Manufacturers do this to sell a car tailored to a specific market that the public wouldn’t normally associate with it. Lexus and Infiniti are prime examples. Both are luxury sub-brands of manufacturers who also cater mostly to Average Joe.
The people at Geely must have noticed how well this business model works for Toyota and Nissan, because it too has launched a so-called luxury sub-brand in South Africa.
The name chose for this interesting exercise is Emgrand, which roughly translates to ‘imperial brand.’ The first model available under this moniker is called EC7, a vehicle aimed at a discerning buyer who likes a bargain. Snigger if you must. I know I have…
I was sniggering up until the point where a representative from Geely showed us some sales figures. Around 110 000 Emgrands were sold in China in 2011 - a 50% increase from the year before. So many people can’t possibly be wrong about a car, can they?
The answer is yes and no. There’s a small part of me that wants to point and laugh at the Emgrand for five minutes and then forget it exists, but a bigger part of me simply can’t ignore the EC7’s bargain-basement price of R150 000.
For that you get a car with four wheels, a steering wheel and the same amount of interior space as a Hyundai Elantra, which costs R105 000 more.
I’m sure you’ll agree that the EC7 is looking mighty good at this point. I wish I could leave it at that and declare this car the bargain of the century, but at some point you have to look past the sticker price and at the actual car.
You see, to save the above-mentioned R105 000, some compromises had to be made. This much was evident from the very first time I laid eyes on the EC7. The placement of the camera for the reverse-park system looks like an afterthought and the gaps between the rear seats is so large that I could see straight into the interior while loading my luggage. Slamming the boot shut, I couldn’t help but notice that the letters spelling ‘Emgrand’ on the bootlid weren’t perfectly aligned with the Geely nomenclature on the other side.
Things didn’t get much better on the inside. The plastics are shiny and hard and the overall feel is rather unrefined. The steering wheel disappointed me the most. It’s flat, cheap and devoid of any character whatsoever.
But enough with the Geely bashing. The interior of the EC7 is cheap, because, let’s face it, it’s a cheap car. It somewhat makes up for it by offering a heap of features as standard. Both specification levels (Luxury and Executive) offer electric windows, central locking, climate control, radio/CD with six speakers, MP3 compatibility, rear park assist and leather seats. An entertainment unit with USB connectivity, DVD player, TV and navigation is available as an option.
The biggest feather in the EC7’s cap is the copious amount of space available to the driver and passengers. There’s a generous amount of legroom for rear passengers, even with the front seats pushed all the way back. The rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split, but the 680 litres of luggage space with the seats in place should be more than enough for most occasions.
While the space and standard specification are impressive, I’m more interested in the fact that the EC7 scored four stars for safety. And not four Chinese safety stars - four Euro NCAP stars. As a matter of interest, Geely is so far the only Chinese stand-alone manufacturer to score a full five stars for one of its cars.
The 1.8-litre petrol engine delivers 102kW and 172Nm of torque and is mated to a five-speed manual box. On the roads between Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay it felt gutsy and had no problems powering two passengers and a boot full of luggage to 120km/h. According to the Chinese test figures, the EC7 should have no problem achieving a fuel consumption figure of 7.6 litres/100km.
I think it’s fair to say the EC7 is the best Geely product I’ve experienced so far. It’s still very rough around the edges and nowhere near as refined as any Kia or Hyundai, but, quite simply, the EC7 is the biggest chunk of metal you can
buy with R150 000 (R165 000 for Executive).
The Elantra is worth the extra R105 000 in my opinion, but that’s just me comparing two cars with an imaginary budget in mind. To most people a budget is a very real thing, which is why I’m looking forward to seeing how the EC7 does in sunny South Africa.