WHEN the Chery Tiggo was launched in 2019, Chery Auto Philippines Inc. President Rommel Sytin was wowing the crowd by operating the Tiggo 8’s appendages—opening its rear hatch, lowering and raising the driver side window, and even starting the engine to cool down the car before boarding–all from a smartwatch. It was impressive then, continues to be impressive now.
“Impressive” is important to a brand trying to resurrect itself. For the second time. Chery is not new to the market. But the aftertaste of the past made it difficult to bring a good image of the brand.
Chery came in at the wrong time. Though it was the cheapest car in the market back in 2007 when the first QQs were introduced, the company was not ready for the international market. It has sloppy workmanship, bad plastics, engine variations that caused parts issues. When it regrouped in 2009 as Chery Motors Philippines, Inc. a lot of the service, parts, inventory, and sales issues were solved. Good enough to bring it back into the black and put it on the block to new owners.
The second reincarnation wasn’t so good. Interested only in divesting the group sold franchises to dealers to allow them to purchase cars and parts on their own. The result was a broken brand, which required the automotive brains, marketing and financial power of the United Asia Automotive Group, Inc. (UAAGI) to fix. It was very brave of UAAGI to bring back Chery, but it did its homework well.
It focused on just SUVs. A growing segment, easily replacing sedans Chery’s Tiggo, unlike its QQ suffered almost no product failures and had a strong market position in the Philippines. The Tiggo was a trusted vehicle, selling about 1,300 units under the previous brand owners.
For this test drive we had the luxurious Tiggo 8 seven-seater crossover. From the time of the turnover of the Tiggo 8, it was nothing but good impressions. The deep red color of the car, the sharp line and massive front grille, the stance (eagerly European, but slightly Korean from a right quarter angle view) had poise and elegance. I had approached the car from a pessimistic perspective, wanting to find fault from the get go, but I found none.
Under the hood is a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that can churn out 145 horsepower and 210Nm of torque. That is not bad for the size and weight of the car. I had wanted more in terms of numbers, but specifications are confirmed behind the wheel. And Tiggo 8 looks fast. But does it drive fast and drive well?
The pleasures start as soon as one takes the driver’s seat. The full keyless entry signals “go” when you hear a hushed but audible chime, similar to those signals of an elevator door closing or an app completely loading. Apart from that the Chery log appears on the large 10.25-inch infotainment screen. When all is done, that is when you are ready to go. Push the start button to activate the car.
Materials on the seats and the steering wheel are the second set of great impressions. According to Chery literature, these are the same as used in upscale automotive brands. I have to say that it is not lipservice. The quality of the materials are very European, German, I can say and the quality of the stitching is world class. Let me just state that Malaya Business Insight is in the bottom heap of the lending chain. After the top dogs and big guns complete their reviews you find us, along with other insignificants.
That is is not all bad. With nearing 10,000 kilometers on the clock, the Tiggo 8 should already show signs of wear, and perceptible reduction in performance. This is a good thing, from my point of view, because it will be easier to spot where things have gone wrong. Despite great maintenance and servicing, wear and tear on say, chassis integrity, or tolerances that contribute to squeaks and looseness come out. I am happy to report, at this stage, the Chery Tiggo still felt solid.
This is because the vehicle is a unibody with MacPherson struts in the front and multi-link rear suspension systems. Measuring at 4,700 mm long, 1,858 mm wide, and 1,746 mm tall, it has a wheelbase that of 2,710 mm. That is stability in length yet still having enough agility in the turns. 18-inch wheels lift ground clearance to a tall 200 mm.
And it should still feel solid because only Chery offers a 10-year, 1 million kilometer warranty on its engine. It also packs in a five-year or 150-kilometer general vehicle warranty, and a three-year free preventive maintenance.
I traveled from Ortigas to San Pablo via the long and circuitous Laguna Loop so as to maximize the short time I have with the car. The drive will provide both fuel economy tests, uphills, downhills, sharp corners, long stretches, and unexpectedly on that afternoon, a sudden downpour just as I turned into the Pillilia Windmills which made it impossible to get proper photos.
Driving in a downpour with the panoramic sunroof (is it now a rainroof?) open gives a different feeling. With visibility down to a minimum, the various traction controls, an electronic stability control program, the hill descent control in particular at the downslopes of Rizal. The Tiggo 8 also comes with ABS, EBD, cruise control, front and reverse radar, and a tire pressure monitoring system. This version I drove is the Luxury EX trim so it has a 360-degree camera which was perfect for the super-tight and narrow streets inside Paete, Laguna where double parking is the norm.
One glitch that I did encounter was the Bluetooth connections which needed a restart from Spotify and even from my phone’s music library. The infotainment system however is top-gun, and gets a really good grade from me. Accepting most media, fed via the Bluetooth or Android Auto.
When I brought my wife and family to a drive around Lipa, the cabin comfort was tested to the fullest—seven adults with a few of us wider in girth than usual was an evaluation of both the pulling power and the shoulder room of the Tiggo 8. It passed satisfactorily in cabin space and more than adequately in engine power and transmission usage.
The Chinese nameplate does not discourage people from buying the Chery because of three reasons, I found out why this is so from actual buyers. First, it is value-packed at P1.28M. This simply means there is so much for the price tag. Says one buyer “sunroof pa lang, ulam na.” Second, the engine warranty is unbelievable. Yes, 1 million kilometers. That is 25 times around the Earth, an almost impossible feat, but Chery gives it out freely. Third, these buyers want to be different but also want reliability. These customers know and have seen Foton trucks, and equate the popularity of this brand to the professionalism of UAAGI knowing that this will trickle down to other brands it carries. They say that though “known Japanese nameplates are trusted, and reliable, Chery is a brand with something to prove, and therefore it must under-promise and yet it over-delivers.
The very short Tiggo 8 test drive revealed something important about Chery, and its return to the Philippines (again). A prudent selection of models coupled with a proper sales, parts and service network are just two parts of the comeback. The backing of a powerful and reputable company like UAAGI will spell the biggest difference.