Has the Chinese finally arrived in America?
They have. However, they have been here all along.
Volvo introduced the long-wheelbase S60 from their plant in China several years ago. Keep in mind that Volvo is a division of a Chinese company called Geely. Buick had sold Chinese-made Envisions on our shores for a few years, thanks to their manufacturing base with their Chinese partner SAIC.
Other Chinese automakers had their eyes on our market for years. Now, a third company will now enter our market with a lineup of SUVs that should be more aligned with the tastes of our consumer.
The brand is called Vantas. The manufacturer is Chery.
There is a twist to this story. The Vantas lineup will be assembled stateside. To do so, Chery tapped a California company, HAAH, to facilitate the assembly of their Exeed SUV lineup in this country for our market.
I had the good fortune of getting a taste of what is to come in a year-and-half from now. From what I’ve seen – and driven – we may be in for something that would be a good fit for our market from Chery and HAAH.
The vehicle I drove is a Chinese market model called the Exeed LX. This vehicle will be marketed as a premium compact SUV, in a mid-priced segment with the Buick Envision, Acura RDX, and Infiniti QX50. This Vantas model would also compete well with higher trim levels of the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, and the Jeep Cherokee – for starters.
The LX definitely fits the segment, design-wise. In its own way, it wants to give you a premium look, with LED light strips across the front and rear end, some chrome finishings, and a set of handsome 19-inch alloy wheels. The only thing that will stand out is the front end, whereas savvy consumers may pick out some common design traits with other models in the segment and price point.
The front end might not be the final design for our market, but I actually like how it appears now. The design currently includes LED driving light strips, the four-bulb LED light set-up, and the color-keyed lower grille with a thinner chromed upper grille. If they keep this, then it would definitely stand out in the crowd.
The liftgate has a clamshell-type opening that is integrated into the C-pillar. The lower opening is at the bumper, where the license plate is recessed. It opens high and has a push-button close.
Interior-wise, it feels upmarket with soft touch materials set in a two-tone saddle/black motif. The front seats are comfortable and offer plenty of support for most bodies. Rear seat space is very good with plenty of leg and head room. Although I found the rear seatback on the firm side for longer journeys.
The main attraction of the interior is the long screen divided into two 12.3-inch sectors – instrumentation and infotainment. It does remind me of the latest in Mercedes-Benz interior design, although I found no evidence that its shares anything with the Mercedes-Benz User Experience now installed on their latest offerings. The screens offer clean readouts that are comprehensive. Infotainment screens offer smartphone integration for Apple and Android phones, plus an Android-like app screen for access to native functions, such as navigation. The infotainment screen is also touch capacitive, as well as controlled by a console-mounted trackpad or steering wheel controls.
The climate controls might look familiar as they might appear in a Range Rover Velar, Land Rover Defender, or Jaguar F-Pace. It is sort of a coincidence, as Chery does some work with Jaguar Land Rover in China. It is set low on the center stack at the edge of the console, which may not be a great place for taller drivers to reach it.
The one area I had to do a learning curve is the transmission actuator. It is simply a small toggle with a shift-by-wire logic. Park is a button that is further back from the actual "shifter." There are paddle shifters available for gear selection.
The demo I drove had the global 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 197 horsepower hidden underneath a plastic cover hiding the entire engine bay. It is my understanding that we will not get that engine for our market. Instead, we should get a larger and more powerful 2.0-liter engine. I believe the larger engine will be the difference for the performance of this vehicle and will put it in the same performance range with the intended competition.
Yet, the actual driveline on the demo – including the 7-speed dual clutch transmission – offered plenty of power on the freeway and in-town. The transmission behaved very well with quiet shifts. I do believe that the larger engine will do this vehicle justice for our drivers in the USA.
Ride quality was pretty good, as it managed the freeway and streets well. However, I found the handling to be a bit soft with some roll and lean at the limit. The steering was pretty good, with a decent turning radius. On-center feel was fine. I like the brakes on this tester, as well as the pedal feel.
And, yes, there is a drive mode switch that changes from Eco to Normal and Sport. A good feature to have if you’re a more spirited driver.
The content on this tester was impressive, though I found at least one thing missing. I could not find whether this Exeed LX had blind spot monitoring that we are used to. Or, that the mirrors were a bit off-focus for blind spot management. Maybe we will see this feature on vehicles sold in this country.
If you’re wondering about pricing for the Vantas version of the Exeed LX, it has been guessed at somewhere between $25,000-30,000.
One thing to consider at this point: HAAH’s timeframe for sale in this country. The first thing that HAAH is doing is to secure an assembly plant for their Vantas models. They have been looking at several locations in the USA at this point, which is their preference rather than an assembly facility in Canada, Mexico, or doing a direct import from China.
HAAH’s target for production of the Vantas lineup is by the end of 2021 with the first units to be sold by the first quarter of 2022. We should expect not only a version of this compact SUV, but another SUV from Exeed and a model from Chery’s Tiggo lineup.
I’ve been skeptical about new entrants into our market, but I have a feeling this one might just work out. To get premium vehicles at a lower price point with an expectation of mid-price level service is a monumental task. With HAAH’s help, Chery is closer to delivering on this than other potential Chinese entrants stateside. Both entities have to deliver with well-built, high quality Vantas models that will exceed the expectations of its potential consumers.
To that end, the Exeed LX looks like a good starting point for Chery in America. It would certainly launch thousands of Vantas models onto our roads come 2022.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by HAAH Automotive Holdings.
All photos by Randy Stern