Not so long ago, two Chinese brands entered our market and in a very short space of time have gained market share – and a good share of New Zealand automotive awards.

In December 2023, OMODA and Jaecoo launched in New Zealand as another Chinese-based contender to steal sales away from existing brands. Omoda will initially sell a single model – the C5 – in both petrol and full EV models. They gave us a petrol-engined C5 for a few days to gather first impressions.

The Jaecoo brand will follow and will sell what are essentially the same cars but with different styling.

If we’re talking about first impressions here, then the design of the C5 is going to come up first. Yes, I’m talking about the front of the car. It’s certainly eye-catching and looks like nothing else on the road. Perhaps that’s what OMODA was going for, but I expect some kiwi buyers might find it a bit too much. For me, it grew on me and even after a few days, didn’t register as anything outlandish in my eyes. Your view may differ.

Side on, those flashes of red and scalloped panels look excellent, giving the car some personality, while the floating rear of the roof looks sharp and modern. The rear of the car is busy with lots of angles and jutting out bits, but still looks good. 

Walking up to the car with the key in your pocket will see the brake lights light up in sequence, a nice touch of design. Opening the driver’s door you get a sense of style and an almost futuristic feeling to the cabin. In some ways, it’s not different to other modern small/medium SUVs out there, but different enough to be fresh. 

On getting into the C5, you’ll hear some music playing that I swear is identical to the music from the movie, Jumanji. Every time I got into the C5 and heard that music, I’d look in the rearview mirror expecting to see Robin Williams sitting there (he wasn’t). 

Equipment levels are high, but then this is the top-spec 230T model. The AC controls are operated by touch, which is a shame, but they work to an acceptable level. Regardless, expect to see adaptive cruise control, a heated steering wheel, a 360-degree camera system, an electric sunroof, Qi wireless phone charging, and heated front seats. We’ll cover all the equipment and features when we get a model to review.

Looks and equipment levels aside, how does the OMODA C5 drive? The engine is a 1.5-litre, turbocharged, 4-cylinder petrol motor that manages 108kW of power and 230Nm of torque. It’s complemented by a CVT transmission. In normal daily use, the performance is more than adequate and the C5 will spin the front wheels from a standstill if you want it to. Around town and on the motorway, the engine is well-behaved and relatively quiet. Heading up some of Wellington’s steeper hills will make the engine more vocal, but not to an unacceptable level. 

The CVT transmission is a little surprising. Again, daily driving the C5 and the transmission will use a stepped mode to give the driver a bit more feel of what’s happening with the car’s performance. Weirdly, if you floor the accelerator, the stepped mode disappears and you simply get CVT flaring. It feels back to front, but we have seen this same scenario in other CVT transmissions, where there is no stepped mode when you really want it to behave that way. In general driving terms, it’s just fine.

The ride can feel choppy at times, and then on other surfaces quite compliant. Handling is definitely set for the softer side, as the C5 can feel a bit wallowy on some bends. It’s safe enough, but perhaps not push it too much. Your average driver will be more than happy with the car’s handling. 

The C5 is fitted with a lot of driver assistance systems, and many of these work well. A couple to note; the system that watches your eyes to make sure you are not distracted has the same issue as 80% of other brands that have the same system; it’s too keen and will tell you you’ve been distracted “for a long time” when you are simply looking at the speedo. There are few manufacturers that have this system working well, so OMODA is not alone here.

The lane-keep assist is far too aggressive, and sadly you really need to turn this off to stop being caught out when it kicks in – sometimes when you are not even on the white line on the left side of the road. It would be nice to have some options in the infotainment system to be able to adjust this. It’s not the end of the world, but we should not have to turn safety systems off to drive a car comfortably. 

Those few niggles aside, I enjoyed my short time in the 2024 OMODA C5. But – it all hinges on the price. To launch an all-new Chinese brand here is a hard road, and buyers will be expecting some sharp pricing to tempt them to a new brand. We look forward to hearing the pricing of this all-new (to New Zealand) model. 

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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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