geely is selling the Emgrand EC7 from only R149 990 and its value for money seems almost too good to be true. Image: Quickpic

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Chinese automaker Geely, already becoming well-known in South Africa for its smaller vehicles, is now aiming at the 'bigger' market with its EmGrand at really economic prices.

JANINE-LEE GORDON

A new Geely product, the Emgrand EC7, rocked up at our offices and I was the eager beaver to try it out. I’m no prude - I’ll drive anything. I thought I’d look for some images of the car in the meantime before I was set off behind the wheel.

I knew not to expect carbon fibre trim and soft-touch leather upholstery but the interior images mortified me to say the least. I cringed in my seat and dreaded the drive home.

By the time I made my way to the car I was expecting the worst. I was taken aback by its sheer size, it looks bulky and long and I wondered would this car even fit in my garage.

Image gallery

Curiosity got the better of me and I got inside. Then it all seemed too good to be true – except for the dodgy badge on the steering wheel.

It has a leather interior, four airbags, a colour touch-screen multimedia display inclusive of satnav, DVD player and audio functions but probably most surprising is its 1.8-litre engine. Due to its origins, you'd expect this car to lack the ambition of a new kid at school trying to make friends but not this Geely.

This car is more like a flat-chested teenager’s “inner, big-busted cheerleader dying to come out” – as my friend would say.

It makes 105kW/172Nm and is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. Though it might not be as quick as a hungry lioness chasing its prey, it made me feel confident enough to drive faster than 120km/h. Top speed is 185km/h, according to the automaker.

HOLDS ITS OWN

It’s not a lazy car either. Give it some foot and it will go and go, nor does it feel unstable behind the wheel. It’s not the type of car I'd attempt some gymkhana obstacles in or even try to throw its rear out in a delicious corner on Stellenbocsh's Hels Hoogte Pass, but it holds its own in traffic and the straight open stretches.

In terms of looks, it’s not the tall, blonde with a dazzling smile, but it will be noticed just because its so different albeit nothing worth writing home about. It has a silhouette of a Mercedes-Benz, wide arches that make its curvy hips look freakishly appealing and design lines of a Hyundai or Honda.

Inside the facia is uncluttered and there’s enough room in the rear for Snow White, the prince and his horse, the seven dwarfs and all their pets. No, I’m not joking, it’s that spacious!

I picked my boyfriend up from work and the expression on his face was priceless. It was that "WTF are you driving?" face. He asked if Noah knew I had stolen his Ark and he was particularly confused by the badge on the front grille. If you haven’t seen a Cadillac badge in a long time, and that’s likely since the cars are no longer sold in SA, it looks similar. Although once you check, they’re quite far apart despite the same red, black and gold chequered pattern.

MADE IN CHINA

The Emgrand reminds me of a woman I know who loves to shop but can’t always afford to. Even though she can’t don a pair of Prada sunglasses, a Louis Vuitton handbag or some Maranellos on her feet – she always looks like a million bucks.

Her secret? Cheap Chinese clothing stores. And before we judge her, let me remind you that there isn’t an item in our homes or offices that doesn’t have those three little words: "Made in China".

She could find an entire ensemble for less than R100 including a pair of shoes if she was lucky. She’d go home, shower, and do her hair and make-up. She would step out in those clothes looking like Patrick Swayze draped in a white chiffon two-piece evening frock in Too Wong Foo with Love, complete with a tight bun on her head and curled sideburns. And, no one would be the wiser.

I knew though. And by the third time she’d wear any of those items, the seams would start to rip at her thighs or the hem would be out in her skirt because the thread had vanished.

MADE IN CHINA

It’s like my favourite Toyota jacket, bought at a flea market in Joburg five years ago. The embroided badge is tattered, my pockets are torn and yet I still wear it - occasionally.

My point? Even though Chinese cars might appear to have improved by leaps and bounds with appearance, technology or quality – they still don’t last as long and I’m curious about the EC7’s longevity before something breaks.

Did I love the Emgrand? Er, no, but I was impressed and it does seem like good value for money. I just can’t help being sceptical and wonder how long it will last.

Despite its ridiculous price R149 990 for the GL Luxury – and R164 990 for the GT Executive with four airbags and a power sunroof – I’d still go for something with a more established reputation, though smaller, such as a Kia Rio sedan, or a Toyota Etios, Chevrolet Sonic or Honda Brio, for that matter.

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