Geely's sub-brand Lynk & Co's first attempt at an SUV destined for the European market shows plenty of promise, but remains rough around the edges
  • First Drive

    Lynk&Co 01 prototype review

    Geely's sub-brand Lynk & Co's first attempt at an SUV destined for the European market shows plenty of promise, but remains rough around the edges
29 November 2017

What is it?

The wait for a Chinese-built car that can cut it against international competition has been a long one, with many false dawns along the way (the Borgward BX7 being a recent example.) On the basis of a very limited test drive, it’s too early to give a definitive verdict on the new Lynk&Co 01, but the early signs are certainly promising.

Behind the silly name, the 01 is a mid-sized crossover based on some impressively solid engineering and the first product from Geely’s newly established Lynk&Co sub-brand. Geely’s ownership of Volvo provides the oily bits, with the 01 sitting on the same Compact Modular Architecture that underpins the new Volvo XC40 and set to be powered by Chinese-built versions of Volvo’s Drive-E engine family.

The 01 has just launched in China with two turbocharged petrol motors, a 148hp 1.5-litre three-cylinder and a 188hp 2.0-litre four-pot, but other powerplants are going to be added to the mix quickly, with the plan being to launch in Europe with the three-cylinder hybrid engine that Volvo told us about last year and a pure electric version following. As such, it’s profoundly unradical – but it also has the advantage of using a range of proven powerplants that have been developed for a known and well respected brand. Lynk boasts that this is a Chinese-built car that has been engineered in Europe. 

The design tries harder from the front than other angles and certainly won’t be all tastes – apparently the Chinese appreciate a car that makes a grand entrance. The elongated light units mounted on the top of the front wings give the 01 hints of the Nissan Juke, or a more angular take on the Porsche Macan, although the actual headlights are mounted lower. From side and rear it looks handsome if slightly generic; but then, if you launch an all-new brand no one knows what it is supposed to look like. At 4512mm long it’s pretty much exactly on the segment average, and just 87mm longer than its XC40 cousin. The wheelbases of the two cars are similar, with the 01’s 2735mm a 33mm stretch over the Volvo. The shared platform and Volvo’s safety expertise also means that Lynk’s engineering team are confident the 01 will perform extremely well in all major comparative crash tests.

Despite having only two engines from launch, Geely has taken the unusual decision to launch the 01 in China with three different gearboxes: a basic six-speed manual and two autos – a six-speed torque converter box and a more advanced seven-speed twin-clutch version. The conventional slusher isn’t intended to be part of the mix for long and will only be available with front-wheel drive, so it won't come to Europe. The twin-clutch we drove comes with all-wheel drive through a part-time Haldex-style rear axle. The hybrid that will eventually make it to Europe will use this gearbox, with the innovative feature of an electric motor powering one of its input shafts and the internal combustion engine turning the other. Lynk execs also confirm there won’t be a diesel version.

What's it like?

Although Lynk produces cars in China, it wants to be seen as a global brand and is keen to emphasise that design and engineering is thoroughly European. As boss Alain Visser puts it “we’re as Chinese as Volvo is”, with the brand wanting to be compared to established players. That’s a high bar to jump. 

Our drive took place at Geely’s privately owned Ningbo circuit, which is about four hours from Shanghai. While most manufacturers’ proving grounds are bleak and desolate places, Geely’s is a proper 2.6-mile long racetrack that has been built to FIA standards and which regularly hosts motorsport. It is not, however, the most appropriate place to experience an SUV for the first time.

No matter, the 01 coped well with the unlikely challenge. The cabin impresses on initial acquaintance, but starts to feel less upmarket after you’ve explored it thoroughly. Design is good with lots of emphasis on technology, including what will be a standard 10.2-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard as well as a full digital instrument display. Materials look expensive, but many turn out to be considerably more humble when inspected. The dashboard top looks like stitched leather but is actually a moulding; most of the interior’s shinier finishes were plastic rather than real metal. Space is reasonable in the front, although the bulbous contours of the dashboard cut down on knee room, and the back feels roomier than the segment norm. 

We drove the 2.0-litre engine in both front-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations. The motor is effectively in the same tune as Volvo’s ‘T4’ models, and produces strong torque at low revs, although with a slightly over-keen throttle creating some surging sensation. It revs, too – not as willingly as Volkswagen’s EA888 2.0-litre, but without the top-end tightness that affects cars such as the Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.0T. The engine is vocal when worked hard, but rarely needs to be pressed. Refinement seems to be good at cruising speeds.

The automatic gearbox of the front-drive version felt dull-witted when asked to deal with the track; it lacks steering wheel paddles to manually shift gears and also seems to kick down too aggressively when being driven gently. There’s also an entirely unsurprising amount of understeer in slower corners, although the nose tightens without drama on a lifted throttle. Steering is direct and accurate, although lacks sensation (the all-wheel-drive version has switchable modes, with the punchier Dynamic adding weight but no more feel).

The AWD 01 is no faster, but certainly feels more dynamically capable, although is still some way outside its comfort zone being fanged around a circuit. Grip is respectable and traction is much better than the front-driver, but soft suspension settings result in steep roll angles even during attempts to synthesise a more real-world pace. The track surface offered no poor surfaces to assess ride quality, and Lynk says that European versions will also have firmer springs as standard. Brakes were also grumbling and vibrating after a couple of laps. We suspect it will cope considerably better with the real world.

Should I buy one?

The big story here isn’t really the car itself, rather the way Lynk plans to bring it to market. It will be possible to buy directly, but most volume will be through what is being described as a subscription model. It's basically an all-inclusive package that will feature a much shorter commitment than a regular lease; probably a month-by-month contract that’s likened to Spotify or Netflix, and which will also include the possibility of sharing other owners’ cars when they are not using them (when, for example, flying into a city). Servicing will be carried out by Volvo dealerships, but Lynk is not planning to use a conventional retail model in either Europe or the US, instead aiming for direct sales like Tesla. 

In China the range is priced from the equivalent of £18,200 at current exchange rates, but European prices will be higher. Sales start on the Continent in the second half of 2019 with right-hand drive following a few months behind. Realistically it is likely to be 2020 before the 01 reaches the UK, meaning it will launch alongside the 02 crossover and 03 saloon which will share the same architecture. 

Choice will be limited with no options beyond picking different specifications and a very limited choice of colours. Four trim levels are available in China – Clear, Hyper, Inter and Louder, practically a full set of Spice Girls – with Lynk planning to hold stock of each variant so it will be possible to get into cars with no waiting. 

With 70 per cent of volume reckoned to be on the subscription model, list price isn’t going to be the most important metric here. Instead, the focus will be on the monthly cost, which we obviously don’t have yet. Visser promises that pricing will be ultra-competitive, which it will need to be if the 01 and the wider Lynk brand are to find a place in Europe, but presuming that’s the case then this could be China’s breakthrough model.

Lynk&Co 01 2.0 AWD

Where Ningbo, China On sale TBC Price TBC Engine 4 cyls, 1969cc, turbocharged petrol Power 187bhp at 5500rpm Torque 258lb ft at 1500rpm Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic Kerbweight 1805kg Top speed 132mph 0-60mph 7.5sec Fuel economy TBC CO2 rating TBC

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Comments
38

29 November 2017

Like this a lot, expensive XC40 underpinning and the new 1.5 engine that smaller Volvo’s have needed and will be getting some time soon, looks good too!

The front even looks like one of the better Porsche’s. Looks like China is the new Japan/Korea

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

29 November 2017

that is just insult to estetics! 

4 December 2017

OMG your comment is an insult to spelling !

XXXX just went POP.

29 November 2017

Hmm by 2020 this will be old-hat, and even now doesn't look too far away from a Kia Sportage. 

8 February 2018

I like all posts from your blog. I got lots of mew infromations from here. Lynk show off this is a Chinese-manufactured auto that has been designed in Europe. Lynk executives likewise affirm there won't be a diesel adaptation. Thank you for sharing

 

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