The Chery J3 is the first car I’ve driven from China’s burgeoning car industry. I had some idea what to expect after Fred’s review of the J11, but I was optimistic, maybe the J3 was better. I really did want to like this car, but sorry Chery, I haven’t disliked a car so much in a long time. A new J3 wasn’t available, so Brendan Foot Chery very kindly lent us a second-hand car from their stock. It was a 2013 model with 38,000km on the odometer, so it had some wear and tear. This review is based on my experience of that car, not a brand new one, but this car was well within its warranty.

According to the brochure, the J3 is “an exciting 5 door hatch. This is another fine example of Chery’s commitment to building highly specified vehicles that customers can enjoy”. It has six airbags (front, side and curtain), ABS and EBD, stability control and seatbelt pre-tensioners. It hasn’t been tested by ANCAP so doesn’t have a star rating.

There’s a 1.6 litre four cylinder engine producing a claimed 93kW, mated to a “seven speed CVT” transmission. Other features include cruise control, rear parking sensors, electric windows and mirrors, climate control and a six speaker stereo.

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First Impressions

Externally the J3 is pretty bland looking. They’ve added some chrome to brighten it up, and moved the rear door handles up to the back of the windows for that four door coupe look. But somehow the overall effect is a car you can easily walk past in a car park, which I almost did a couple of times. I quite like the blue though. It’s also available in red, white or silver. Around the back is a curious addition – twin chrome oval tail pipes. They seem a bit out of place on a smallish curvy hatchback.

Inside, the seats look decent, trimmed in what Chery claim is leather. I’m not sure what sort of leather it is but it’s pretty shiny, and the seats’ lack of side support mean you slide around quite a bit when going around roundabouts. After the initial drive I had a sweaty back, and if you wear jeans, as you spin around to get out of the car they make an amusing farting sound, much to my daughter’s amusement.

The instruments are clean and simple with a big central speedo with rev counter, fuel and temperature gauges either side. There’s a small digital display for odometer and clock. There are three knobs in the centre for heating and aircon controls. All decent sized and clear buttons. Under the knobs is a shallow pop-out storage tray and above the stereo is a pop-up storage cubby. Neither is anywhere near the power socket which is behind the driver’s elbow.

In the centre console there’s something I didn’t expect to see in a new car – a cigarette lighter and ash tray. There’s an ash tray in the back too. Between them there’s a cup holder with two different sized round holes, only one of which is big enough to fit a coffee cup.

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The wheel is trimmed in perforated leather and is adjustable for height. The front seats only adjust back and forth, and hinge at the bottom. I wouldn’t fancy sitting on them for a long journey as they’re not particularly comfortable.

I slotted the J3 into drive and pulled away. Well I tried to but hardly anything happened. The car crawled forward for a few seconds  then suddenly seemed to find some power somewhere and leapt into action. This happened several times in the few days I had the car, usually when the engine was cold. I hope this was a fault with our test car as it could be downright dangerous.

Even when working normally, the J3 isn’t exactly fast. Chery claim 93kW (at 6150 rpm) but even in manual mode the transmission changes up for you at 5500rpm. It’s probably best as it’s pretty noisy at those revs. After the issue setting off I was worried the Chery might not make it up the steep incline of Ngauranga Gorge, but once warmed up it seemed fine.

I arrived home feeling thoroughly unimpressed with the J3, still hoping it would grow on me.

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What’s it like to live with?

The J3 has a decent sized boot which we used to carry quite a few boxes of stuff home from my wife’s work. There is no button or catch to open the boot, you have to hold the button on the remote for a couple of seconds or press the button on the dash. This is annoying if it doesn’t quite shut properly, which happened several times. Rear legroom and space is pretty good. The rear seats are 60/40 split folding for bigger items.

The dash materials are very plasticky and feel cheap. Rest your left leg against the centre console when driving and you can feel it flexing. There’s no foot rest either.

The six speaker stereo is surprisingly good, with decent sound and bass. It has a CD player but no Bluetooth connectivity or aux input. There is USB on the front of the unit but it’s the D shaped mini USB and I have no idea what you would plug in there.

There’s remote central locking, but when you lock it, it makes a piercing shriek which made me almost embarrassed to press the button. The beep for the reversing sensors is equally annoying and sounds like the beep from a 90s mobile phone. Even the indicator tick noise sounds cheap and annoying. The indicators kept cancelling too early when turning left, but not cancelling at all when going right.

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So how does it drive? Well apart from the lack of power, it had some interesting driving characteristics. I found it very hard to drive smoothly as there seemed to be no power with low throttle, but pressing the pedal a little more gave a sudden jump. Lifting off the throttle seemed to cut the power too harshly making the car jerk, as though it was going to do the bunny-hop thing. This could be a tuning issue with our test car of course. The steering is vague – on the motorway you can move it a few degrees either way with no effect on the car’s travel. The brakes are okay with discs all round, but the brake feel doesn’t instill confidence. The suspension somehow manages to be both soft and rolly on corners and harsh over bumps. Combined with the shiny seats, this can make cornering a disconcerting experience.

To add to the lacklustre driving experience the J3 has very wide A, B and C pillars which seem to obstruct just the place you want to look when reversing or going around roundabouts.

The more I drove the J3 the more I disliked it. At one point the petrol light came on (at first only going down hills) and I started to hope I would run out of fuel so I could walk instead. When I’m doing a job I find mildly distasteful, such as washing up, I find myself involuntarily making a frowny face. The J3 made me pull this face the whole time I was driving it.

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What it’s up against

As the J3 is in our $20K Challenge, you can compare it to other sub $20K cars here.

The good and the bad.

ProsCons
  • Big boot
  • Decent rear leg room
  • Pretty good stereo
  • Vague steering
  • Lack of “go”
  • Unsupportive, slidey  seats
  • Not the best suspension
  • Feels cheap
  • Unknown ANCAP safety rating

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What do we think?

I really wanted the J3 to be like some of the other sub $20k cars we’ve tested – cheap but lovable – but it’s really not. To me our test car felt cheap, and tired. The exterior is bland, the interior is dated. Equipment levels are low for a car that’s towards the top end of our price scale, and compared to all of the other cars I’ve driven it’s old-fashioned and poor to drive. I have no doubt that Chery will catch up with the more established manufacturers, but based on this J3 they have a long way to go.

Rating – Chevron rating 1 out of 5

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Read more about the Chery J3 on the Chery New Zealand website.

Autoclique would like to thank Brendan Foot Motors in Lower Hutt, Wellington for supplying us with the review car.  Visit their website here.

We would not have been able to complete the $20K Challenge without Brendan Foot Motors’ kind assistance.

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Vehicle TypeSmall hatchback
Starting Price$14990 + GST + on-road costs (manual)

Currently on limited time special at $2000 discount

Tested Price$16990 + GST + on-road costs (new price)

Currently on limited time special at $2000 discount

$11,995 (second-hand sticker price)

Engine1.6L VVT 4 Cylinder
Transmission7 Speed CVT Automatic
0 – 100 kphNot quoted
Kerb WeightNot quoted for CVT but manual is 1350 kg
Length x Width x Height4282 x 1792 x 1467 mm
Cargo CapacityNot quoted
Fuel Tank57 litres
ANCAP Safety RatingsNot tested
Warranty3 Years/100,000km

3 Years/100,000km Roadside Assistance

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1 COMMENT

  1. I can add another bad thing to your list. If the car is 2 years old or 40,000 or what comes first it is not just a service, they say cambelt also needs to be replaced…..can you believe that. Yip I am a suckered who bought the car.

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