Hongqi (Red Flag) made its debut in 1958, making it China's oldest manufacturer. Originally intended to provide transport for the top echelons of government, its cars were based on an old Chrysler design and produced in limited numbers.
After years of confused direction, Hongqi is now being refocused both on its roots as a government car supplier and on the private luxury sector. The H7 is the first of the range to make it to market and aims to win sales from the Audi A6L.
Based on the Toyota Crown platform, the H7 comes with a choice of three engines. The 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre V6s are Toyota units, the former only available for government purchasers, and there is also a 2.0-litre turbo engine from Hongqi's parent company, FAW.
After two months of exclusively government-based sales, the H7 was launched to private buyers in May this year. On offer is luxury egalitarianism – the car is only available in black, while both the dashboard and leather upholstery are light grey.
Externally, the front works better than the rear. Echoing the first Hongqi, the grille resembles a Chinese fan. There is also the distinctive raised red fin, symbolising the flag, on the bonnet – as has always been carried by Hongqi models. Despite these unique design cues there is a hint of Audi A6 about the look, possibly due to FAW's experience as Audi's joint venture partner in China. The rear end is boxy and lacks visual interest.
Cabin materials are not up to scratch – for example, the top of the dashboard is easily scuffed. Equipment levels in the front are reasonable and the touchscreen infotainment system is mounted high for easy use.
However, this car is more about the experience in the rear cabin, where it boasts features usually only seen in high-end saloons like the Bentley Flying Spur. Whereas the front seats only get heating, the rear pews additionally get cooling and a massage function, all controlled via the large central fold-down armrest. In addition to the rear seats being electrically adjustable, the front passenger seat can also be moved by rear occupants and there is a fridge, too. Lumbar support in the back is lacking, however.
On the road, the 2.0 turbo lacks sufficient power for such a large car. While there is a sports mode for the six-speed automatic gearbox, there are no paddle shifters. This really isn't a driver's car. Steering is well weighted but the largely straight test route prohibited a proper appraisal of the H7's handling.
We liked the H7's equipment levels, spacious rear and the design cues which speak of Hongqi's heritage. Unfortunately, the car is blighted by substandard interior quality, a poor drivetrain and a driving experience that simply isn't engaging enough.
Undoubtedly the car is a good effort, but is ultimately confused. Equipment levels in the rear are high but the cheap materials and lack of customisation let the side down. The driver and front passenger are also neglected in the package. Overall, the H7 finds itself well beaten by the Jaguar XF, Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series.