Geely made its brand relaunch in Q1 of 2011 at the Manila International Auto Show with its new distributor Auto China. The launch, however, was followed by silence for most of the year until a phone call from Auto China GM Jenkins Chua, offering me a test drive of the LC compact hatchback. Geely finally began sales operations in November of 2011 after much delay with government requirements.
The LC is expected to be their bread and butter model considering its pricing and cuteness appeal. Heavily inspired by the loveable and iconic panda bear, which is China's favorite animal, the sub-compact would have been called Panda... if not due to much objection from the Italian embassy and Italian carmaker Fiat, which is reportedly making an entry to the Philippine market soon. The Chinese carmarker argues that the naming a reference to the model of the same name in Fiat's line, but is more of how the vehicle was actually designed, as can be seen in the details such as the "panda-face" front-end, rear "panda-paw" tailights and ultimately to the keyfob design.
Measuring in at 3598mm long, 1630mm wide, and 1465mm high, with a wheelbase of 2340mm, the Geely LC is in the same league as the Hyundai i10, Kia Picanto, Suzuki Alto and Suzuki Celerio in terms of size. Auto China will be offering two variants locally, a base GB variant and the premium GL that we tested.
In terms of features, the GL is equipped with an MP3-capable CD player with USB and auxiliary input, dual airbags and anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution in addition to the power windows and power doorlocks that come standard with both variants. The audio quality of the entertainment system was quite decent and comes with a clean and very legible LCD display.
Aesthetically, the LC is unconventional with its large oval headlamps and low front grill which can be traced to the intention of designers to make the car look like a panda. While the rear does borrow a bit of inspiration from the Toyota Aygo, the LC still maintains itself as the least copy-paste looking Chinese car.
Inside, the design is an arguable mix of old and new bits and pieces. Most evidently would be the accordion-type glove compartment, which looks very much out of place combined with accents of faux carbon fiber. Premium plastic materials are not to be expected in a car at this price point, however it isn't too bad at all. Fit and finish is comparable to Korean cars from a decade past.
Under the hood is a 1.3-liter inline-4 that is based off of an older tech Toyota powerplant. While the figures say a maximum of 84 PS and 110Nm, it does feel a bit relaxed, but definitely drives better than similarly specced Chinese counterparts. The gearshift lever gives a rubbery feel and is not as precise.
Handling is quite respectable for a car of its purpose which, in my opinion, would be mostly civic duties. Steering response is average but the feel is quite solid compared to its Chinese compatriots. Driving through rain battered asphalt roads at a reasonably normal pace, the car still felt solid and didn't give any hints of rattles and thumps from the suspension components.
By far, the Geely LC has to be the best car I have driven to come out of China. Having previously driven similar models from other brands, this really feels like a proper car. My only gripe is that the driving position leaves much to be desired, as it felt quite awkward. The pedal position feels quite odd in relation to the seating position as if the knees needed to be raised instead of a relaxed feel.
However, all things considered -especially the price- the Php448,000 GL variant does offer a good value in terms of options and safety features. For those who question its durability Auto China is also backing the car up with a 5-year/150,000km warranty and a promise of efficient after-sales support.