A seven-seat family SUV that could be part of an export drive to the UK by Chinese company Changan, the CS95 is the bigger sister to the crossover-sized CS55.
Technically, the CS95 and CS55 are related only by being made by the same company – they use different chassis platforms, despite being launched within 12 months of each other.
Getting under the Changan CS95’s skin
The roomy CS95 went on sale in China in late 2016, based on an all-new monocoque platform designed and developed in-house by a team featuring European engineering talent based at Changan’s engineering centres in Chongqing, central China.
There’s a more direct British link – the all-new Blue Core 233bhp 2.0-litre turbo direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine that powers the CS95 was designed and developed in Birmingham at Changan’s UK engineering centre. And a styling studio in Italy’s car design capital, Turin, helped create the CS95’s wholesome, Land Rover-influenced styling.
The transmission on our test car was a six-speed Aisin Warner automatic, driving all four wheels via the transversely mounted four-pot petrol.
Suspension is front struts and a rear twist beam for front-drive variants and a multi-link rear for all-wheel drive – the latter built around BorgWarner components to shift drive rearwards via an in-line driveshaft.
Steering is electrically assisted and a suite of electronic safety aids is either standard or on the options list. Automatic emergency braking, for example, is available as part of the intelligent cruise control package on the top-spec model being tested here – an indication that Chinese own-brand cars are catching up with the West.
In the home market, it starts from £20,780 – that’s Nissan Qashqai money – and the top-spec all-wheel-drive CS95 extends to just £28k, although UK pricing is a long way from being finalised.
Pleasing Chinese interior design
Chinese brands are also making progress in interior design quality in leaps and bounds. There are hard plastics and a few inelegant design details, but the overall ambience inside the CS95 is attractive.
Highlights include a polished chrome trim, robust switchgear and a crystal-clear infotainment system, which can be displayed in English.
It fits the bill as a comfy family hauler, with a well-planted cruise, good cabin refinement and a fair balance of body control and ride quality.
At its best, the CS95 is a motorway hauler that moves its occupants in comfort and keeps noise levels supressed, bar wind noise from the side mirrors.
A pair of hefty front and rear subframes no doubt help isolate noise paths from the front and rear suspension and, in China’s choking city traffic, the CS95 rides quietly.
Unleashing the Changan CS95 on the road
Changan’s engineers say they have tried hard to ensure braking and transmission refinement in stop/start traffic, and they have succeeded – the CS95 has easily modulated brakes, making smooth stops in traffic easy to achieve.
On Changan’s own smoothly surfaced handling test track, the CS95 is also surprisingly agile and can be hustled through corners with reasonable speed, albeit accompanied by a fair degree of body roll, despite front and rear anti-roll bars.
Changan’s British chassis engineers accept that cornering could be better-controlled by thicker anti-roll bars, but the deterioration in ride wouldn’t fit the CS95’s role as a comfortable family cruiser. China’s roads are very mixed in surface quality and frequently vary between undulations and potholes that demand rugged and compliant suspension.
The British-designed 2.0-litre turbo delivers a smooth and cultured accelerative push, but the choice of gear ratios in the Aisin Warner six-speeder doesn’t match the engine as well as it could.
We had no chance to measure fuel economy and official figures were not provided, but we were told a combined figure of 30mpg was typical.
Acceleration off the line is strangely muted, the calibration seemingly holding back the power delivery until the speed moves through the 30mph mark. And the CS95 is a hefty lump to get up to speed, loading the scales to a two-tonne kerb weight.
A Discovery Sport, for example, is featherweight in comparison, weighing around 200kg lighter.
The chance may not come for a number of years yet, as Changan is eyeing up the UK market but won’t commit to a launch date. The company is most likely to wait until the next-generation model to further hone engineering and design to Western tastes.
If a CS95 went on sale in the UK now, it would offer a competitive alternative to Korean and European rivals, albeit with its appeal focused on comfort and refinement rather than dynamic prowess.
Fuel economy would be its Achilles heel, with the claimed 30mpg from its petrol engine falling a long way short of the 40-50mpg that UK owners would expect from a diesel engine. Changan has no plans to develop a diesel, although there are new plug-in hybrid powertrains in development.
UK buyers would also need an incentive to switch to an unknown Chinese brand, as they are likely to follow the time-honoured formula of value for money and lots of metal for the money.
Given that the CS95 starts at around £20k in the home market, rising to £28k, and that Autocar’s current favourite family SUV, the Land Rover Discovery Sport, starts at £28k and rises to £50k, the possibility for the Chinese to shake up the value-for-money equation is clearly evident.
A closer rival on price in the £22k-36k range, the seven-seat Skoda Kodiaq is a smaller, lighter car that does pretty much what a family hauler with 5+2 seat configuration should.