The Tiggo 4 Pro promises keen pricing and a class-leading warranty when it goes on sale next month. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Tiggo 4 Pro promises keen pricing and a class-leading warranty when it goes on sale next month. Picture: SUPPLIED

Before they became benchmarks for reliability and good build quality, there was a time when Japanese vehicles were once disparagingly referred to as “Jap crap”.

Years later Korean cars went through a similar process; Seoul-based brands that started off with little to offer but a budget price lifted themselves into respectability and are now part of the mainstream.

And now we’ve reached what is probably a turning point for Chinese cars, where we can start to divorce them from their cheap-and-nasty tag. We’ve already seen it with Haval’s recently-launched new Jolion and H6 which arrived with impressive levels of modernity and sophistication, and now rival Chinese brand Chery follows the same route with its new Tiggo.

The ambition is clearly on show in the new Tiggo 4 Pro which I drove this week ahead of its sales launch in SA at the end of November. The compact SUV/crossover is the entry-level range from the Chinese firm, which will also bolster its vehicle offering with the larger Tiggo 7 Pro and Tiggo 8 Pro.

Chery was first imported to SA in 2008 by the Imperial Group (now Motus) before exiting the market in 2018 due to poor sales, and the brand is relaunching as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chinese parent company. An initial 30 dealerships with service workshops and a large parts warehouse are planned.

SA will be the first country to launch the right-hand drive Tiggo 4 Pro and it will be one of the most competitively priced models in its class, says Tony Liu, Executive Deputy GM of Chery SA.

Compared to the plasticky Tiggo of a few years back, the rags-to-riches tale is evident in the new 4 Pro’s classier cabin and improved refinement. Soft-touch plastics, decorative metal accents and stitched leather lend the interior of the range-topping Tiggo 4 Pro model some upmarket flair, and the technology is right on trend with a touchscreen infotainment system and digital instrument cluster.

Entry models have a 3.5-inch TFT full colour screen in place of an analogue instrument panel, while higher specification models get a seven-inch screen. The tablet-style 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity and a DVD player.

All models have standard luxuries such as air conditioning, electric windows and automatic headlamps, while the more deluxe versions get a powered sunroof, voice control and climate control. It’s a roomy vehicle with plenty of leg- and headroom for four tall adults, and the boot is a decent size.

My brief drives on test tracks — but no public roads — revealed a vehicle that in driving dynamics and refinement is in a similar ballpark to compact SUV rivals such as the VW T-Cross, Ford EcoSport and Hyundai Creta.

Smart new cabin is worlds away from the previous-generation Tiggo. Picture: SUPPLIED
Smart new cabin is worlds away from the previous-generation Tiggo. Picture: SUPPLIED

The 1.5l petrol turbo engine is reasonably perky once it shakes off some turbo lag, and it offers economy and sport driving modes at the flick of a switch. Producing a respectable 108kW and 210Nm, it’s paired with either a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The Tiggo 4 Pro will also be available in a less powerful 1.5l normally-aspirated engine with 85kW and 141Nm of torque, with a choice of a five-speed manual or CVT.

Extra-light steering makes the Tiggo easy to manoeuvre and the vehicle felt sure-footed through corners, with no tendency to sway or roll, though the ride seems a little more jittery than some rivals.

The trendy styling should help draw 30-somethings with young families into showrooms, and the Tiggo 4 Pro is the first fruit of the modern Chery design language. It has distinctive frontal design that is on trend with its large grille, LED headlamps and LED daytime running lights.

Front and rear skidplates enhance its SUV character, and though this front-wheel drive vehicle is not intended as a trailbuster, a test drive on a mild off-road trail revealed the Tiggo to have a generous ground clearance.

As Haval has proven with its meteoric sales rise in recent times, South Africans are ready to embrace Chinese vehicles if the build quality is up to scratch. With its promised low price tags, and what Chery says will be a class-leading warranty, the new Tiggo 4 Pro could be a formidable competitor in the cut-throat compact SUV segment.

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