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Dual-motor SUV takes aim at Mercedes and BMW for the Chinese market, ahead of a European arrival

What is it?

Unless you’re familiar with the rapidly growing Chinese EV market the chances are you’ve never heard of Voyah. Yet, despite being formed less than two years ago, the luxury electrified subsidiary of Dongfeng Motors has already announced its entry into Europe later this year, starting with Norway.

The brand’s first model, a mid-sized SUV called FREE, will spearhead their entry and aims to set the tone for a range that will expand to include a full-size MPV and a saloon in the coming years. Aimed squarely at electrified domestic rivals the Li Auto ONE and the Europe-bound NIO ES6, Voyah is also confidently taking aim at Germany’s finest, such as the Mercedes-Benz GLC and BMW X3.

In design terms, the FREE is fairly conventional due to the requirement for a grille in the range-extender model, but it has immediate presence, riding high on 20-inch turbine-style alloys and featuring a reverse angle C-pillar said to be reminiscent of yachts.

If it looks big for this class that’s because it is, measuring a full 24cm longer than a GLC with an 8.5cm longer wheelbase. This manifests itself in the interior space which is very roomy, particularly for passengers in the rear.

If the exterior is conventional, the interior is anything but. Specified in cream and blue trim, another nod to that nautical theme, the FREE feels like a luxurious place to be. The dashboard in particular is something to behold with three 12.3-inch screens spanning the width of the cabin in a unit that dramatically lifts out the dash a couple of inches on entry. It can be lowered again at the touch of a button, or automatically in Sport mode.

The centre and right screens are where you’ll find your usual connectivity plus, in the Chinese version at least, music and video streaming too. Even karaoke and ‘party-mode’ feature, alongside Huawei HiCar compatibility for screen mirroring.

Heated, ventilated, and massaging front seats are standard on all but the most basic electric option, which loses the massage option, but there’s no such option for rear passengers. In addition, a full-length electronically-dimmable sunroof, 10-speaker high-end DYNAudio sound system, night vision mode, and 110mm air suspension are all standard on the range-topping Exclusive Deluxe trim. No wonder 97% of Chinese customers have opted for the higher of the two trim levels.

Across the cabin you’ll find acres of OEKO-TEX certified imitation leather, the same utilised in Volvos, which can also be specified in black and blue or cream and brown. It’s soft, much like the seats which are clearly geared for comfort and enhances the premium feel.

Aluminium around the centre console adds a bit of shine, and a wireless charging slot and touchpad for the multimedia system also feature. Thankfully Voyah has opted to retain physical switches for the climate control, although this can also be operated via digital means.

Key to the brand’s success in Europe will be Voyah’s focus on electrified drivetrains. The FREE is available as a full battery electric vehicle or a range-extender EV. In the REV, which we drove, a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine charges a 33kW battery. Total range here is 534 miles on the NEDC cycle, 87 of which are pure electric. By comparison, the full EV can travel around 300 miles, dependent on if you specify single or double motors.

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What's it like?

The cabin is well insulated from both road and engine noise, in part due to double-glazed windows inthe front, which help make the engine almost indiscernible when in operation.

On the road, the FREE is a comfortable cruiser with the air suspension erasing all but the harshest of road surfaces. Our test car features twin 255kWh motors that produce 675bhp and 1040Nm of torque, propelling the FREE to 62mph in just 4.5 seconds (4.7 in the battery version) and providingthat signature, linear shove in the derriere that is the staple of electrified vehicles.

Steering is incredibly light but not without feel, making the FREE feel much lighter on its feet than you might expect. In Sport mode, the air suspension hunkers down to the lowest setting and the steering tightens up nicely, while Adventure mode provides extra ground clearance for difficult terrain.

While there’s no claim of full-self driving here, the FREE does have adaptive cruise-control and automatic lane centring which make highway driving painless. It’s also the top scoring Chinese car ever in the China NCAP tests, coming only behind the BMW iX3 in the overall standings.

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Should I buy one?

All in all, the FREE makes a compelling case for itself, particularly for £40,000. Although it will likely be priced higher in Europe, the combination of a mightily impressive spec list, luxurious cabin ambience, and a choice of EV powertrains mean the FREE deserves serious consideration if you’re in the market for a luxury mid-size SUV, but you’ll have to wait.

Mark Rainford

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Jens Mauer 25 April 2022

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Bimfan 21 April 2022

All depends on price of course, but it certainly seems competitive with the German brands on everything else that matters. They can call it what they want for me if it ticks all the boxes. 

Chinese brands are certainly learning quickly and making giant strides where European brands are taking tiny steps.

The Apprentice 21 April 2022
What a car! Range extender, 5% benefit in kind, air suspension..yes please.

Does seem odd its not quicker, perhaps not a Chinese priority or not got launch control to get power down?