We jet off and judge for our­selves

De­spite a pre­dicted sales slow­down China re­mains the world’s largest new car mar­ket, so the in­au­gu­ral ‘Best Car For China’ con­test should be the start of some­thing big. Mark Tis­shaw is your judge

Autocar - - CONTENTS -

It’s soon ap­par­ent that this will be a case of find­ing out which VW is best

The Guang­dong In­ter­na­tional Cir­cuit is a flat, wide race track which has seen bet­ter days, with weeds in the gravel traps and brand new tower blocks and build­ing sites loom­ing omi­nously around it as the con­struc­tion in­dus­try closes in on its valu­able real es­tate.

So it isn’t the ideal venue at which to compare 23 dif­fer­ent Chi­nese sa­loons, SUVS and MPVS, not one of which has even a hint of sport­ing in­tent.

Yet Chi­nese driving li­censes are a tricky thing to come by, so it was to the cir­cuit we went in or­der to help judge the first run­ning of a new Chi­nese ‘car of the year’ com­pe­ti­tion, or Best Car For China, to give it its full and proper name.

Any­way, who needs roads when you have cones on the main straight for a slalom, var­i­ous gates to drive through, tem­po­rary speed humps be­tween some of the corners, an emer­gency stop zone and still the op­por­tu­nity to drive it like you stole it?

I jest, but this is se­ri­ous busi­ness. China is the world’s largest car mar­ket (24.7 mil­lion sold last year, al­though this year likely to fall marginally for the first time in a gen­er­a­tion as the trade war with the US bites), so as­sem­bled here are most of the big­gest sell­ers in the most im­por­tant seg­ments.

Sales num­bers are the chief cri­te­ria for en­try among this line-up. Each of China’s top-10 best­selling sa­loons be­tween Jan­uary and Au­gust this year were among them, a re­mark­able six of which are Volk­swa­gens, in­clud­ing the best-sell­ing Lavida, which shifted 284,655 units.

The four top-sell­ing MPVS are along too, in­clud­ing China’s big­gest-sell­ing ve­hi­cle in any class, the glo­ri­ously odd­ball Wul­ing Hong­guang (296,663 sales).

The five top SUVS, in­clud­ing the all-con­quer­ing Haval H6, are present and cor­rect, as are four of the best-sell­ing elec­tric ve­hi­cles. It’s not a sur­prise that China is the world’s big­gest mar­ket for EVS, but it might raise eye­brows to learn that 200-mile-plus ranges are the norm across many of the big play­ers.

Us judges are given a score sheet by the or­gan­is­ers, Chi­nese me­dia giant In­ter­net Info Agency. We can award a to­tal of up to 105 points to each car. Some things are weighted more than oth­ers – seat com­fort gets eight points to the five of ac­cel­er­a­tion – but the logic be­hind that is never prop­erly ex­plained. But af­ter scor­ing a few cars, it all adds up to the kind of fig­ure you would give out of 100 us­ing any other sys­tem.

To the sa­loons first, then, and a gath­er­ing that feels more like an Avis car park than a pres­ti­gious au­to­mo­tive con­test given the level of visual hum­drum­ness present. ‘Hire car’ is a fairly apt de­scrip­tion for the Nis­san Syl­phy and Toy­ota Corolla (not the new one com­ing here next year). Both feel ro­bust but are de­void of any spark or flair and un­able to shake the feel­ing of be­ing prod­ucts of com­mit­tees – and ones as­sem­bled well over a decade a go at that.

Not that the pun­ters seem to care. The Nis­san and Toy­ota were China’s sec­ond and third most pop­u­lar sa­loons in the first eight months of this year, with more than half a mil­lion sold be­tween them. One theme that quickly emerges is the sheer scale of the fig­ures you en­counter when deal­ing with China’s car sales.

The true home-grown sa­loon in this com­pany, the Geely Em­grand, has a coarse driv­e­train and poor body con­trol, while the China-only Buick Ex­celle is based on the pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion Opel As­tra and of­fers a driving ex­pe­ri­ence to match.

What is soon ap­par­ent is that this will be a case of find­ing out which VW sa­loon is best. There are duds even here, though, with the VWS all be­ing quite dif­fer­ent ages and based on dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tec­tures from dif­fer­ent eras.

At one ex­treme are the San­tana and Jetta, which are vy­ing for the ‘worst to drive’ ti­tle. Both are based on a low-rent de­vel­op­ment of the VW Group’s old PQ25 plat­form and are sim­i­lar to the Skoda Rapid and Seat Toledo sold in Europe.

The San­tana is par­tic­u­larly crass, its recipe flavoured with the un­ap­peal­ing com­bi­na­tion of slow-wit­ted au­to­matic gear­box, coarse en­gine and dead brake pedal, while your hands ca­ress a steer­ing wheel from a late 1990s Skoda Fabia.

Why two such sim­i­lar cars, though? VW ac­tu­ally sells mod­els un­der two dif­fer­ent joint ven­ture com­pa­nies in China: FAW-VW and SAIC-VW. Each is roughly the same size, sell­ing in dif­fer­ent

Tis­shaw (cen­tre) was part of an in­ter­na­tional panel of judges

Bao­jun 510 SUV is bland, but what do you ex­pect for £6k?

Bao­jun 730 SUV of­fers seven seats from just £11,500

Driving cars such as th­ese on a cir­cuit is a bit like play­ing the early stages of an old Gran Turismo video game, where you’d buy a cheap car to­tally un­suited to the task but with the in­ten­tion of soup­ing it up.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.