Chiming in on a Changan

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Wayfarer

 

The Alsvin is priced right and performs well. Is it designed to make the competition sweat?

HAVE YOU heard of Changan? It’s one of the latest Chinese car brands that’s been launched in the country. It is initially featuring a five-model lineup that consists of an entry-level subcompact sedan, three iterations of crossover SUVs, and an electric car.

The brand is headquartered in Chongquing, China, is state-owned, and is also a Chinese domestic top-seller. The build of its vehicles, its attractive styling, value-enhancing features, and hard-to-beat price tags all constitute a good value proposition for discerning customers who wish to squeeze the most bang out of their buck. Indeed, a lot of China-made cars have truly emancipated themselves from the stereotypes of old, and proven themselves worthy considerations for the modern, practical buyer — and this brand is one of them.

It was therefore a pleasure to test-drive one of its products — the Alsvin five-speed MT, which is the brand’s entry-level subcompact sedan — on my way to The Farm at San Benito, which is roughly an 88-km drive (per way) from Manila. To be honest, I did not choose this model and variant myself, as I may have been more inclined to opt for an automatic transmission (which would be realized via their Alsvin Platinum edition, which comes with more bells and whistles for about an additional P100,000) considering the typical holiday traffic and highway ruckus. But the unit was appointed to me, and I obliged. And boy — was I glad that I did! I did not suspect that it would be this fun and surprising.

The Alsvin 1.4-liter MT was its own little box of humble joy — the shifts were crisp and precisely locked gears into place, the clutch pedal was super soft (I did not experience any long-drive knee discomfort), and the transmission, responsive. Sure, its maximum power was at a modest 100ps, but that’s not bad for a roomy sedan currently priced at a convincing P539,000. I found the power sufficient to keep me at speed on the highway (approximately 80-100kph) although, admittedly, I would consider it primarily for my city drives. Inside the car it felt airy and roomy — with my six-foot-four-inch-tall husband telling me that his headroom was sufficient, with extra room to spare.

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Unlike the Alsvin Platinum 1.5-liter variant which flaunts leather seats and a sunroof, my basic Alsvin 5MT had fabric seats, and I found them comfortable to my satisfaction. A seven-inch touchscreen display with Bluetooth and USB connectivity was nicely seated on the dash, and the audio output was via two speakers (you get four in the Platinum variant). I’d like to point out that I was especially delighted with the fact that despite its bargain of a price, this bundle of fun is already equipped with a proper reverse camera — a feature you would sometimes find lacking in more expensive competitors in the segment. This manual variant is also gifted with a handy tire-pressure monitoring system, which I also think is a feature found more often in pricier vehicles.

Oh, and did I mention that it was fun to drive? The journey to The Farm — which is nestled in the greener heart of Lipa in Batangas — involves a lot of narrow, hilly roads with tight turns and abrupt ascents. With the proper manipulation of engaged gears and wise use of the car’s momentum, navigating through these slithering roads is a walk in the park. Plus, the car is light and fun to maneuver. It was definitely more engaging (from a driver’s perspective) than say, driving an automatic where there would be less driver input involved. Of course, it all depends on your mood. But what I wanted to share is that a form of driving exhilaration is still possible, even with simple, no-frills vehicles — provided that the tuning is good and the gears properly click into place. This Alsvin 5MT also had suggestive shifting displayed within the instrument cluster.

Moreover, I found the (electric-powered) steering to be delightfully light — making it easy to maneuver into parking slots. If anything, I think the headlights could be brighter — but then again it is easy to adjust these things with aftermarket products.

And another one of the characteristics that most impressed me about this variant? It is extremely… fuel… frugal. I received this unit bearing a full tank; then drove it around Makati CBD in the morning, and then to The Farm in Lipa, which is about 88 kms away via the SLEX and StarToll as my highway route. I actually got lost en route to The Farm and this cost me an additional 30-minute detour. On the way back to Manila, I followed a convoy which also detoured for an extra 15-minute drive before heading straight back to Makati. At the end of these trips, the Alsvin’s digital fuel reading still had not been reduced even by one block/unit. Is it the car or is it the driver? Maybe it’s a bit of both! I am now excited to try driving the rest of the vehicles in Changan’s interesting product lineup!

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