THE entry-level vehicle market is awash with models that offer value for money while not skimping on safety and convenience features. Chinese manufacturer Geely, which in 2008 acquired Volvo cars, is intent on trying again to make inroads into the SA vehicle market after launching the LC range in 2011.
Last week I spent time behind the wheel of its LC Cross, essentially an A segment hatchback cloaked in pseudo off-road paraphernalia that includes lower black plastic bumpers with silver accents, door scuff plates, roof rails and, in this instance, a boot-mounted full-size spare wheel. Based on the LC hatch, the Cross features a new face for the range, which presents a more conventional face than the panda bear looks of its predecessor.
Moving inside, one is greeted by faux leather seats with X embroidery that are reasonably comfortable. The centre console houses a built-in CD audio system which, although a welcome feature compared to aftermarket items offered by some competitors, is flawed in that memory sticks could not fit into the crevice on the head unit due to its design.
While the rest of the cabin's switchgear is well laid out and legible, the quality of the plastics used is low rent with some finishes a little rough around the edges - literally. Also the placement of the electric mirror adjustors is obscured and requires the driver to stretch their arm a little, which is unnerving to locate and operate while on the move. While you get a cubby hole with a sliding cover, the fact that it cannot lock means you might have to place valuables in the boot when parked in a public area.
Nonetheless, the interior is relatively well thought out and spacious. Headroom particularly is generous, as is the standard equipment. The latter - in our GT specified test car - includes fog lights, alloy wheels, electric windows, remote central locking and park distance control. S afety equipment has not been left by the wayside either with ABS and EBD brakes and six airbags, including dual front, side and curtain airbags.
Powering this model is the company's 1.3l twin-cam engine that pushes out 63kW and 110Nm via a five-speed manual gearbox. It is a peppy motor that is eager to rev to its 6,000r/min ceiling, however, it is very vocal and lacks some refinement. The transmission also lacks a positive shift action, which is akin to a vehicle with faulty gear linkages. Also, the engine does not take too kindly to inclines and, even on the open road, you need to row the gearbox in order to keep momentum.
Even so, it is a vehicle that is more at home in the concrete jungle with easy manoeuvrability making negotiating tight parking spaces a cinch. It is also frugal as I managed to cover almost 300km on half of its 35l tank, which included some long bursts on the highway. Handling is fair for day to day driving, but I did find the suspension to be a little harsh on bumpy surfaces, which can be attributed to the lack of adequate suspension travel, even with the 160mm ride height.
At R104,990, the Geely LCX seems to tick all the right boxes when it comes to standard equipment and safety features. However, it does lack the refinement of some of its nearest rivals. I would look at the entry-level models of the Kia Picanto, Hyundai i10, and the Nissan Micra instead. These models have not only proven their reliability, but also offer better tactile quality and will no doubt have a better resale value. That said, the company is likely to offer more improved products, particularly as the acquisition of Volvo Cars should see a great deal of technology transfer into the Geely stable. As it stands, the Geely LCX will have to fend off a very strong and well-rounded array of competitors to prove its case.
Price: R104 990
Engine: 1 342cc twin-cam 16-valve
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Power: 63kW at 6 000r/min and 110Nm at 5 200r/min
Performance: 0-100km/h in 14.9 seconds, top speed 145km/h
Economy: 8.2l/100km, 164g/km of carbon emissions
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