|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
You know inflation has reared its ugly head when you can’t even buy a piece of chewing gum for 25 cents. It’s the same situation just about anywhere. And it’s especially true with cars where half a million pesos would have landed you in the luxury category a decade ago; now you can’t even get anything new and decently spec-ed. Such is the dilemma of the modern consumer: there are much more choices in the market, but the earning power just hasn’t caught up.
Thankfully (at least in the realm of cars), someone forgot to tell the folks over at AutoChina to adjust their prices for inflation. With a single showroom located at EDSA Balintawak in Quezon City (literally at the landing of the Balintawak MRT station), the Philippine distributor of Geely Automobiles whipped out a surprise number with their LC city car. If the model name doesn’t sound sexy, it’s because the LC was once known as the Panda when it was previewed at the Manila International Auto Show last year. Unfortunately, there was an issue that prevented AutoChina from using the name, so LC was used instead. A rather unfortunate event since the LC does resemble its animal namesake.
Using Fuwa, one of the Beijing Olympic mascots as inspiration, the LC manages to incorporate many elements of China’s beloved panda from the big, beady eyes, the high-contrast metal/plastic panels to the smiling grille and even the tail lamps which look like panda paws. Inside, the LC manages to convey the same theme with its two-tone black and beige interior as well as the use of numerous round elements from the center panel, shifter, gauges and even the seats. Even the immobilizer is shaped like, you guessed it, a panda. All in all, the LC is cute and a bit cartoonish—certainly a welcome break from the ho-hum city car concepts seen thus far.
As much as the LC looks cute and cuddly, its sheer affordability is what will definitely attract prospective customers: at P 398,000 for the base GB and P 448,000 for the range-topping GL, it’s within easy reach by any working man’s standard. Of course, everyone knows Chinese cars are cheap, but with the stigma leveled at them, they certainly aren’t cheerful. Is the LC any different? AutoChina lent a LC 1.3 GL for four days and the results are pretty astounding: it actually drives well. It’s solid and well-engineered; definitely bang for the buck.
First of all, the LC has gotten basic ergonomics right. The steering wheel is height adjustable (a rarity in this price range) while the shifter and hand brake are all within easy reach. The oval-shaped center stack which houses the built-in audio unit and the rotary-type ventilation controls are all clearly marked and easily understood. That said there are still some such as the power window switches which require some good arm contortion to operate and gauges which are off-center to the steering wheel. The visibility, especially the front and rear three-quarters aren’t perfect either. These are definitely not deal breakers by any sense of the word, but something Geely engineers can look into for future reference.
Secondly, the LC, for its small footprint, is actually genuinely comfortable; well, at least for those sitting at the front. The high-mounted and simplified dashboard means there’s no obtrusion to the knee and foot well area. The accordion-style glove box is a nice touch as well, providing some good storage space without encroaching onto the front passenger’s space. Unfortunately, with an overall length of just 3,598 mm and a wheelbase of just 2,340 mm, the rear passengers might complain from the lack of leg room. Though there are five seatbelts all in all inside the LC, it’s perhaps best to limit the passenger count to four for comfort. The same compromise has been leveled at the LC’s luggage space which can fit, at most, a weekend’s worth of luggage. Thankfully, the rear seats do fold in a 60/40 split allowing for some degree of flexibility.
Thirdly, the LC is actually well-engineered—not just for a Chinese brand, but for cars in general, with a nicely matched engine and transmission package. The sole engine is the un-sexily named MR479Q13 which displaces 1.3-liters and features double overhead cams and 16 valves. Despite the less-than racy name, this engine actually pumps out some decent numbers: 85 horsepower and 110 Nm of torque. At idle and lower engine speeds, it’s relatively smooth and quiet, but it can get rather coarse at higher revs. This hard-pulling engine is mated to a five-speed manual, which is again, the sole choice. The clutch is well-weighted (definitely not light) and offers positive engagement. Rowing through the gears is drama-free thanks to good and precise shift action, though the reverse gear does have the tendency to crunch up now and then. All in all, the LC feels spritely thanks to its big engine and light-weight body. Despite its meager 35-liter fuel tank, the digital needle barely moved below full despite logging more than 150 kilometers during the drive (Geely reckons the LC does around 15.3 km/L).
Fourth, the LC actually feels solidly built. Using a sub-frame (a feature rarely seen in this class of car), the chassis is free from the typical jiggles and wiggles. Once or twice, the LC did manage to land into a pothole and despite that, nothing fell off and everything stayed as it should. The MacPherson Strut and “hybrid” rigid axle set-up along with standard 14-inch tires also means the LC feels planted and secure through corners and bends. The steering though precise requires too much turns lock-to-lock and lacks in road feel.
Lastly, the LC is actually one safe and worry-free ownership proposition. Despite the less than P 450,000 price tag, the GL model comes with front and rear fog lamps and a rear wiper and washer system for good visibility during bad weather. Dual airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and seatbelts equipped with pre-tensioners round up the safety package while those with kids will love the fact that ISOFIX child seat anchors and child safety locks for the rear doors come standard. Finally, AutoChina’s 5-year/150,000-kilometer warranty gives some piece of mind down the road.
In the end, the Geely LC, especially in the fully-loaded 1.3 GL guise presents itself as a totally commendable effort in the city car segment. Like the Panda character named Po in the movie, Kung Fu Panda and its sequel, looks can be deceiving. Some people may swear against anything made in China, but the Geely LC delivers the right karate moves to keep up with the Jones. The Japanese and Korean competition should watch their backs, this is one small car that’s ready to go big time.