WHEN A colleague invited me to test drive the Chery J1 after he had driven it for a day, he passed an unflattering comment about its performance.
Being a family newspaper I won't repeat his exact words, but he said something to the effect that his lawn mower is more powerful than the J1. Unfortunately he is right.
And for the life of me I can't figure out why.
Equipped with a 1,3litre engine it produces a reasonable 61kW along with 114Nm of torque ... so that can't be the problem.
Also it's a smallish vehicle and weighs only 1000kg, so that can't be slowing it down.
But put it on a reasonable hill and in no time at all you are looking for the 2nd gear and end up getting overtaken by cyclists.
In the past we have had vehicles with a lot smaller engines (Suzuki Alto 1,0litre comes to mind) and weighs not much less than the J1, but I never experienced the above problem. It was frustrating at times. But apart from this one gripe, the J1 is an ideal run-about.
For the price (R116900) it comes with an impressive range of extras.
Standard are goodies such as electric windows (front and back), air conditioning, power steering, ABS brakes, air bags, side impact protection, electric side mirrors and a radio-CD player.
The interior is a two-tone material which won't appeal to everyone though I found it different and funky.
That and the imitation aluminium on the dashboard tends to give the vehicle a touch of retro.
In fact when Chery was in the early design stages of the J1, they travelled to Europe for ideas on how to improve the look of their vehicles.
The trip has obviously paid dividends as they have come up with a cross-over that is mighty attractive.
The roof-railings are probably not all that practical, but if the idea was to lend to it a slightly sporty look, then it succeeds. That and the cute alloy wheels definitely make a statement. Promoted as a five-seater it might be ... but that's if you are Chinese (where the vehicle is made) and live on a diet of raw fish and rice.
You'll be lucky to squeeze in four average-sized South Africans (who tend to eat a great deal more) and the boot space is just enough for a couple of supermarket bags.
The J1, though, should definitely find a home in a few South African's garages.
If money is a bit tight - and who isn't finding it tough these days? - then the J1 offers a lot for little.
A good buy? Yes. Just a pity about that engine, though.