What is it?
Geely’s purchase of Volvo means the company is no longer some obscure Chinese car manufacturer, but a potential player in the European car market. And now the company, one of China’s largest privately owned producers, has set its sights on Britain.
MG Motor may be taking some time to find its feet in the UK, but Geely isn’t put off. The Chinese maker’s cars will be distributed and sold by Geely Auto UK – a subsidiary of Manganese Bronze Holdings Ltd, which also owns taxi specialist LTI – and will have its headquarters in Coventry. The firm is currently establishing a 40-strong dealership network.
We tested what will be Geely’s first offering, the Emgrand EC7, in its native Shanghai. Available as both a family-sized saloon and hatchback, the car will be priced from roughly £10,000 as of late 2012. So while the design hardly stands out, the value proposition should.
What’s it like?
Externally at least, this unassuming model, which spans Europe’s established Golf and Mondeo segments, seems well enough put together. Panel fit is good and doors all close tightly.
Typically, the interior lets the package down. Hard plastics dominate the grey and tan dashboard. The plastics of the air vents are particularly flimsy and the lid for the central console storage compartment wobbles precariously. Europe’s automotive fit-and-finish departments certainly don’t have anything to fear from this car.
On the base GS version, equipment includes air conditioning, electric windows and a CD player. Higher-end versions get features such as an electric sunroof, electrically adjustable leather seats, a DVD player and steering wheel mounted audio controls.
The EC7’s seats are quite hard. In the rear legroom is ample, but taller adults will have headroom issues. The middle-sitting second-row passenger has one of the strangest three point seatbelts we’ve seen, involving two buckling points. Boot capacity is generous though, at 680-litres.
The EC7 will be offered with a choice of 1.5- or 1.8-litre petrol engines, with no word of a diesel. The 1.8 will have an option of a six speed automatic gearbox. Geely Auto UK expects to follow the car with another new model every year until 2017.
On paper, Geely’s 1.8-litre engine looks underpowered, but in city driving conditions it seems game and potent enough. By European standards it’s thirsty for a 1.8, though; quite unrefined, too. Steering is very light and as is typical of a Chinese car, the ride is soft.
The straight inner city roads of our Shanghai test made it difficult to assess handling, but the EC7 at least remained composed on poor surfaces. The five-speed manual, which will, in the not-too-distant future, be replaced with a six-speed unit, gave accurate changes but had a clunky feel to it.
Geely is keen not to repeat the safety fiasco of other Chinese brands in Europe. It has already secured a not-to-be-sniffed-at four star EuroNCAP crash safety rating for the EC7, and higher trim levels come with six airbags as standard.
Should I buy one?
Whilst not a bad first attempt, the EC7 isn’t going to threaten Europe’s class-leading family cars – but from £9995 for a full-sized family car, you wouldn’t expect it to.
Price will clearly be crucial to the Emgrand’s success. When launched in the UK, the car may come with stop start technology, to help with the fuel consumption. Its financial appeal will still need to be totally unmatched in order for the car to make sense. But all the signs are that it may just be exactly that.
Geely Emgrand EC7 1.8 GS
Price: £12,000 (est); 0-62mph: 12.0sec; Top speed: 115mph; Economy: 43.4mpg; CO2: 181g/km; Kerb weight: 1280kg; Engine type: 4 cyls, 1792cc, petrol; Installation: Front, transverse, front wheel drive; Power: 137bhp at 6000rpm; Torque: 127lb ft at 4200rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual