If you haven’t heard of Omoda, you obviously haven’t been reading much New Zealand motoring media recently. It’s the latest car brand from China getting ready to launch here in late-March and this is its first model, the C5 compact SUV.
Omoda and Jaecoo (another SUV brand arriving later in the year) are both spinoffs from Chery, which might spark some memories from a decade ago. Probably not good ones.
We don’t use the C-word here in 2023. There’s no Chery badging on these models for NZ; the brand is just Omoda.
We’ve written plenty about this car, but this is our first chance to have a proper hands-on play and introductory drive. Just a short overnighter, but still enough to free-range and get a feel for this new (to us) model. It’s been around in Australia for nearly a year now.
There are two turbo-petrol engines on offer, an entry 1.5 CVT FWD and a more powerful 1.6 with dual-clutch FWD or the option of AWD. Our car is the base 1.5 powertrain, but you’ll note it still looks quite striking; that’s because it’s the more lavish of two specifications available for either engine.
It’s eager, if a bit gruff, and while a CVT might ring some alarm bells, this one maintains its composure and avoids flaring.
We’ll have to wait until launch time to get the final word on which models get what, but our car has some quite high-end convenience features: automatic lock/unlock (just walk away or approach with the key in your pocket), automatic tailgate (again, no gestures required, it’ll open for you as long as you have the key) and a really fancy 360-degree camera system (which we know is exclusive to the top-spec) that boasts an incredibly sharp screen.
In fact, the whole twin 10.25in-screen instrument panel and infotainment setup is impressive. The Bluetooth/phone projection is incredibly quick to hook up and the wireless connection is very stable. Nice Tesla-style angled charging pad too, complete with Alcantara-like finish.
The Omoda’s voice-assistant USP is that you can choose your own prompt word, which is easily done through a menu in the infotainment system.
So the tech is mostly great, although we did struggle with the voice assistant a bit. It has plenty of features, but it’s hard to wake with the prompt word at times: if you have a window open for example, or it seems to be susceptible to certain types of music playing in the car. It’s not as alert as BYD’s similar system.
The Omoda’s voice-assistant USP is that you can choose your own prompt word, which is easily done through a menu in the infotainment system. Nice idea and the issues we had were nothing to do with that functionality – we tried lots. If you know what we mean.
In fact, you might look at the Omoda C5 and think “that should really be an electric vehicle”. Well, it will be.
The whole interior ambience is way above what you’d expect for what’s likely to be a budget small car. There are plenty of hard plastics around if you go looking (the doors especially), but the general use of texture and colour around the dashboard and cabin is really impressive.
This entry 1.5 engine has modest outputs, but there’s nothing wrong with it for city driving. It’s fairly eager, if a bit gruff, low-down and while a CVT might ring some alarm bells, this one maintains its composure and avoids flaring quite well. We’d avoid hitting manual mode, though (which is all too easy to do if you press down on the gear selector a tad too long when going for Drive) as all it really does is make the power delivery muddier.
Ride and handling are where you might find the C5 a little lacking compared with potential rivals like the Kia Niro, Hyundai Kona or Toyota Corolla Cross. The steering has a curious lack of self-centring but actually, that’s not a bad thing for a city car. The lack of suspension control is a bigger issue, with a fussy feel at low speed that transitions into pitch and wallow at higher velocity, or over big speed humps.
We’d be really interested to drive the more powerful 1.6 with the dual-clutch transmission and AWD, as that’s presumably set up to be more driver-focused. But as it stands, expectations have to be tempered with the value-for-money argument. It’s okay for the C5 to be a little rough around the edges dynamically when it’s so beautifully set up in the cabin, with all that tech, as long as it’s a lot cheaper than established rivals.
The price? That, we don’t know yet. Bearing in mind this is the entry engine but with the fully loaded Premium specification, a sticker in the mid-$30k bracket would represent a lot of city SUV for the money when its obvious rivals open at well over $40k even in their most basic formats (admittedly some with hybrid technology, which this C5 doesn’t offer).
In fact, you might look at the Omoda C5 and think “that should really be an electric vehicle”. Well, it will be. Part of the reason Omoda NZ has held back on its local launch is to make sure it can offer the whole lineup, and joining the petrol models in late-March will be a pure-electric version called the E5. Again, final details yet to be revealed, but expect a 60kWh-ish battery and 450km range.
OMODA C5 1.5 PREMIUM
ENGINE: 1.5-litre turbo-petrol four
GEARBOX: Continuously variable automatic, FWD
PRICE: $35,000 (our best guess, launch in late-March)