JAC T5 is the best Chinese so far. But it still has a lot of room for improvement – car review

When we first drove the JAC T5, in its presentation in Brazil, we already pointed out it was the best Chinese car for sale in this market. And now we have had the chance to keep it for a whole week. That sort of contact allows us to perceive details we had not seen before. And that helps readers interested in that specific car to foresee what they may experience with it every day. Having a Chinese car, nowadays, is not something many people cogitate. Even with them offering a good deal of equipment and room for the price of smaller cars. First, because the customers to which that sort of advantage would appeal are in trouble due to the economic crisis. And that either makes them postpone buying a new car. If they already have one, they keep it. If they don’t, and need one, a used model is normally the only viable option.

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The JAC T5 would appeal to families with small children. It has plenty of space in the trunk: up to 600 l, according to JAC. The crossover is 4.33 m long, 1.77 m wide, 1.63 m tall and its wheelbase is 2.56 m. The high H point ensures a group of adults could also travel comfortably: there is more than enough room for them in the cabin. It is one of the best-selling B-segment crossovers in China and it will be produced in Brazil as well. If everything goes according to plan. Lately, it doesn’t.

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Although we are more used to the design of the JAC T5, we still do not like the way the wheels look small when the car is seen from the side. Design is something Chinese cars in general have to sort out as soon as possible. Not that every brand should be like Audi, with cars that look more or less the same, but there should be an identity that went beyond the fact that they bear the same badge. If JAC models were unknown to the public and they had no badges, no one would relate them to each other. Peter Schreyer, egress from Audi, was the man who solved the problem for Korean companies. Who will be the “Chinese” Peter Schreyer? We are yet to see.

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The 1.5 engine that is under the hood of the T5 has enough power for city driving and also for the road, but it is a lazy machine. It takes a while for the revs to build up. Like an old fashion American engine, but without the torque. It is low for the size of the crossover. In reasonably steep slopes, it requires you to shift to a 2nd or 1st gear in order to keep on going. Just like the Nissan Kicks, it deserves a stronger engine.

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The T5 we have driven confirmed the model has a nice suspension setup, adequate for the awful Brazilian roads and streets, but it had a problem in the manual gearbox. Sometimes, depending on the terrain inclination, the 1st gear would not engage without more effort than usual. In even surfaces, the problem would disappear. It made us think of a transmission or even engine mount issue. And the T5 was way too new for presenting any problem of this kind. Besides that, we have discovered the electronic child lock prevents not only the ones in the back seat to open the doors or manipulate the power windows. The front passenger gets included in the restrictions.

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The JAC T5 is much cheaper than all of its competitors, with a much larger offer of standard equipment. This is the typical Chinese mermaid chant, but in a different fashion. In most cases, you may die of remorse. Considering the good qualities the T5 offers, this is a more remote possibility, but the risk still exists. Especially if these better qualities do not translate into a lower devaluation level.

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.