JAC T5 shows the evolution of Chinese cars: driven and evaluated

In the JAC T5 presentation, Sergio Habib, JAC’s importer to Brazil, has stated the SUV was an indication that Chinese cars had reached the same quality level of Korean cars. After driving it for almost 100 km, we can tell it is an obvious exaggeration, but one thing is for sure: the T5 is the best Chinese car currently for sale in Brazil. And it shows we can expect a good deal of evolution in the future cars of the brand. And possibly from its Chinese competitors.

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The T5 marks the fifth anniversary of JAC in Brazil. And this is not a happy birthday, on the contrary. The Brazilian car market was expected to be around 4.5 million units in 2016, at least when the company announced plans to have a factory in the country, back in 2011. Now, Habib foresee’s a 1.8 million units market, if Brazil is lucky enough to keep the same daily sales pace from the beginning of the year, at around 7,500 units. And the T5 is the car JAC chose to keep alive in this market, waiting for better times, due to some characteristics.

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First of all, it has been the third best-selling SUV in China in 2015, with 196,779 units. Ahead of it there were only the Great Wall Haval 6, which sold almost double the T5 (or Refine S3, as it is called in China), with 373,229 units, and the Volkswagen Tiguan, with 255,751 units. Such a huge volume brings along two advantages. One of them is that it has a lower production cost, due to scale, what will allow it to be produced as a CKD model in Brazil. The other one is that it also lowers the risk of production defects, since all the problems that normally appear in newly produced vehicles have already been corrected.

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JAC has cars with a much better design to offer, such as the S2 (which will be called T2 in Brazil), but the T5 has more added value. Considering the low volume its Brazilian factory will have, the T5 is better suited for the job. And a much more respectful approach from Habib and JAC towards the Brazilian customer. They could well bring here the T2, add equipment to it and call it a premium car, trying to sell it for premium prices. Many carmakers have done so. Many still do, so it is a relief to see that the practice has not a follower on JAC.

What it offers, what it demands

The T5 is a B segment SUV, but it is much larger than its competitors. It is 4.33 m long, 1.77 m wide, 1.63 m tall and its wheelbase is 2.56 m. According to JAC, its luggage compartment can carry up to 600 l of cargo, but we are not sure if they refer to the full space behind the second row of seats, until the roof, or only the part that can be covered by a black retractable fabric. The fact is that the T5 offers plenty of room even for tall people. A 1.85 m tall driver can have a person exactly the same size seating behind him/her and nobody will feel stranded. The high roof gives plenty of room for the heads of both of them. The only problem is that the back seat is low and thighs do not get much support.

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The entry-level version, called Pack 1, costs R$ 59.990 (US$ 15,200). It includes a digital and automatic HVAC system, TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System), Isofix (believe us, this is not standard in Brazilian cars so far…), parking sensors, alarm, electrically adjustable rear-view mirrors, BOS, board computer, automatic headlight and height-adjustable driver seat. The intermediate trim, called Pack 2, charges R$ 64.990 (US$ 16,450) and adds alloy-wheels, fog lamps, HSA and ESP. Finally, the top trim, named Pack 3, costs R$ 69,990 and offers leather seats, rear-view camera and a 8-inch infotainment system with no GPS.

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Our first contact with the T5 happened this last Friday, in a 112 km course of which MotorChase has driven around 70 km, both on city and road traffic, from JAC Aricanduva, in São Paulo, until Riviera de São Lourenço, in the Brazilian shore.

Right from the beginning we were impressed by  how roomy the car is. And also by how small the 16-inch wheels, equipped with 205/55 R16 GitiComfort 221 tires, look when compared to the car body. The side picture below shows exactly what we mean.

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Even if the tires are not exactly low, with a 55 profile, they are narrow (205 mm), what helps the JAC T5 be more fuel-efficient. It has received an A grade from Conpet, the fuel efficiency program from the Brazilian government. A good thing, considering it has a very small fuel tank of only 45 l. The downside is that the body and the wheels seem to be disproportionate.

The only transmission option for the SUV is a 6-speed manual gearbox. The 6th gear seems to work more like an overdrive, in order to save fuel. When the Brazilian-produced version starts to be delivered, by the first quarter of 2017, it will also offer a CVT option, which will mimic a 6 or 7-speed conventional transmission. While shifts are easy and relatively short, it transmits (pun intended) a loose feel at first. It seems different from the tighter shifts offered by more established automakers’ gearboxes.

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The steering wheel of the T5 is only height-adjustable, but it is well placed, what makes it very easy to find a comfortable driving position. The seat belts can be adjusted in height as well, something that previous JAC models did not offer. As soon as we depart from the parking where the press vehicles are, the steering feels too light, but that fortunately changes when we hit the streets and roads. It progressively gets heavier and does not make you feel unsafe in any situation.

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Our second disappointment with the car is related to its suspension. Surprisingly, the JAC T5 does not present excessive body roll, as most SUVs do. In high speeds and smooth tarmac, it behaves pretty well. But in bumpy roads and streets, the noise produced by the suspension makes you think the Chinese SUV will be torn apart if it remains there much longer. You feel really sorry for it. We do not think the car will dismantle, especially after testing a 100,000 km JAC J3 Turin (more on that in a future post), but this is the sort of thing that other vehicles sold in Brazil cope with in a much better way.

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Hard plastics are still in the interior, but they do not compromise the good finishing the T5 presents. The only thing that does not fit well is the 8-inch touchscreen graphics, which look cheaper than the whole car or the Foxconn supplied system. Besides that, the screen really mirrors your mobile in an easy way, with a HDMI cable and a Bluetooth connection, but it only works if the car is stopped. In other words, forget about using Waze. Or any other GPS app you may have in your cell phone.

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The 1.5 4-cylinder engine of the JAC T5 produces 93 kW with ethanol and 92 kW with petrol at 6,000 rpm and respectively 154 Nm/152 Nm at 4,000 rpm. Since the T5 weighs 1,210 kg, the impression you could get is that this engine will not handle the SUV properly. But it does. And does that with plenty of will. If you play with its gears well, it will be very difficult to realize the engine is so small. Top speed is 194 km/h and it can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 10.8 s. Pretty reasonable for a budget SUV.

At Ayrton Senna road, a 4-lane road with good asphalt, the JAC T5 drove effortlessly. In the twisty Mogi-Bertioga and other tight bends until we got there, we have forced the SUV and did not feel the ESP intervening. Nor any sign of understeer, what has proven that the T5 is built over a solid platform. And has had a very competent suspension setup in what relates to dynamic behavior.

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The T5 uses disc brakes in all wheels.  The brake pedal is a correct course and is easy to modulate, with good brake feel. It is similar to the way Ford cars behave when braking. We did not have the opportunity to brake it suddenly, in order to evaluate its reaction in emergency stops, for example. We’ll do so when we have a longer opportunity to evaluate it.

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Meanwhile, what we can say is that, apart from the punches potholes and gutters throw at the body through the suspension, the T5 seems to be a very good competitor among B segment SUVs. It is correctly priced, performs well both on road and city traffic, is roomy enough for families, has a 6-year full warranty and equipment, such as TPMS, automatic HVAC system and ESP, that few or none of its contenders offer. If you are considering an SUV, you should definitely have a look at the T5. It may pay the visit to a JAC dealer close to you.

 

Gustavo Henrique Ruffo

I have been an automotive journalist since 1998 and have worked for many important Brazilian newspapers and magazines, such as the local edition of Car and Driver and Quatro Rodas, Brazilian's biggest car magazine. I have also worked for foreign websites, such as World Car Fans and won a few journalism prizes, among them three SAE Journalism Awards and the 2017 IAM RoadSmart Safety Award. I am the author of "The Traffic Cholesterol", a book about bad drivers that you can buy at Hotmart, Google Play, Amazon and Kobo.