The Citizen (KZN)

Hunt down a cool ride


- Charl Bosch

Chery’s new brand to make it’s local debut next month.

Ahead of its local market launch next month, Chery-owned Jaecoo has provided a first official driving experience of the new J7 at a preview event outside Lanseria recently.

The first of three planned Jaecoo models for South Africa, the J7 made its official showing at the Shanghai Auto Show last year as part of the unveiling of the Jaecoo brand.

Confirmed for South Africa not long afterwards, with its moniker being a combinatio­n of the German word for hunter (jäger) and cool, the J7 conforms to a styling language called Rock in River, which is attributed to its focus on being an SUV for all occasions and terrains.

The range comprises two twowheel-drive models called Vortex and Glacier, and the flagship allwheel-drive, dubbed Inferno.

Shared with the Chery Tiggo 7 Pro Max and Tiggo 8 Pro, the J7 is powered by a 1.6 turbo-petrol engine that sends 145kW/290Nm to the front or all four wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox.

Set to be sold alongside sister brand Omoda in a separate capacity from Chery, the drive around Lanseria and into the Cradle of Humankind also involved a rocky off-road section, where the J7 performed surprising­ly well, given its lack of a low-range transfer case.

Distinguis­hed from the Vortex by its 19-inch alloy wheels versus 18-inch, the Glacier, and by extension the Inferno, gets the bigger 14.3-inch touchscree­n infotainme­nt system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, ventilated, heated and electric front seats, a 1.1-metre panoramic sunroof and a dashcam.

Notable items on the Vortex are the smaller 13.2-inch touchscree­n infotainme­nt system and some features also standard on the Glacier and Inferno, namely a 50-watt wireless smartphone charger, a 360-degree surround-view camera system, nine-speaker Sony sound system, multi-function steering wheel and expansive array of safety and driver assistance systems.

Reserved for the Inferno is a heated steering wheel and a drive mode selector with seven settings, Eco, Normal, Sport, Snow, Mud, Sand and Off-Road – only the first three are available on the Vortex and Glacier.

The J7 gets dual-zone climate control with rear vents, adaptive cruise control and a transparen­t underbody camera that proved useful on the off-road section.

On tar, the J7 proved to be a mixed bag for the same reasons that continue to blight most vehicles originatin­g from China.

With A-grade refinement luminary and premium soft-touch levels of fit and finish, the accelerato­r calibratio­n requires some fine-tuning as the smallest of inputs results in the turbo spooling up so quickly that wheel spin is a sure bet every time you set off.

The oversensit­ive throttle also hampers the shifting of the dual clutch box.

Quick to respond when shifting down, the transmissi­on’s programmin­g sees it quickly shifting to second gear, where it stays for too long before eventually hooking third.

While the throttle and transmissi­on worries can most likely be resolved via a few software tweaks, the biggest annoyance remains the overzealou­s safety systems.

As understand­able as their functions are, not least given the severe backlash early Chinese cars received for their lack of safety features, the systems, especially the lane departure warning and horizontal cabin sensor on the steering column, were too overbearin­g.

Fortunatel­y though, some can be switched off by means of the infotainme­nt system, but will require over-and-above input once the ignition is switched off and then on.

For the rest, the J7 is suitably impressive with ample space for front and rear passengers, a capacious boot and quality finishes, from the piano-key like accents on the dashboard to the rugged and robust plastic on top.

A styling success, especially when finished in the darker hues, the off-road venture did elicit some concerns, not only due to the lack of low range, but also apparent ground clearance restrictio­ns.

Lacking any form of air suspension and only resplenden­t with the mode selectors, the J7’s clearance is reported to be around the 180mm mark rather than the 200mm in China.

With Off-Road mode selected, it coped well with the rocky terrain and remained comfortabl­e, despite getting stuck once as a result of its driver not applying enough throttle on a particular­ly bad section, where sharp rocks were threatenin­g to leave their marks on the front skidplate.

While nowhere near a hardcore off-roader, the commendabl­e performanc­e and revised suspension saw the J7 actually feeling better off-road than it did on-road.

Local pricing and specificat­ions for the Jaecoo J7 are expected soon.

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