Did you know that Changan Automobile is one of China’s largest auto manufacturers? It’s in the ‘big four’, and having been founded in 1862, it is also one of the oldest. But its recent history is what has really captured people’s attention.
Last year it shifted 2.8 million units (including joint venture vehicles and there are quite a few of those thanks to deals with Ford, Mazda, PSA Peugeot Citroën and Suzuki all helping to make up the massive number – still, it’s impressive…) and for the past eight consecutive years, its vehicles have been ranked number one for sales.
The Chinese love Changan as much as the rest of the world loves chow mein it would appear, but why? What’s the appeal? Well, we got ourselves the new CS75 SUV to find out – and, fortunately for us, all it took was a quick call to arrange a test car. But spare a thought for those in China; this model is so popular that prospective owners have a three-month waiting list. Hmm, it must be half decent then...
It’s more than that; with ample room and comfort, a very smooth ride and some useful kit, this is a really good SUV. Our Elite top trim tester, with a sharp black paint job and matching wheels, had loads of presence about it too, with the headlights and their blue rings in particular catching a lot of attention. Yes, there’s a hint of Range Rover about that front end, but then again, this is a Chinese car – their designs are a little, er, inspired.
But Changan has aspirations to be a global top-10 manufacturer within five years, and I wouldn’t put that past it. Remember the Koreans? We used to laugh at models hailing from there and never thought they’d make the big time. Well, we know how that turned out, and it’ll be a similar scenario with Chinese brands, too, if they’re as good as this CS75.
That front end, with a chunky single-slat grille that carries the company name, is aggressively styled, the profile is nicely proportioned and the rear gets a tailgate spoiler, and even a diffuser. Functional or not, it gives this SUV a sporty character. It even has LED tail lights, while the brushed aluminium trim on the front and rear bumpers and the chrome dual bonnet vents are nice touches.
Hop in and you are met with a lot of hard black plastic, though it doesn’t look particularly bad. Rap it with your knuckles and you know it’s built well – but there are some padded materials in there such as on the door cards, while the fit and finish is of a high standard. The seats are wrapped in leather and come with red stitching, which adds a little more visual flair, and they are very comfortable, while the small steering wheel fits perfectly in your hands. Front and rear visibility is excellent and since the B-pillars are quite thin, you don’t have any issues with seeing over your left or right shoulders. Headroom is exceptional and, overall, the sensation you get from the cabin is akin to a General Motors product. That’s supposed to be a compliment, but considering the effort Changan has put into the interior, and when you throw in its global expansion plans, this comparison might come across as an insult. Bigger fish to fry? Maybe.
The dash has a modern design and in its middle resides a 7.0in infotainment system, which is intuitive and clear (but sadly, it doesn’t have satnav), while the gauge cluster has a TFT screen nestled between two analogue dials. The AC does an excellent job of cooling the large five-seat cabin within seconds, and it also has an electronic parking brake (with auto-hold function), an eight-speaker audio system (with USB and AUX), a multifunctional steering, sunroof, and front and rear sensors with a pretty sharp reversing camera.
But the 1.8-litre four-cylinder lets it all down a little. The turbocharged mill, mated to a six-speed automatic, makes 175 horsepower and 230Nm of torque. That’s not much, and so you have to time your overtaking manoeuvres to perfection. Merging with faster-moving traffic can be a close call too, but on the move it’s very smooth, quiet and refined. What’s more, it has a claimed fuel-efficiency of 8.8 litres per 100km. The ride is soft and it soaks up all road imperfections with ease; the Macpherson struts in the front and multi-link independent suspension in the rear have been tuned for comfort, so when pushed in the corners, the CS75 showcases a bit of body roll. The electric power steering is very light and getting in and out of tight spots is a cinch. Overall, the SUV is rather likeable – but don’t take it off-road; for now, the model is only available with front-wheel drive. China gets a proper 4x4.
It stands out and gets on with the day-to-day stuff without a fuss. At this rate, Chinese cars in the not-too-distant future may just leave an even bigger mark on the auto industry than the Koreans have…