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Friday / 24 May 2024
HomeFeaturesFirst drive in the new Jaecoo J7 in South Africa

First drive in the new Jaecoo J7 in South Africa

Chinese automaker Jaecoo has opened its doors in South Africa with its first of three new models earmarked for a domestic introduction, the J7.

The J7 is intended to be a “rugged” luxury SUV riding on the same underpinnings as the urban-focused Tiggo 7 Pro from Jaecoo’s parent brand Chery, as well as the sporty C5 crossover from sister brand Omoda.

Starting at R549,900 the J7 packs quite the punch in its segment, but it is not all upside.

A new challenger steps into the ring

If you think the new J7 looks Range Rover-inspired, well, that’s because it is.

The Chery Group – of which Jaecoo is a part – has been producing vehicles in partnership with Jaguar-Land Rover since 2014, with the Evoque being its main forte.

It’s no wonder then that there are aesthetic similarities, but the J7 boasts enough distinct proportions to be a product of its own rather than a homage to something else, and sections like the LED light clusters were a standout design element not only for their streamlined rectangular look but also for their unique pixel-like signature.

It is striking how the J7 is smaller in person than it seems in images. Standing 4,500mm long, 1,865mm wide, and 1,680mm tall, it’s slightly bigger than many of the country’s favourite crossovers but smaller than most mid-size SUVs, and it offers a rather limited 412 litres of shallow boot space.

Inside the cabin, everything is sturdily put together, the materials and minimalist design are charming, and cabin space is generous in both rows of seating.

The Jaecoo’s button-less front fascia is one of the better executions of this kind as the massive 13.2 or 14.8-inch central display (depending on the model) runs on an intuitive operating system where most settings are a cinch to find and the on-screen buttons for functions such as climate control, media, and navigation are nice and big so you don’t struggle as much to press them on the first try as you do in other manufacturers’ digital cockpits.

The entry-level Vortex has a lot to offer, including smart door handles with keyless entry, push-button start, leather upholstery, electric front seats, dual-zone climate control, a 10.25-inch digital driver’s display, an eight-speaker Sony stereo, ambient lighting, a 50W wireless smartphone charger, a 360-degree camera system, front parking sensors, and an electric tailgate.

Jaecoo J7’s standard 360-degree camera system in action off-road and on-road

The J7 Glacier and Inferno also bring heated and ventilated seats, a heads-up display, and advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) such as intelligent high-beam assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, automatic emergency braking, door-opening warning, and child detection.

Nice as it may sound on paper, the Jaecoo’s ADAS are overly sensitive in most scenarios and unpredictable to an extent where we felt safer keeping them off completely.

Another complaint my passenger and I had was that towards the end of our trip which only extended over a couple of hours, it started to feel uncomfortable in the front seat of the J7 and we were glad to stretch our legs at the final stop.

The mechatronic-style gear lever I wasn’t the biggest fan of, either. There’s nothing particularly unbecoming of it, it just looked somewhat out of place in the clean, contemporary cabin.

There is only one drive unit in the J7 range in the shape of a 1.6-litre, turbo-petrol mill generating 145kW and 290Nm, partnering with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, which is more than enough for the size and heft of the SUV.

In the bottom range Vortex and Glacier, power is delivered to the front wheels and drive modes include Eco, Normal, and Sport; while in the Inferno, all four tyres are twisted via the brand’s All Road Drive Intelligent System which additionally brings Mud, Off-Road, Sand, and Snow settings.

The front-wheel-drive (FWD) versions are a bit lighter on fuel which was visible during our 120km launch drive; the quoted figures are 7.0l/100km for the front-wheeler and 7.8l/100km for the all-wheeler, and we were pretty near those for a large part of the journey.

Gear shifts are carried out smoothly and the body remains stable through corners and during acceleration and deceleration. The suspension leans to the harsher side, but isn’t unbearable.

During the trip we pulled over for a short trail through the Lion & Safari Park near Harties. We were in the J7 Glacier tackling what could only be described as a leisurely drive through the highveld, mimicking what most families will likely be doing on holiday with their Jaecoo.

Larger ridges and troughs were still felt but for the most part, it handled the dusty track adequately despite only pulling the front wheels and riding on large 19-inch alloys.

All things considered, the J7 is a solid first attempt from Jaecoo and is sure to steal a couple of hearts and wallets, but it has plenty of competition to be concerned about, not least those under the Chery umbrella.

Longevity is somewhat of a concern at the moment, just from a visual perspective its paint job didn’t look the highest quality in certain lights, the inner door handles felt spongy, and it remains to be seen how far off-road the suspension and axles can be pushed.

Unless you are dead set on an all-wheel-drive ride, the pick of the litter seems to be the introductory J7 Vortex with none of the ultra-nervous ADAS.

Jaecoo in South Africa

Jaecoo has big plans for expanding its South African footprint over the next few years.

The brand currently has 40 dedicated dealerships around the country covering major metropolitan areas and cities all backed by the Chery Group’s parts warehouse and customer-care office.

Furthermore, it said it will elevate the appearance of its dealerships with amongst others, modern Jaecoo-specific styling, ambient LED lighting elements, and a robot dog that can do tricks to draw interested shoppers into the doors.

Jaecoo is additionally working on producing a range of accessories for the J7 in partnership with brands like Thule, which will be available directly from these dealers.

Later in 2024, the automaker will bolster its local product catalogue with the J7 plug-in hybrid and the flagship J8, and one of the company executives also let it slip that the iCar 03, a quirky 4×4 from another Chery sub-brand, could be coming to South African showrooms with Jaecoo badging on its nose sooner rather than later.


Jaecoo J7 Inferno


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