Review: Chery Omoda 5 in Malaysia - Bang-for-buck hero does its best to exorcise ghosts of Chery's past
Sanjay · Oct 14, 2023 10:00 AM
Something about rising tides and lifting boats paints the picture of the Chinese car industry, and among the pleathora of startup small boats rolling into the vast sea you have your vessels; built on the back of years of trial and error, no doubt buoyed with a full coffer.
Of course, for a fair few companies, the motivation to chart new waters is to correct missteps of years prior.
奇瑞, or Chery to you and I, will know very well what the latter means. Yesteryear's QQ and A160 were a crack at the Malaysian market, shortly before disappearing in a vortex of obscurity.
Nonetheless, there's certainly lessons to be learnt from that experience, and customers will hope Anhui has got the recipe right in Round 2 – setting sail with this Chery Omoda 5 1.5 H we have here today, though a lower-spec C variant exists.
Exterior: Sharp attempt to appease
No beer goggles needed to call this a pretty little thing, because the Omoda 5 is unequivocally a looker. OK, yes, there's shades of the Toyota Harrier, a dollop of Lexus, a sprinkle of Volvo, but it's all done in a way that's unique and original enough.
Good bit of outside kit too. There's automatic, full LED lighting (with a bit of a lightshow, if that's your jive), and a full-length lightbar at the back. Front foglamps helped a lot in hazy, dark October nights, and cornerning lights were useful when navigating blind intersections.
Off the bat Chery's 'value proposition' stance comes clear, because the exterior differences between the base Comfort and high-spec Honor (C & H) are minor – both get the lighting package and wear the same wild aesthetics, including the 19-inch wheels.
The colours are the main visual differentiators, with red stripes denominating the H variant. Some may find that tacky and prefer the C variant's single tone options, but such is the nature of aesthetics – I found the fake exhausts overdone and tacky, yet there'll be a few that think otherwise.
Interior: Wows you big fancy gadgets, but ergonomics are bad
It's easy to see how the Omoda 5's doing great in Chery's resurgence here, in part because it's very easy to be bowled over by it in the showroom.
Silver-tongued salespeople will be quick to point out the value proposition angle, as even the RM 108k base model offers things pricier rivals don't – remember the RM 116k Honda HR-V 1.5 S doesn't have leather seats nor digital gauges.
Take for example, the Mercedes-pioneered conjoined screen setup (10.25 inches each, available on both variants by the way) sitting centrestage. By far it's my favourite bit of the cabin because it's snappy as heck, usually getting the wireless Android Auto connection ready to go even before the car's started up.
Things like the rather quality material mix earn it more easy points. The leather feels plush enough, the panels don't creak or buzz, and small touches like the damped glove box as well as cooled centre console box add to the general impression of quality.
The Sony-supplied 8-speaker setup is palpably better than regular speakers, and the 15W wireless charger and ample storage solutions will serve families well. Boot space is 360 litres with the rear seats up, expanding to 1,075 litres with them down.
As always litres only tell half the tale, the other half told by the rest of the packaging. High marks for the Omoda here with the (relatively) flat sidewalls, and remote unlock for full hands.
A sunroof adds to the flair, and ambient lights will easily bedazzle. It looks expensive – what not with its capacitive-touch aircond controls and all, though the squirreling of everything into the screen remains ever annoying – and that sometimes is good enough for a segment of customers.
But of course you're not just going to sit there and just touch the interior, and despite all the fanciness the negatives sieve themselves the longer you live with one. There were times the infotainment just failed to do anything, leaving me with no recourse but to drive with the phone laying there...a simple way to restart the player would've been nice, Chery.
Though the interior isn't as shambolic as say, the BYD Atto 3's, it still lacks a single track mind when it comes to occupant comfort and practicality. Yeah sure 'sports seats' sprinkles some style, but the one-piece frame with no separate headrest, and no space for utility hooks are a compromise on safety and practicality we're not sure a family car like this has to deal with.
Our dissatisfaction with them also stems with their suboptimal support (especially by the thigh and knee regions), meaning it feels like you're crouching at the driver's seat knees. With your knees hanging too high up, it's tiring to drive long distances.
Since we're already complaining we might just selit another point in – the keyfob needs a rethink. The one thing that's wrong with it is also the most important, and that's the placement of the emergency key...which requires one to pop off the fob's back cover.
Yeah sure it looks sleek, but if you're stuck outside in the rain with a flat battery, prying it open only adds to your woes. Chipped nail complaints coming in 3, 2, 1...
Space: Large rear quarters
For what its worth head- and legroom are roughly about average; one and a quarter tennis balls up top (I'm 175 cm tall), and two and a half between knee and backrest. Good that style didn't overly eat into interior space.
Driving: Adequately powerful but you won't feel confident driving it
At the moment the Omoda 5 comes with only 1 configuration: a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-pot joined with a '9-speed' CVT automatic, making for a rather respectable 156 PS and 230 Nm of torque. On paper that sounds like quite a bit of power, and initial acceleration proves it to be so – but somehow the peculiar throttle mapping makes it respond lazily at higher speeds.
We reckon a fair few people will appreciate the jolty acceleration (and its suprisingly raspy notes) and light, easily maneuvarable steering wheel. Yet there's some glaring negatives, and the problem with that is brings down the otherwise competent package a fair few notches behind the balanced HR-V and the sharp X50.
There's this odd, vague feeling when driving the Omoda 5, sort of like you can't quite read what the tyres and suspension are doing underneath you. Couple that with its understeery nature and a very video-game like feel steering wheel that has an oddly large deadzone, it doesn't quite give you confidence when driving.
We also aren't particularly big fans of the brakes. It requires considerable effort to even start stopping the Omoda 5, with a pedal feel that is for some reason akin to the 'on-off' sensation some badly-calibrated hybrid cars have – there's a discernible lag then erk! it starts to bite.
Never mind the oddity that this behaviour is in something that's not electrified, but the bigger bugbear is it feels like the discs can't handle the weight as well it should. Hmm...
Where it does better is in comfort; keen drivers may feel the whole thing to be a very disconnected experience but most of the time, passengers couldn't care less as long as the car doesn't wake them across patchy roads, and in this, the Omoda 5 succeeds. Big props to the super quiet interior too with stellar noise insulation.
Noise test: 2023 Chery Omoda 5
Fuel consumption: On the thirsty side
Sadly the Omoda 5 is a bit of a thirsty one, returning an average fuel economy of 11.7 litres/100 km (8.5 km/litre) across 193 km in mixed city conditions.
Safety: Long list of items, nice to have
Impressing...quite a lot of people is the long line of safety features that the Omoda 5 comes with. Six airbags, the requisite active safety systems, and a full list of advanced driver aids (ADAS) will always make for a compelling argument. Good on Chery for giving it at this price range.
They do their duties pretty well, and the adaptive cruise control understands that lane-splitting bikes aren't trying to ram into it (looking at you, Atto 3). Sometimes it displays cars ahead to be judging between lanes when they are just tracking straight; makes you question how much you can trust the system.
Traffic sign recognition needs plenty of work as well. There was once it confused a 'Bonggol' sign with 'Berhenti', and there's times where it just didn't pick up on speed limit posts.
Verdict - Attractive looks but shallow appeal; 10-year warranty might sway you though
At its sub-RM 120k price point, the Chery Omoda 5 is a valiant effort to re-enter the Malaysian market, representing the value concious buyers. There's a healthy list of tech, it looks good, and its spacious interior is undoubtedly well-appointed for the price.
Sure there are things that leave quite a lot to be desired – sorry, but the driving experience really isn't it – not family-friendly one-piece front seats, poor lower thigh support for driver, and less-than-ideal fuel economy dent an otherwise competitive package.
It's fair to say that it wows like a latest smartphone, all bright screens and swoopy looks, but peel back the layers a bit and it's apparent that the super-practical Honda HR-V, value-driven Proton X50, and supremely comfortable Toyota Corolla Cross don't have to worry about it too much.
That said, Chery isn't one to brush off just yet. Remember that they offer a best-in-class 7-year/unlimited mileage warranty (and an optional 10-year, 1 million km engine warranty too), and they went all-in with local assembly even before the first car was sold.
This signals the brand's deeper intention that they're here to stay, and remember that improvements come in measured steps. Just like the Koreans have done, Chery has fixed styling and wow factor – next to be improved are adding depth to its shallow beauty, and those improvements will come, fast.
With humble beginnings collecting diecast models and spending hours virtually tuning dream cars on the computer, his love of cars has delightfully transformed into a career. Sanjay enjoys how the same passion for cars transcends boundaries and brings people together.