From Tesla killers to a G-Class homage, these 8 Chinese cars offer affordable luxury alternatives
CY Foong · Jul 11, 2021 06:00 PM
Ten years ago, if you think of Chinese cars, you might imagine them to be knock-offs or poorly designed imitations of existing models. However, as the Chinese economy is booming, so has the automotive landscape of the Middle Kingdom.
With Chinese conglomerates partnering with foreign carmakers and some even owning foreign brands, suffice to say that the country’s automotive landscape has grown leaps and bounds. Some of them even offer luxurious alternatives to established models and most of them have a bit of originality in them.
We say “most of them” because though there are some in this list which look a little too familiar, these 8 Chinese cars offer some alternatives to buyers who wish to look rich without breaking the bank.
When the Lynk & Co Zero EV concept was unveiled at the 2020 Beijing Auto, nobody could’ve predicted that the production model would not be badged as a Lynk & Co. Instead, it bore the name of Geely’s brand-new premium EV brand, Zeekr.
Zeekr is quite possibly one of the most ambitious sub-brand to come out from the Chinese auto giant. With Geely’s founder and former chairman, Li Shufu at the helm, anticipation is definitely high. Thankfully, the Zeekr 001 delivered with its entire 2021 allocation sold out 2 months after its launch.
Even though the design of the Zeekr 001 resembles that of a Porsche Panamera, it’s an electric car. Powering it is an electric motor that produces 543 PS and 700 Nm with a 0-100 km/h time of 3.8 seconds. Starting from RMB 281,000 (~RM 177,000), the Zeekr 001 easily undercuts the Panamera which starts from RMB 973,000 (~RM 630,000).
As such, the Tank 300 is seen as an affordable rival to the Land Rover Defender or Jeep Wrangler. Unlike the Western rivals, the only heritage the Tank 300 has is in its retro design as the brand was only in existence since late-2020.
The Tank 300 might be smaller than its Western inspirations but its chunky design evokes a similar rugged vibe along with its ladder frame chassis and four-wheel drive set-up. While the base Defender starts at RMB 728,000 (~RM 470,000) in China, the most expensive Tank 300 is RMB 508,000 (~RM 330,000) less and looks as good.
Hongqi H9 – Mercedes-Benz E-Class alternative
Hongqi is billed as China’s oldest and most prestigious car company. One of their latest models, the Hongqi H9 is aimed at buyers of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Prices of the Hongqi H9 are within the range of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class in China with the Hongqi starting from RMB 310,000 (~RM 200,000) while the E-Class in long wheelbase (LWB) form starts from RMB 439,900 (~RM 285,000).
Dimensions H9 vs E-Class LWB
Speaking of long-wheelbase, the Hongqi H6 is actually slightly longer than the E-Class LWB with plans for an even longer version to come.
The Hongqi H6 also comes with two engine choices, a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine with a 48V mild hybrid system (252 PS/380 Nm) or a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine (283 PS/400 Nm). Both are paired to a 7-speed wet-type DCT that powers the rear wheels.
Changan UNI-T – Lexus NX alternative
Malaysians would probably recognise the Changan name as the brand behind two of the worst cars sold here, the Chana Era CV6 and CM8. However, while the brand is still sold here with a line of rebadged Suzuki Carry trucks, in China, buyers could have this real contender to the Lexus NX.
With a grille that is as menacing as Lexus’ own Spindle Grille, the Changan UNI-T is shorter than the NX but the Chinese SUV offers a longer wheelbase. Prices for the UNI-T is also cheaper than the NX with the most expensive variant starting from RMB 138,900 (~RM 90,000). The base NX, on the other hand, starts from RMB 302,200 (~RM 195,000).
There’s only one engine option available for the UNI-T, a turbocharged 1.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol engine (180 PS/300 Nm) paired to a 7-speed DCT powering the front wheels. Changan claims that the UNI-T offers Level 3 autonomous driving with the aid of 5 mm-wave radar sensors, 6 cameras, and 12 ultrasonic radar sensors, better than the Proton X50.
After the failures of Faraday Future and Byton, Xpeng (pronounced Xiaopeng) and Nio show that Chinese EV start-ups have a potential to challenge Tesla (when done well). The P7 is not Xpeng’s first-ever model but it certainly has the hallmarks of the Tesla Model S which also wasn’t Tesla’s first model.
The Model S starts from RMB 800,000 (~RM 517,000) while the P7 plateaus at RMB 410,000 (~RM 265,000). Even if the P7 offers less power than the Tesla (P7: 430 PS/655 Nm, Model S: 825 PS/1,300 Nm), it claims to have a longer range (P7: Up to 706 km, Model S: Up to 663 km).
That being said, the Nio ET7 is closer to the Model S in terms of size. Just like the P7, the ET7 is still cheaper than the base Model S with the most expensive variant priced at RMB 526,000 (~RM 340,000) while also offering better range – Nio claims up to 1,000 km in a single charge.
What started off as a weird vehicle by a Korean carmaker, now on the verge of bankruptcy, took the world by storm when BMW introduced the X6 in 2007. It eventually spawned a smaller brother in the form of the BMW X4.
Yet, the SUV-coupe also transcended beyond premium brands with Renault and Volkswagen offering their own versions for the Chinese and Russian market where most of the demand come from. Speaking of China, here's the Chinese version of the SUV-coupe, the Geely Xingyue.
Overseas, it is given a more internationally-friendly name of the Geely Tugella. Unlikely to be brought over as a Proton, the Xingyue is a shorter than the X4 but its design and quality is as good as a BMW. With not many complaints on the interior of the X70 and X50, the latter should be true.
Beijing BJ80 – Mercedes-Benz G-Class alternative (copy?)
Unlike the other 7 Chinese models in this list, the Beijing BJ80 is an almost exact copy of an actual car, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. This clearly made the German carmaker annoyed and worse, Mercedes-Benz made a joint venture partnership with Beijing’s parent company, BAIC Group.
Mercedes-Benz has offered to lend a few of its existing models as basis for some of Beijing and other BAIC sub-brands including the B-Class and the GL-Class. While those models are licensed rebadges with Mercedes-Benz powertrains, the BJ80 isn’t.
The most-expensive BJ80 cost more than 3.5 times less than the cheapest G-Class in China but the shape is where the similarities end. While the G-Class is equipped with a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 (585 PS/850 Nm), the most powerful BJ80 is powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 (280 PS/345 Nm). But as long as you want to look rich, the BJ80 is fine, right?
Those are the lucky 8 examples of affordable Chinese luxury cars. All of them will never make it to Malaysia but this list has shown that the Chinese automotive market has really matured, for the most part.