First drive: 2017 Geely Emgrand X7 Sport in Oman

First drive: 2017 Geely Emgrand X7 Sport in Oman

Remember that time when Chinese cars were considered to be at the same level as week-old sushi. And speaking of sushi, believe it or not, even Japanese cars had just as bad a reputation about half a century ago. The Koreans were on the same boat just a decade ago, and now they are among the top sellers in most developed car markets thanks to their world-class quality at affordable prices. So how far are the Chinese is reaching the level of established brands in terms of design, quality and image. Not far, as we’re seeing, and leading the charge is Geely. We’ve already road-tested their new Emgrand X7 Sport model, but we drove it again, this time around mountain roads in Oman.

What impressed us on our earlier Geely Emgrand X7 Sport road test in Dubai was the level of polish the compact crossover had. Styled by ex-Volvo designer Peter Horbury, the X7 Sport is a clean-sheet design with none of the copying that goes on with other Chinese cars, including the previous Emgrand X7 that looked like an old Toyota RAV4.

It’s not wonder, considering Geely owns Volvo and the obvious thing for Geely to to is use their Swedish acquisition’s resources. The X7 Sport is tightly put together, as good as any Japanese, American or Korean car, with no glaring flaws in the external build quality.

2017 Geely Emgrand X7 interior

[Mash] Pretty darn good interior for a car in this class. What am I driving?

Posted by on Monday, January 23, 2017

Inside, the reasonably spacious cabin has some surprising upscale bits such as the Nappa leather on the top-trim model (all its rivals have fake leatherette), the metallic-looking trim bits including the Porsche Cayenne-like grab handles on the centre console, the abundance of soft-touch padding on the upper door and dash surfaces, and the LCD screens in the gauge cluster and the dash that are done better than in pricier cars like the aging-but-expensive Nissan Patrol. Sure, there is still some cheese left, such as the fake moulded-in stitching in the soft-touch plastics and the overdone colours in the LCD gauges, but there’s no denying that it all functions very well. It’s probably the best interior in the compact crossover segment, in a model whose pricing is at the lower end of the scale.

With well-working multimedia tech, a good dual-zone a/c, and a full set of airbags as well as ABS and ESP, there’s not a single reason to complain about the car’s feature set.

Also available in front-wheel-drive form, our tester was the all-wheel-drive version. The system seems to cope well on gravel, but that was the extent of offroading on our prescribed route.

The X7 Sport might actually be capable of a bit more off the tarmac, considering it rides oddly high for a little crossover. But while it feels a bit awkward taking turns quickly from such a high driving position, the fact that it actually turned with minimal body roll and good grip was impressive. That, and it still rode comfortably on Omani roads. So they didn’t skimp on the suspension tuning (which is something the Koreans couldn’t get right only until a couple of years ago).

Where are they cutting costs then? Well, that would be under the bonnet. Powered by a 2.4-litre 4-banger, it only makes 153 hp and 225 Nm of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic. The specs sound like they’re about a decade out of date (although, to be fair, if you’re fine with cars like the Toyota Yaris or the Renault Duster, you may find the Geely to be adequately powerful).

Bravely, Geely chose a route that took us up a seriously steep mountain road going up to the Alila Jabal Akdar resort on the Al Hajar mountains, 2 kilometres above sea level. The road is so steep that there is a police checkpoint that stops non-4×4 vehicles from going up there.

The Geely’s engine seriously struggled to pull the crossover up that road, as we drove up in mostly second gear and topped out at around 60 kph, as the motor revved at just under 4000 rpm. We’ve never driven up a road so steep that we literally couldn’t accelerate any harder. We’ve driven an Infiniti QX80 up that road at much quicker speeds before, but it was an interesting exercise to take an underpowered vehicle there, and seeing if it overheated over the half-hour drive.

And that’s the thing — the engine didn’t overheat at all, even with the a/c running. We kept an eye on the temperature gauge the entire time. After lunch at the resort, on the way down we were short on fuel so we rolled downhill off-throttle as much as we could, using the brakes to slow down when needed. The brakes didn’t fade or cook either.

As far as we can see, the Emgrand X7 Sport is a pretty durable car. Now granted, we haven’t heard good things about the reliability of Geely’s previous pre-Volvo offerings. But, barring the lack of grunt, this new model is oh so close to dominance in the compact crossover segment in terms of initial quality. It will be interesting to see how long-term reliability holds up, but based on our impressions, it looks like Geely might just be a half-step away from truly taking on the big brands.

For a full review, click here. For prices and specs, visit the Geely buyer guide.

Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury.

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