IT took a six-hour flight and an agonising long bus ride, which included crossing a 35km bridge over Hangzhou Bay, before we found ourselves standing before Malaysia’s most-talked about sport utility vehicle (SUV) in the last few months.
In the stifling heat of the Chinese summer, with temperatures soaring near 40 degrees Celsius, the white SUV looked pristine and, well, rather handsome.
The Boyue is about the size of a Honda CRV. Sitting on a 2,670mm wheelbase, it is 4,519mm long, which makes it just 65mm short of the CRV, but quite a great deal shorter than Nissan’s X-Trail, which measures in at 4,640mm.
At 1,831mm wide, it is narrower than the CRV’s 1,855mm, but wider than the X-Trail at 1,820mm.
The Boyue has a longer wheelbase than the CR-V (2,660mm), although the X-Trail’s 2,705mm wheelbase is the longest of the three.
From the exterior, the Boyue is quite a good-looking SUV and has good proportions.
Large wheel arches and a strong shoulder line make the car look sporty in an Evoquesce way. However, a few details give away Boyue’s Chinese heritage.
The window line moves horizontally from front to rear, but unlike the Land Rover, the Boyue has a curious kink at the D-Pillar. According to the kind folks that hosted us at Geely’s state-of-the-art design centre the day before, the curve expressed motion.
The front grille has concentric rings. In the metal, the much-talked about cosmos grille is fussy, and will be likely removed if this car is rebranded as a Proton, so at least that is out of the way.
Walk in, and it would be hard to guess the Boyue’s Chinese origins, although there are a few clues for those who have been filled in on Geely’s design ethos.
Inside, the Boyue is proof of how far the Chinese car manufacturers have moved forward.
The ‘Broken Bridge’ on Hangzhou’s West Lake was the inspiration for the dashboard. A thousand-year-old Tang dynasty bridge may seem an unlikely candidate for design inspiration in one of China’s most modern cars, but the results are, oddly enough, appealing.
The seats are comfortable and well stitched.
The faux aluminium on the dashboard is pleasant to look at, while the central console with grab-handles, which hearkens to the Porsche Cayenne, adds a sporty touch to the SUV. The seats are comfortable and well stitched, while the roof lining and door panelling rival that of any Japanese or South Korean makers and even exceed some of their offerings.
Unique Geely touches include the G-shaped grid pattern over the speakers on the doors.
A panoramic roof adds a bright, breezy ambience to the interior of the Boyue we tested, and we hope this will be included in the specification list of at least one Proton variant produced.
There are some misgivings. The floor of the boot is high, eating into cargo space, and the tonneau cover feels flimsy. But the interior of the Boyue is otherwise well constructed and appointed.
Under the hood of the car we tested is a 1.8 turbocharged petrol direct injection engine, producing 181hp and 285Nm of torque. Paired to a six-speed auto gearbox with drive channelled through either all four wheels or just the front ones, the engine was one of the top 10 engines of the year for China in 2015.
Despite its accolades, acceleration in the Boyue is gradual, rather than brisk. It is hard to rival Japanese or even South Korean manufacturers with their more sophisticated technologies and years of engine know-how.
However, the mill does go about its job with little fuss. The engine is smooth and sounds refined even when driven hard. Similarly, the gearbox is fluid and shifts are done smoothly and quickly.
If the powertrain is run-of-the-mill, the driving dynamics seems to have more to offer to the prospective buyer.
The Boyue handles and steers well, despite its tall stature. The SUV weighs in at approximately 1.7 tonnes, but feels agile despite the heft.
Steering, (an electric power steering unit) is precise and the SUV gives adequate feedback to the driver. The Boyue jumps from one lane to the other at whim, and should be a treat to drive in the twisties. If the handling impresses, the suspension inspires even more.
Suspension is handled by Mcpherson struts up front with a trailing arm in the rear. During the short drive, we ran over quite a few bumps, and the Boyue soaked them like a sponge, barely even flinching.
Noise levels are well controlled in the cabin, and the drive in the Boyue is serene, although we didn’t manage to take it over 110kph.
The tyres are 225/60 R18s - expensive to replace in Malaysia, but necessary given the gaping maws of the Boyue’s enormous wheel wells.
We did not get a chance to test the Boyue’s fuel consumption given the briefness of the test drive, but Geely gives a combined fuel consumption figure of 8.2 litres per 100km for the four-wheel drive model. Combined with a 60-litre fuel tank, the math works out to give the Boyue about 700km per tank of fuel.
SAFETY AND OTHER SPECIFICATIONS
Equipped with 6+1 airbags, the Boyue received a five-star rating with a 58.2 score in the C-NCAP, making it one of the safest SUVs to come out of China.
The spec list for the Proton variant is till unspecified, but in various guises, the Boyue can be equipped with an extensive list of safety driving aids, including anti-lock brakes, electronic brake distribution, electronic stability programme, traction control, brake assist, brake auto hold, tyre pressure monitoring system, hill hold control, hill descent control, crash warning, lane departure warning and smart high beam.
Other driving aids include an array of four parking sensors on the rear and two in the front, and a 360 degree 3D camera with an “aerial” view of the surroundings.
Geely’s new SUV is representative of a new generation of Chinese product that breaks the age old mould of Chinese cars. The engine may be the weak link in the equation, but otherwise, the Boyue is ready to be rebadged and to storm the Malaysian market.
The only challenge left is to label it with a sensible enough price tag to entice the Malaysian buyers.
This Chinese product may now be world class, but attitudes and perceptions take longer to change than a single product generation, and a misjudged pricing strategy that places it too close to Japanese and South Korean rivals may be the only obstacle in making this SUV a runaway success in Malaysia.