Automakers from Japan and South Korea are in the top five car exporting countries in the world. What about China? It doesn’t even make the top 20. But it’ll only be a matter of time before that changes, thanks to brands like Geely — if they keep giving us models such as this Emgrand X7 Sport.
Some might still consider Geely to be a cheap, no-frills carmaker (it is generally unheard of anywhere else in the world). It wasn’t that long ago that we held Hyundai/Kia in the same esteem. We all know how that turned out, and following a week spent with the mid-size SUV — which is absolutely loaded with tech, affords a smooth ride and has been designed by none other than Peter Horbury, the British car designer who revived Volvo in the Nineties and changed the face of Ford in the Naughties — it’s clear that this brand is going places. And by that, I don’t just mean the developing markets such as Russia, Ukraine or South America. Geely is aiming much higher and has an ambition to break into the European and US markets. Having acquired Volvo in a 2010 buyout from Ford (and getting their hands on all of that car building skill and knowledge and tech), there’s every chance they’ll achieve that target.
But you wouldn’t have thought it possible back in 2007 when the X7 was launched because during its early years, it wasn’t the best-looking SUV you’d ever seen. It didn’t have a particularly good interior, it rode on tiny wheels and looked gangly at best. However, the 2016 model is a huge improvement. This might be Geely’s only SUV in its line-up for now (two more larger models should be joining it soon) but it has plenty to offer in terms of kit, comfort and refinement. With loads of leg- and headroom in both rows, padded Nappa leather seats, a panoramic roof, sat-nav, rear-view camera, parking sensors and a Eco and Sport mode (our tester was the flagship of the range which, funnily enough, is called the Flagship…) the five-door, five-seat Emgrand X7 Sport makes for the ideal family hauler. It also has lots of advanced safety features and if you thought it couldn’t get any better, er, it can’t — there’s a slight hitch; the drivetrain can leave you feeling a little wanting.
Backed by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder and mated to a six-speed automatic it makes just 150bhp and 225Nm of torque. It certainly isn’t the peppiest and you have to really try to get the most out of the motor — and sometimes, even with your foot floored, it takes its sweet time to get up to speed. Things don’t improve that much when you push the Sport button and aside from the 7.0in TFT dash turning red and it holding on to first gear a little longer, it still fails to deliver much in the way of thrills. The Eco switch, though, is a real killjoy and totally dulls the throttle response — but with this engaged, fuel efficiency is in the 10 litres per 100km range, which isn’t too bad. Anyway, this isn’t the sort of vehicle that you’d buy if you’re looking for excitement or something that you can thrash around — not when the body rolls in the corners and the nose dives under gentle braking. But drive it sensibly and it is far more rewarding, not to mention relaxing. It holds the road well in spite of an electric steering system that is a little on the light side, but when cruising along the highway, the X7 Sport displays pretty good road manners. It is ever so smooth and the soft suspension soaks up all the road imperfections. The cabin remains quiet even at speeds of 100kph and it eats up the miles without much of a fuss. I just wish that the steering could be adjusted more for rake and reach; you have to reach up for the flat-bottom multifunctional wheel. And since I am nitpicking, the indicator and wiper stalks are tiny.
Aesthetically, the new spiralled grille gives it a reasonably distinctive look and the kink in the D-pillar is a nice touch. It has a somewhat muscular appearance due to the rising beltline and the chrome trim between the taillights brings a bit of style to proceedings. Jump in and you are met with a very smart interior indeed and it’s all thanks to the faux brushed aluminium dash and centre console, replete with Porsche Cayenne-esque grab handles. The materials used in there are also of a pretty good standard from the aforementioned Nappa leather seats to a plethora of soft-touch plastics; it’s definitley a step up for a Chinese car but the G-shaped grid pattern over the speakers on the doors look a little tacky.
On the tech front it features a total of three 12V power outlets (one is in the centre tunnel cubbyhole, the other in the rear below the air vent and the last one is hiding in the boot) and it has Apple CarPlay, making Geely the first Chinese carmaker to offer it. It even has a 8.0in infotainment system (but it’s difficult to make anything out when the sun shines on it; the angle at which it’s mounted could be better) and even though it has a reversing camera, the image is a grainy at night — no such issues in the day, and when Geely also throws in cruise control, rain-sensor wipers, a tyre pressure monitoring system, LED headlights, a Dolby surround sound system and six airbags to name but a few of the X7’s highlights, you can’t help but feel this is a good deal. And it would be — if it was about 15K less than the asking price. With so many decent — and dare I say more well-known — options available in this bustling segment for the same price tag as this one, Geely should have undercut its rivals.
It might have missed out on a trick in terms of pricing, but is it the model to put Chinese brands on the radar of more affluent buyers in more mature markets? I’d say it most certainly is.