We drive Chery's Jaecoo J6, an all-electric compact SUV with retro looks

Damien O’Carroll
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You would be forgiven for thinking that the iCar brand was from a certain fruit-themed maker of iPhones and iPads, but while Apple has been running hot and cold on the idea of building its own cars for quite a while now (it has currently gone quite cold on it), Chinese manufacturer Chery has beaten it to the punch on using the iCar name with its line of funky, small off-roaders that out-Jimny the Suzuki Jimny in terms of sheer retro goodness.

iCar's first model, the iCar 03 was revealed last year and went on sale in China earlier this year, and is a superbly chunky Land Rover Defender-esque small SUV with compact dimensions (4.4 metres long, with a 2.5 metre wheelbase), all electric powertrains and a 69.8kWh LFP battery from CATL.

The iCar 03 is an all-electric compact SUV that punches far above its weight.

The iCar 03 is available in 2WD and AWD forms, with the packing a 137kW electric motor on its rear axle, while the AWD version gets an extra motor on the front and a combined power output of 208kW.

The 2WD car has a claimed range of up to 500km, while solar panels can also be equipped on the roof.

The 03T is a tougher looking more off-road oriented version of the iCar 03.

Chery is making a big push with the iCar brand in its home market, where retro-futuristic inspired SUVs are extremely popular, and recently revealed two new models at the Beijing Auto Show; the smaller V23 and the wonderfully quirky X25 off-road MPV, as well as a more off-road oriented version of the 03, the 03T.

While the brand seems more interested in small electric SUVs/off-roaders, it has also previously shown a sleek sporty coupe in the form of the iCar GT.

So what has all this got to do with the New Zealand market where Chery is only represented (so far) by the Omoda and Jaecoo brands?

iCar revealed the small (think Suzuki Jimny 5 Door size) V23 at the 2024 Beijing Auto Show.

Well,  we are in China to attend the Beijing show and an Omoda Jaecoo business conference in Wuhu - where Chery is headquartered - and a cheeky little none-too-subtle hint was dropped in the form of an iCar 03 parked out the front of our hotel.

Except this iCar 03 was wearing Jaecoo J6 branding.

The first Jaecoo models are making their way to New Zealand as you read this and while the J6 isn't part of that first shipment - it isn't even officially confirmed for NZ yet - it would seem to be almost an inevitability that it land here under the Jaecoo umbrella eventually.

The iCar 03 will also be sold in export markets as the Jaecoo J6. It may well come here.

The Jaecoo J7 SUV - a rebadged Chery Tansuo 06 -  is likely to land this year in plug-in hybrid form - before the larger J8 (also a PHEV) arrives in early 2025. Were it to come here, the J6 would likely be after that.

Adding more fuel to the fire is the fact that, the next day we were allowed to briefly drive the Jaecoo J6 - as well as the J7 and J8, but that's another story - at a series of short handling loops rather improbably set up in the parking lot of an amusement park in Wuhu.

While the actual drive experience revealed little useful about the J6, it allowed us to get up close and personal with the interior, as well as experience the acceleration of the 208kW AWD model.

The Jaecoo J6/iCar 03 has a remarkably high quality interior for its position in the market.

The first thing that strikes you is the impressive quality levels of the J6. If it does head our way, it is likely to be at the lower end of the EV market, with suggestions that it be priced similarly to the BYD Atto 3.

Put simply, it destroys the BYD in terms of materials and build quality (which itself is impressive for the money), and on interior fit and finish alone would seem to position itself much higher in the market segment.

The dash is dominated by a crisp and vibrant large centre screen, while the rest of the cabin is sleek and minimalist. Again, all of an impressively high quality, and with more than a hint of Land Rover design cues.

While the J6 boasts some undeniable Land Rover Defender influences, it still has a look all of its own.

Acceleration was brisk, but not neck snappingly so off the line, but it built up progressively and didn't let up before we had to brake on the short course. The steering is light, but felt nicely accurate and had far more defined self-centreing than other Jaecoo and Omoda models we have driven, which have previously lacked a particularly committed return to centre.

Although the short course provided us with little in the way of handling, body control seemed nicely tight, despite an impressively plush ride over the rougher sections of tarmac and occasional small speed bump.

While we don't have any figures, the boot is on the small side, while also being quite shallow, but there is additional storage under the rear seat and an optional rear door-mounted storage box that mimics a spare wheel is also available. The AWD model we got to crawl over didn't have any storage up front under the bonnet either, but the RWD model might be able to provide some.

The boot isn't exactly huge, but is plenty big for a small urban SUV.

Our brief experiences with the Jaecoo J6 were deeply impressive and while the compact SUV is still officially only under consideration for our market, we would expect it to be a no-brainer. It's endearing blend of chunky retro looks, seriously high quality and comfort would, at the right price, be a sure fire winner.

While we do stress "at the right price", that wouldn't seem to be too much of a concern at this stage, with Omoda Jaecoo so far hitting the right notes in that regard with the Omoda C5 and E5 twins being extremely sharply priced, while the upcoming Jaecoo models also promising to be extremely competitive in their pricing as well.


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