It happened to the Japanese car brands in the 60s—a time when the world looked down on tiny Japanese cars, woefully ignorant of the brilliance the diminutive cars possessed in their simplicity.
It happened again to the Korean brands in the 80s, when Kia had to use the platform of the Mazda 121 to produce the Kia Pride and Hyundai had to borrow Mitsubishi Lancer mechanicals to create the Hyundai Excel (which was then marketed as the cheapest car in America). Global consumers had little trust—and even less admiration—for Korean brands. At that time.
Today, the V10-powered LF-S has firmly established Lexus as a legitimate luxury supercar maker along the lines of Lamborghini and Ferrari, while the Hyundai has spun off its Genesis luxury brand to take on Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, and even Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
And now, decades later, history is repeating a third time—with yet another Asian invasion.
You would be living in a cave if you didn’t know this hard-charging new car-making nation is China. You may be excused if you didn’t know that three Chinese (or Chinese-owned) car brands have already been able to enter the Top 10 bestselling brands in the Philippines—Foton, MG and Geely. (The likewise bestselling Ford Territory is made in China, as are all new Volkswagen cars and SUVs.)
But there is one Chinese brand—make that one specific car model—that completely opened my eyes to just how far this new breed of carmakers have come. This is the Chery Tiggo 8 Pro.
The Tiggo 8 Pro, which was unveiled at the Manila International Auto Show last April, may be an unknown quantity in the Philippine market, but it was awarded the Most Innovative Car Award by the China Media Group upon its launch in its home market in 2020. Which was why we just had to see for ourselves how it would fare with Filipino drivers behind the wheel in a local setting—and preferably on a long drive (in our case, a quick jaunt to the top of Mount Samat in Bataan).
Navigation app Waze told us we were 45 minutes away from the Dambana ng Kagitingin (Shrine of Valor) located at the peak of Mount Samat. We were on the Bataan Provincial Highway, the passageway of World War II’s infamous Bataan Death March.
Through some of the stretches of the winding provincial road, we could see the gigantic 300-foot cross that marked the shrine, which sits near the peak of Samat.
From that distance, the cross looked tiny and the peak seemed so far away. It felt like it would take a very steep, vertical drive literally up the side of the mountain to enable us to make it up in 45 minutes.
But the convoy of motoring media had the pedal to the metal, heavy-footing it on the short straights and apexing the many serpentine curves leading up the mountain. And we had as much as 390 Newton-meters of torque under our right foot.
Needless to say, we made it in just over 35 minutes—amazing considering the huge cross was but a cloud-covered speck in the sky a few minutes before.
More importantly, we arrived fresh and invigorated from that spirited drive—all because we were behind the wheel of a vehicle that comprehensively blew away all our expectations and prejudices about a new and relatively unknown brand.
I got off from the Tiggo 8 Pro’s driver’s seat marveling at how this midsize 7-seater SUV reminded me of a Volvo XC60 or even XC90 in terms of its understatedly elegant styling, plush and comfortable ride (which is notably softer and more supple than its German rivals), its spacious and finely leather-swathed, soft-touch cabin, and its staggering array of luxury, comfort, convenience, and safety features. Name one feature—any feature—you’ll find in a BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Audi, or Volvo and there’s a 99% chance you’ll find it in the new Chery Tiggo 8 Pro.
The new Tiggo 8 Pro sports distinctive styling fronted by a big, bold, European-inspired Diamond grille and upscale-looking slim LED headlamps. The fog lamps and daytime running lights (DRLs) are all LED as well.
More upmarket styling touches come from smooth character lines, large 18-inch alloy wheels with comfort-oriented 235/55R18 tires, and upmarket silver-chrome trim on the lower portion of the doors, upper window line, and roof rails.
The rear is consistent with the luxury theme, with artfully designed LED taillamps, beautifully integrated silver-chrome-tipped dual tailpipes, and a rear spoiler that seamlessly extends from the roof.
Luxurious, feature-packed cabin
The Tiggo 8 Pro’s well-crafted, leather-covered cabin reflects the same upscale style and premium build quality. A luxurious soft-touch dashboard and classy diamond stitching on the seats remind me of those found in a Bentley, while an expansive Apple CarPlay-enabled 12.3-inch touchscreen (with 8 speakers, wireless smartphone charging, and 3 USB ports) and a 7-inch instrument cluster elevate the Tiggo 8 Pro to true luxury car levels of infotainment and connectivity.
Facing the driver is a plush flat-bottom leather steering wheel, which has multiple buttons for infotainment and cruise control. Six-way power front seats (with adjustable wrap-around headrests similar to those found in airplanes), programmable multi-color cabin ambient lighting, panoramic sunroof, digital touch panel AC controls further underscore the luxury car feel. Other premium Tiggo 8 Pro features include a power tailgate, a push-button electronic parking brake, and a rear camera with front and rear proximity sensors.
Strong yet economical turbo GDI engines
Delivering spirited performance during the drive was the new Tiggo 8 Pro 1.6’s new-generation turbocharged gasoline direct-injection (TGDI) 1.6-liter DOHC 16-valve Euro 5-compliant 4-cylinder petrol engine that develops 195 hp at 5,500 rpm and 290 Nm widely available from 2,000 to 4,000 rpm.
Adding even more exhilaration on the mountain drive was the Tiggo 8 Pro 2.0’s even more powerful 2.0-liter engine, which delivers 254 hp and 390 Nm. This is the engine that could shame many European luxury cars costing two or three times more. It will rocket from 60 to 100 km/h in about 3 seconds, making quick and effortless work of overtaking maneuvers.
Both state-of-the-art power plants are coupled with a new 7-speed automatic dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which delivered smooth and responsive gearshifts.
Practically as safe as a Volvo
The Tiggo 8 Pro also features Advance Driving Assistance System (ADAS) with 11 functions for unparalleled safety, namely: Blind Spot Detection, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Door Opening Warning, Forward Collision Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist, Traffic Jam Assist, Integrated Cruise Assist, Intelligent High-Beam Control, Lane Departure Warning, and Speed Limit Sign Recognition.
The Tiggo 8 Pro’s extensive safety features also include Anti-lock Braking System, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Electronic Stability Program, Traction Control System, Hill Assist Control, Hill Descent Control, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, and ISOFIX child-seat tethers, among many others. The Tiggo 8 Pro also has a Brake Override System, which automatically overrides the throttle when the gas and brake pedals are accidentally depressed at the same time.
Tremendous value for money
The new CHERY Tiggo 8 Pro 1.6 retails for P1,645,000 while the Tiggo 8 Pro 2.0 goes for P1,845,000. (I didn’t get to drive the top-of-the-line Tiggo 8 Pro PHEV, which stickers at P2,400,000.)
Chery is positioning its Tiggo 8 Pro against the slightly bigger (yet no more spacious, more expensive, and vastly more harsh-riding) pickup-based midsize 7-seater diesel SUVs. If you can get over your biases towards new (or Chinese) brands, one back to back test drive will convince you that this poor man’s Volvo SUV is the far better vehicle. Add to this a 7-year/200,000-km bumper-to-bumper warranty and you’ve got yourself one heck of a deal.