Geely Emgrand Premium: Geely crosses over to the sedan segment

The Emgrand is raising the subcompact stakes

LIKE THOR’s hammer (see what I did there), Geely smashed and carved a nook for itself in the highly competitive automobile industry of the Philippines. Hard to believe that the brand had just punched its time card in 2019 to mark its return — this time under Sojitz G Auto Philippines Corp. (SGAP) as its official distributor.

Driven primarily by the compelling, right-priced product that is the Coolray, Geely in the Philippines hit the ground running and quickly became one of the reasons that the term “China-made” turned into a, well, more palatable proposition for car browsers. The Coolray success here is, by no means, an aberration. In a recent press release, Geely Philippines reported that the “Coolray has been a best-selling model since its launch in China last October 2018. It quickly rose to the top three best-selling compact SUVs in the Chinese market. In September 2019, Geely Coolray officially began its worldwide trip, entering the automotive markets of over 10 countries including the Philippines, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. It quickly captured a large number of local customers. Two years after diving into the global market, the Coolray has become a sales legend with nearly 400,000 cars worldwide.”

Geely has been a juggernaut here as well. Last year, as the pandemic was (cautiously) being corralled, vehicle sales almost tripled. With but three models in its lineup, Geely Philippines moved 6,104 units — a 182% jump from the 2,158 units sold in 2020. All told, the brand kept ninth place in auto sales overall (even as it more than doubled its share of the market from 0.9% to 2.1%).

What makes this even more remarkable is that all three of the aforementioned models are SUVs. This perhaps underscores the fact (as if we need to be reminded) that Filipinos are such big crossover fans.

Nonetheless, Geely Philippines (or any brand for that matter) will not be served well by being a one-trick pony. There’s business to be had in other auto segments. With that in mind, SGAP recently launched the 2022 iteration of the Emgrand. Not only is the brand expanding its offerings, the Emgrand is going to do battle in what the distributor called “the country’s largest segment, the subcompact sedan market.”

Now, I can finally reveal that several of us motoring journalists were asked to participate in a focus group discussion last December. That was when SGAP was still examining the feasibility of actually bringing in the Emgrand or perhaps, more accurately, how the Emgrand would fare perception-wise versus the models it is slated to do battle with. Lined up shoulder to shoulder with the competition, the Emgrand looked modern and well-equipped. Save for one vehicle, it was also the biggest among the subcompacts.

Those of us present for the session agreed that the Emgrand would be a promising release for Geely if it was priced well below P1 million — the lower the better, actually. Now I will not surmise as to the importance ascribed to that opinion, but take a gander at the Emgrand’s price tags: P908,000 for the Premium variant and P798,000 for Comfort. Obviously, there’s a large gaping hole between the two price points, and I’d like to think that it’s by design so that Geely can fill in that void with more variants — depending on how warmly the Emgrand is received.

It’s a scorcher of a morning that greets us at the Geely North EDSA dealership. We’re here to get our noses swabbed (de rigueur in this pandemic era) ahead of a first-ever ride-and-drive for the Geely Emgrand (and first in the new normal for SGAP). The Azkarra and Okavango had been deprived of this activity when they were launched here.

SGAP President and CEO Yosuke Nishi is there at the showroom to talk to us and see us off. I ask him if there are enough units of the Emgrand, and he nods — adding there is adequate supply so that buyers don’t have to wait. He also intimates that it is important for SGAP to hold the activity as the company knows people are waiting for feedback from people like us before they put the car into their consideration set. SGAP General Manager for Sales and Marketing Froilan Dytianquin concurs.

An industry veteran, Mr. Dytianquin also shares that SGAP is looking at selling 12,000 total vehicles in 2022 — about 2,500 of which will be Emgrands. More good news is forthcoming for Geely fans: A new model will be unveiled this year, in addition to an “updated” one. It’s not all about bringing in nameplates, either. The executive further reveals that 27 Geely dealerships are now open, and six are in the works. By the end of the year, SGAP expects 40 facilities in total to be open. It’s pretty obvious that Geely Philippines is about doing things quickly.

Now that the economy and society in general is opening up, Geely is ready to dip its toes in an even bigger pool. “The Geely Emgrand aims to continue what we have begun from our young brand. We have heard and listened to our customers and this gave us the confidence to bring in a sedan for the Filipino market,” Mr. Nishi had said in a statement.

So, let’s get to the crux of the matter. Is the Emgrand the right-priced sedan you are looking for?

In China, the answer is obviously yes — there have been more than 3.38 million Emgrands sold cumulatively. Now, the Philippines is the first overseas market to get the model since the all-new edition’s global launch last year. SGAP said that part of the reason why we had dibs on the Emgrand has to do with the aforementioned robust sales and growth in such a short time. China is certainly looking at the Philippines with keen interest. Remember the Coolray Sport Limited? That was an example of China’s swift response to demands of the Philippine market.

The Coolray formula for success certainly comes to mind at first blush of the Emgrand. Here’s a product that punches above its price point in terms of fitments and execution. Even during the aforementioned focus group discussion, the Emgrand stood out as defying the conventions of the affordable class. It benefits from Geely’s advanced, so-called 5G smart factory in Changxing. Said to employ 100% automated welding, the Emgrand thus gets consistent gaps and flush (less than 3.5mm). “This factory also enables Geely now to adopt the longest roof laser welding instead of spot weld on the Emgrand, increasing its strength by 50%, making the vehicle safer.”

You can see this elevated level metalwork in the Emgrand, which sports not only a great finish but elegant styling — reminiscent of a certain Sweden-headquartered brand which Geely owns. Isn’t synergy great?

I don’t know about you, but “subcompact” seems like a misnomer for this model, which stretches 4,638mm and is 1,822-mm wide. The Premium variant assigned to me on this drive has all the bells and whistles — including leatherette and suede material that cover its seats. If you ask me, the blue-and-white color scheme is a little off-putting though, particularly if you happen to choose an exterior color that doesn’t match it (like the red-hued unit I’m driving).

But let’s look at the exterior first. The Emgrand Premium gets projector LED headlamps with auto headlight control. Daytime running lights are LEDs as well and are standard in the lineup. The Premium’s side mirrors fold automatically, and boasts a hands-free-opening, 500-liter trunk. Speaking of which, with the rear seatbacks folded, this capacity grows to 1,100 liters. Seventeen-inch alloy wheels with 205/50R17 tires complete the picture, along with nifty welcome and farewell lighting that showcases a lighting routine on the Emgrand when you unlock or lock it — courtesy of 190 LED bulbs in the rear which “project three unique light patterns.”

The first thing that calls your attention inside the cabin is a huge eight-inch infotainment screen with wireless screen mirroring via EasyConnection. Unfortunately, neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto is available, but we keep hoping an OTA update in the near future will make the Emgrand more accepting of our mobile devices. Having said that, I managed to pair my iPhone wirelessly for some hands-free calls and to listen to Spotify tunes through its six speakers. Not bad. The screen also turns into a reversing display.

“The inside is where all the magic happens,” says SGAP Product Planing Specialist Aaron Leang. Much of the magic is in the electronic air-conditioning with an “intelligent interactive system.” You can set it that when you unlock the car, the A/C can be switched on. Conversely, when you leave the car and lock it, a blower will activate after a minute. This dries the evaporator to prevent the growth of molds. The air-con also has a CN95 filter to keep the cabin free from viruses and bacteria.

“It adapts to what you do,” adds Mr. Leang. “It lowers the fan speed of the A/C when you make a Bluetooth call, when the sunroof is opened it switches to fresh air mode, and when the recirculation button is engaged, all windows will close — including the sunroof.”

The Emgrand is powered by a new 1.5-liter dual continuous variable valve timing normally aspirated engine, good for 102hp at 5,600rpm and 142Nm. Geely says the car is kept light through an all-aluminum alloy cylinder block. The driver accesses the goodness through an eight-speed continuous variable transmission (CVT).

As the output numbers would suggest, the Emgrand isn’t built for speed or agility — that would be missing the point altogether. What it does deliver in spades is what the lower variant (for now) is named after — COMFORT. NVH levels are managed, the aforementioned air-conditioning is adequate, there’s a lot of soft-touch materials within. Space is generous, as are places to stow your stuff. There’s even a USB port under the rear A/C vents. Thoughtful touches help the Emgrand elevate the category — such as an all-digital instrument cluster which even affords a real-time view of tire pressure. Other appurtenances and safety essentials include ABS with EBD, electronic stability program, traction control, hill hold control, electric parking brake with autohold, six air bags (on the Premium), and three ultra-sonic reversing radars and high definition wide angle reverse camera (Premium). There’s also a rear intelligent monitoring System that reminds you to check the rear seats before getting off the car.

If you check out the website of Geely Philippines and find your way to the Emgrand’s brochure, you’ll see a third variant, “S.” It appears to be the lowest trim, although it isn’t available just yet. Now that’s going to undercut a lot more of the competition.

But I think, for now, this is one thing Geely isn’t going to rush. It’s willing to wait on how the Emgrand will be received. If you ask me, there’s much reason to believe the reception will be as warm as the summer we’re now going through.

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