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Wheels of the Week: Omoda dazzles with affordable tech

It’s the newest automotive marque in South Africa, but it can teach the old brands some technology tricks, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It’s not often we get to try out the tech on a car brand that most people don’t know exist. No, not a secret prototype, but the newest automotive marque to arrive in South Africa, the Omoda.

It’s a premium sub-brand of Chinese auto manufacturer Chery, and one can see why they chose to market it as a separate brand in South Africa. While Chery vehicles are known for being affordable, practical and reliable, the new Omoda range is both futuristic in its design, and future-friendly in its features. This allows for opening an entirely new category to Chery customers.

We tried the Omoda C5 230T compact SUV, and were immediately struck by the extent of high-tech features typically associated with flagship luxury vehicles at twice the price.

These include powered seat adjustments for both the driver (six ways) and the front passenger (four ways), an advanced 360-degree camera system, wireless Android Auto and Apple Car Play, dual 10.25″ screens – infotainment and driver information – in a single display panel across the dashboard, strips of ambient lighting that seem to undulate through the cabin, and a wireless charging dock that is among the most accessible we have seen.

Under the hood, the Omoda C5 is powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged petrol engine that produces 115 kW and 230 Nm of torque. This engine is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which provides smooth and efficient power delivery.

Once one is driving, a range of autonomous features open up, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane keeping.

This is where the high-tech becomes a little too high-touch: automatic lane-keeping is a little too forceful, and quite unforgiving when one is trying to dodge potholes. Once the feature has been set to low sensitivity, however, it becomes a useful driving aid.

Three tech features stand out:

  • Wireless Android Auto, which readers of these columns will know is disappointingly absent from most supposedly high-tech cars. Here, the Omoda matches up to high-end cars, but takes it further by pairing seamlessly with Android every time the car is switched on, following initial activation. It also makes more Android Auto apps available on the car screen than one sees in most vehicles. The one drawback we found was that Waze kept freezing on the infotainment systems, and even crashed the system. A switch to Google Maps delivered seamless and accurate navigation.
  • The 360 degree camera system, which goes further than even the most high-end vehicles we have tested. When the car slows down to below 10km, and particularly when reversing, the cameras are activated. Two-thirds of the display presents a high-resolution rear view with clear guide-and-warn lines, while the other third provides an artificial intelligence-generated 360 degree aerial view showing exactly what objects or obstacles are positioned in close proximity to the car.
  • The best vehicle-sensing imagery we have yet seen on the driver’s display, picking up and providing a stylised illustration of the vehicle immediately in front as well as those in lanes alongside. At times, it is able to display multiple vehicles ahead. Most impressively, it differentiates between cars and trucks in the images it displays. This suggests that, once the driver assist element has been fine-tuned, this is likely to offer best-in-class performance in this category.

Other tech features also make an impression, although slightly more low-key or less surprising:

  • The Home button for the infotainment system comprises a subtle touch-sensitive icon that sits on the central console next to the automatic gear lever.
  • Climate control is easily accessible as touch-sensitive icons below the infotainment screen – and it’s easy to control, which is not as common as one would expect.
  • The wireless charging pad is paired with a second pad that is ideal for a passenger’s phone, although it is labelled – unobtrusively – as a resting space for the car keys.
  • The car automatically engages the Parking brake when the engine is switched off.

The tech alone underlines the vehicle’s value for money. It is a bonus – but also probably the main drawcard – that it also looks good, turns heads, and does not look shabby among the high-end models of luxury brands.

Priced at R447,900 for the Omoda C5 Luxury and R479,900 for the Omoda C5 Luxury S, The cars are available with a comprehensive 5-year/150,000 km warranty and a 5-year/70,000 km service plan. It is also backed by the Chery Group’s 1-million-kilometer/10-year engine warranty.

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