Geely Azkarra Premium – Almost had it all

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Geely has been making waves since they reentered the market last year with the Coolray. Things slowed down when the pandemic hit but once the showrooms opened again, their momentum was immediately back, selling and launching crossovers left and right.

Apart from the sales, my colleagues have been saying good things about them too. This includes the Azkarra, one of their releases during the pandemic, but most of the things I’ve heard are for the Luxury variant that has the mild-hybrid system. I’m not easily swayed though so I took everything with a spoonful of salt and asked Geely for a drive with the Premium trim. I wanted to know if the Azkarra, without its opulence, can still be worthy to be in people’s garages.

After my week-long date with the Azkarra Premium, I didn’t want to return it. Let me tell you why.

Liking the Azkarra is easy at first glance. It doesn’t have a polarizing design, has the usual tropes of a crossover with its chrome touches and cladding, and has just the right bulk for its size. Best of all, it doesn’t try to be anyone else. The ‘Expanding Cosmos’ grille alone which is complete, unlike the Coolray and Okavango where the top portion is cut off, perfectly sets the Azkarra apart from its brothers and the rest of the segment. It’s bold, classy, and certainly unique.

Quality is apparent once you get inside and close the door. I picked it up in Geely’s North EDSA showroom and you know how loud the symphony of engines can be. Once the doors closed though, everything became too quiet that even motorcycles and trucks were barely audible, more so once you start playing music. Push the start button and you’ll hear the low grunt of the 3-cylinder engine. It’s noisier than an average 1.5-liter 4-cylinder, but almost none of that creeps into the cabin.

The interior is very modern and surprisingly not overwhelming. All contact points are clad by soft touch leather, including the dashboard. I love how every button, despite its quantity, is flush to the overall design so your eyes just follow the major lines on the dash and panels, thereby avoiding a cluttered look. The drive mode selector is sticking out but avoids becoming an eye sore with its knurled chrome finish. In the middle of it all is this joystick gear shifter. No metal gate pattern, no extension of the arms needed; it just pivots on a solid base and feels very, very expensive.

Once on the road, the Azkarra continued to surprise me. The throttle is more responsive than other crossovers, making overtaking easier even if you’re just in Comfort mode. There’s a noticeable delay when you’re coming from a stop, but you’ll only notice it if you’re heavy-footed on the throttle or you like sprinting when the light turns green. Otherwise, it’s above average in its class.

Activating Sport mode takes the responsiveness to a higher level but won’t push your head back into the headrest. There’s speed for sure, but it’s well mannered in its delivery so as to not spill anyone’s drinks inside the car should you do it without warning. I also like that the Sport mode doesn’t only affect engine response but the firmness of the steering wheel as well. It’s heavier than the Comfort mode’s steering at higher speeds, and it makes maneuvers a lot more precise.

Weaving past cars on the road, setting the Sport mode on and off, it’s hard to believe this is coming from a 3-cylinder engine, and without the mild-hybrid assistance for this Premium trim. Together with the 6-speed automatic, it puts out 177 horses and 255 Nm of pull, which is just a few units above the power figures of the Civic RS Turbo. It’s insane how a small engine can carry this big crossover easily.

What’s more surprising about this powertrain is the resulting fuel economy. Usually, a small engine in a big body can only thrive at higher speeds and will hate you when you encounter stop lights and traffic. Remember the Ford Territory Trend I tested that had a paltry 6.5km/l in traffic? The Azkarra defied this expectation. I went through very congested roads consecutively because I can’t believe the figures it returned but I had to concede. In traffic, it’s way above average, scoring 8.2km/l, while cruising speed when the road frees up will yield 12 km/l.

Another marvel is the Auto Hold system. I always turn this off because it doesn’t work smoothly in all the cars I’ve been in that have this feature. The Azkarra’s brake-hold system is perfect though. It won’t lock on your brakes even if you’ve stopped moving if your pressure on the pedal is light. You have to get past its threshold to activate the system. Moving again is smooth, with only a light tap on the gas pedal to disengage the mechanism. Overall, it acts and feels like a human is doing a lock and release of the brakes.

The premium treatment applies to the passengers too. The metal door lock is flush to the door handles (that first time riders will take a while before they can open the door), the shotgun rider has a pocket by the right of the shifter, their own grab-handle beside it, and generous leg space without pushing the seat back. But even if you do, the rear passenger will still have enough space for them since the Azkarra is really roomy. There are also rear air vents, USB ports below it, and a pop-up gloss black cupholder in the center armrest. Cargo area has enough space for the belongings of all five passengers but if you need more, you can just fold the 60-40 seats.

However, the Azkarra is not one without faults. The speakers tend to distort when playing bass-driven music, like Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy or Kendrick Lamar’s Humble. The only way around it is to play them at lower volumes, but that defeats the purpose of the great cabin isolation of the Azkarra. This is my first time experiencing a speaker having difficulty with pop music, but is really good with rock and metal.

Then there’s the massive 12.3-inch touchscreen at the center of the dash. It’s not directed towards the driver so during the afternoon and you’re unlucky to have the sun glaring on your screen, you’ll have a hard time seeing the 360-camera system. I can still give it a pass since I like the tradeoff of it being flush to the dashboard, but it also lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is a big letdown. Imagine having Waze on that giant monitor, that will be so useful.

This Azkarra Premium 2-wheel drive is P160k cheaper than the Luxury trim. With that in mind, think about this: the mild hybrid system, wireless charger, powered tailgate, and off-road drive mode were all removed without replacement. The Nappa leather upholstery became your usual synthetic leather, AWD turned into a FWD, and the 7-speed DCT became the more conventional 6-speed auto; yet we only got P160k off the sticker price. I think the difference should’ve been more.

As critical as I am regarding the pricing, I still had a hard time returning the Azkarra. I’m sure anyone will have the same feeling after test driving this. The cabin space is very generous, the drive is pleasing and well-mannered, top-tier engineering, design is so modern but not alienating, almost perfect execution, and very fuel efficient. The things you’ll like about it far outweigh its relatively small shortcomings.

At P1,438,000, this Azkarra Premium is a very desirable crossover. It works whether you’re a bachelor, have a small family, or even if your kids grow up – unless you have more than 3. If there’s no Luxury trim above it, this Premium variant is still worthy of being Geely’s flagship vehicle.

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