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SUV market disrupter — the splendid, all new Jaecoo J7 lands on SA soil

SUV market disrupter — the splendid, all new Jaecoo J7 lands on SA soil
The Jaecoo J7 has just been launched in SA. (Photo: Jaecoo)

In a downward spiralling market, a new well-priced medium-sized Chinese SUV has arrived to give competitors a serious run for their money.

One of the reasons I love being a motoring journalist as my side hustle is that I get to go on road trips. When I get into a car and embark on an unknown, scenic route, all the craziness from the outside world dies down. I become super present. Once I switch on the ignition, it’s just me and the steering wheel. Cars don’t generally talk back unless you ask them to.

Last week, I’d been having a particularly challenging time when I arrived in Joburg to test drive the all-new Jaecoo J7, the high-end sub-brand of the Chinese manufacturer, Chery. I was frazzled and scattered, with far too much inner chatter racing through my head. But once I set off on the launch route out of Jozi towards Muldersdrift, everything changed. I suddenly found myself hyper-focused on the premium SUV that might just be the car to finally convince the SA public that Chinese cars are not only here to stay but also highly desirable.

Because of its incredibly aggressive pricing, it might not be that hard a task for Jaecoo to seduce cash-strapped customers to choose the J7 over far pricier German and Japanese counterparts, despite it being launched in the midst of an economic depression. March’s National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) numbers showed its eighth consecutive month of decline, making it clear that customers are cash-strapped when it comes to buying new wheels.

Jaecoo J7

The J7’s slatted grille and stacked headlights. (Photo: Jaecoo)

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cash-strapped? You might have to sell your car — here’s how to get the best price

The luxury segment housing brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes has more than halved in the last decade. Because of attractive pricing and continuously improving products, Chinese brands like Chery and GWM have on the other hand been showing unprecedented growth in a downward spiralling market.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Chery on top: Chinese manufacturer posts record 2023 sales in South Africa

I remember the days well when I got into my first GWM (Great Wall Motor) car in 2009 — a tiny, ugly, little hatch. The idea that there would ever be an uptake of these inferior-quality cars was laughable. But a lot has changed in the last three or four years. A slew of Cherys and Havals now grace our roads and said Chinese brands are regularly seen listed in the Top Ten Sellers in SA.

The Jaecoo J7 made its global debut at a glittering reveal at Auto Shanghai in 2023. The “Jae” stands for “jaeger” the German word for “hunter” and “coo” stands for “cool” without the “l”. It’s been positioned by “mother” brand Chery as an “urban off-roader”. Jaecoo has been particularly strategic in choosing top people to work on the brand. The chief engineer is Peter John Matkin, who gleaned vast experience from his time at Jaguar Land Rover. Jaecoo’s chief designer is Chris Rhoades, who Chery plucked from Mercedes-Benz after he had spent three decades with the premium German brand.

South Africa is the first country in the world to receive right-hand drive units. Looks-wise the J7 is a proper head-turner with a rear that evokes the Range Rover Evoque and a front that is hard to ignore with its huge slatted front grille and checker-styled stacked headlights. It’s about the size of the Toyota RAV4 which is one of its competitors. (Others include the likes of the VW Tiguan, the Hyundai Tucson, the Subaru Forrester and Nissan X-Trail.)

Jaecoo J7

The refined and minimalistic cabin of the J7. (Photo: Jaecoo)

Inside, it’s minimalistic with almost no buttons or knobs and all tech and drive systems are operated from either a 13.2inch (Vortex) or 14.8-inch touchscreen.

Under the bonnet, power comes via a 1.6l four-cylinder turbocharged engine, paired to a seven-speed automatic gearbox. It’s good for a respectable 145 kWs of power and 290 Nm of torque. There are three models in the line-up: the entry-level Vortex, the Glacier and the top of the range Inferno which has all-wheel drive.

The entry Vortex has a pretty extensive list of standard features, including a wireless charging pad, 360-degree panoramic camera system, seven airbags and wireless Android Auto/CarPlay. There’s also an “All Road Drive Intelligent System” in the top-of-the-range Inferno which offers seven drive modes including Sand, Mud, Gravel and Snow.

Handling

When it gets to the drive, the power felt pretty adequate during our Gauteng test launch — after all, it’s not a racer but a sensible family-sized SUV. I was impressed by its road holding and lack of noise on tar, as well as its ability to navigate gravel, mud and stony surfaces. There’s ground clearance of 200mm and the J7’s wading depth is 600 mm. I did about 150 kms overall and noted fuel returns were about 8.5 L/100kms.

My biggest bugbear was some overly enthusiastic safety systems which included being constantly reminded that I was “distracted” even when all I was doing was looking at the central screen to follow navigation via my Android Auto-enabled Google maps. (I promise I was not checking WhatsApps on the sly.) Later, I was told by a representative from Jaecoo that an imminent software update should sort this out. I also found the boot space somewhat small compared to its rivals.

The J7’s extremely competitive pricing however obliterates these irritations. Even the mid-range Glacier with its lekker heated and ventilated seats (my pick of the trio) is more than R200,000 cheaper than some of its competitors.

Once I got out of the car and stepped back into reality, I was once again back in High Stress City. I can’t wait for the next motoring launch to get some peace and quiet.

Pricing

J7 1.6T Vortex                    R549,900

J7 1.6T Glacier                   R599,900

J7 1.6T Inferno AWD        R679,900 DM

 

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • It seems like I have to visit one of the dealership to figure out how many seats this car has. An unfortunate ommission in this review or do I have t deduce this from the competitors listed?

  • bigbad jon says:

    After 10 years with a GWM H5 I’ll never, ever touch a chinese ICE vehicle again. Apart from the crappy clutch (3x replaced) of this dirty diesel communication is pathetic, you can’t talk to anyone in management. But their EVs are apparently ok..

  • John Patson says:

    Outside styling looks more like a Volvo (owned by Chery) than a Land Rover — although all these SUVs merge into each other.
    You can still get Volvos with light cabins with lots of wood finish, though, instead of the grey and black loved by Germans and Chinese carmakers.
    They were meant to have launched this model in Europe in “early” 2024, promising all wheel drive on all models but no sign of it yet. Guessing they find petrol only a disadvantage over there.

  • So with regards to this new Chinese suv j7 unfortunately not to actually downgrade South Africa we live in a country that is full of crime that cannot be avoided it would have been so nice having this little computer tablet system that is detachable from the car because once you leave it and you go shopping or somewhere where your car will be outside your car windows will be smashed out for that little car computer so i hope that my comment will help each country importing vehicles to please check out the crime rate stats and then manufacture a vehicle not also for its safety but also for security…

  • Bob Dubery says:

    These reviews are not that helpful actually. Any car can be great for a couple of days. Live with it for 6 months and find out how the reliability is, how long before the finishes start showing signs of wear, what the support is like.

    I own a Hyundai. I once had a breakdown in Ficksburg. Do you know how much Hyundai support there is in Ficksburg? None. The car had to be towed to the BMW dealer in Bethlehem who have manuals but not a lot of spares. If you live in Jo’burg or in Cape Town you can get the thing fixed if it breaks down, but any point in between you might have problems. Life is not like this if you drive a Toyota.

    Before the Hyundai I had a Peugeot. That wasn’t much better from a servicing point of view. On a trip to Natal the car went into “emergency mode” and I had to drive from Shelley Beach to Pinetown (at the restricted speed and with no indicators) to get this looked at. They fiddled round with the electronics and the right indicator started working, the “emergency” warning went off, and now the sound system would only play ONE CD (“House Full” by Fairport Convention in case you were wondering. This is the CD that was in the player when the car went into emergency mode.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      It is true that what really makes a car is how well it is serviced – I have had more than enough experience of that in my life. If a car is well-serviced, it can easily do 300000 – 400000 kilometers without becoming unreliable. And like you, I am keenly looking at any signs of how reliable the Chinese is at servicing, and ESPECIALLY if they are here to stay, or are they going to do what Lefai and Chana did – selling the cars and then quietly withdrawing from the country and leaving the owners with the problems. But apart from that, it is clear that the Chinese have caught up with the Europeans & USA on the side of technical sophistication. And at this price – it really is worth considering. Especially that Inferno, because it has decent ground clearance, which most of the 4×4’s from the other countries don’t have any more.

  • Tim Price says:

    Not sure how a massive tablet like screen can be called “minimalist” and its a lot like the interior of a Tesla from that point of view. Sounds as if you’ll be guinea pigging a poorly developed software system and who knows what else. I prefer cars where the software runs the engine and thats all. Add a phone and holder if you need a screen for navigation.

  • Marc Ve says:

    For that price you could buy a good second hand Fortuner that would still reliably outlive the Jaecoo in terms of reliable mileage plus be worth more when you sold it.

  • John Hepton says:

    When beetles and Kombis were popular, every small town had a mechanic who knew Volks wagen air cooled engines and kept adequate stock of parts to keep you going. My eerste Afrikaan was “Elke dorpie het ‘n man gehad wat Volkswagen geken het” (1976)

    • Chris Brand says:

      John, Well said. Also agree that one cannot properly evaluate any new vehicle by just driving a couple of 100 KM’s for a day or 2. You need to at least do a proper couple of 10,000 Km’s init and have a service or 2 done on it to really compare with existing trustworthy alternatives. As the saying goes : “Money does not solve all problems, least are support/spares availability/reliability/service availability/idiocy/theft resilience/etc.” Poor evaluation article, not even enough info or photos. ‘Nuff said.

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