Geely, did you say?
Yes. It seems the Chinese carmaker doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. Hot off the heels of its brand relaunch and the well-received Coolray last year, the company now enters the local compact SUV market with the Azkarra. This segment might not be as popular as it once was, but it still contains some legacy nameplates like the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4.
What does it have to offer?
A lot, actually. A quick scan of the spec sheet reveals goodies like a panoramic sunroof, a 360-degree panoramic camera, wireless charging, a huge 12.3-inch infotainment display, keyless entry with push-button start, adjustable driving modes, an electric tailgate, and a napa leather cabin.
But perhaps its biggest selling point is the price. The lower-end 4x2 Premium variant retails for P1,438,000, while the 4WD Luxury mild-hybrid you see here goes for P1,598,000.
Wait, how much?
Yes, all those features are available for less than the starting price of a Toyota Fortuner. To put it in competitor terms, the Azkarra Luxury costs around P100k less than the base RAV4, and P70,000 less than the gasoline CR-V.
Okay, forget the brochure and price list for a second. What’s it like?
If you liked the Coolray’s look, then you’ll dig the Azkarra. Like its smaller sibling, the compact SUV successfully blends some flashy design cues in a way that still looks subtle yet eye-catching, a lot like a well-designed European crossover. Up front, you get the big signature Geely pentagonal grille flanked by LED headlamps. Hood strakes and sharp character lines give it an edgy look. In the back, you get wraparound taillights with a chrome bar running between them.
The interior is even cooler. Open the door and you’re greeted by a plush tan napa leather cabin with a huge 12.3-inch screen as its centerpiece. Good fit and finish abounds as every bit of the cabin feels solid to the touch and works like it should. Worth noting is the wheel adjuster for the driving modes, which selects your preferred option with a satisfying click.
So far, so good. What about the driving experience?
As mentioned, the Luxury variant runs on a mild-hybrid setup that combines a 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder gasoline engine with a 48V EMS, which make for a total output of 190hp and 300Nm. In Comfort mode, you get decent acceleration that picks up with even a light jab of the throttle. Eco, naturally, dulls the powertrain’s responsiveness, while Sport mode gives you added boost in a hurry. The Off-Road option, meanwhile, gives you you better grip while making the power delivery more gradual and forgiving.
Being a mild-hybrid, the Azkarra doesn’t have a pure-electric propulsion option. Still, the three-cylinder turbo paired to the EMS does a fine enough job pushing the compact SUV up to speed when you need it. As for steering, the tiller is light with only a little bit of feedback, making the car more maneuverable than expected. The 360-degree camera features 2D and 3D modes that make fitting into tight spaces a lot easier.
Sounds amazing. Any drawbacks?
The Azkarra isn’t without its flaws—one of them is the sound system. While the touchscreen interface is simple and intuitive to use, its audio output leaves a lot to be desired. Of the available presets, Rock mode was the least of all evils, but even that results in too much bass and distorted garble emanating from the speakers. And unless you’re an audiophile who actually knows what Hz stands for, forget about adjusting the equalizer manually.
The ride comfort isn’t perfect, either. While the cabin is generous in space and the seats seemingly cling to your midsection, the suspension doesn’t dampen harsh bumps all that well. And as far as the mild-hybrid setup goes, Geely’s literature says that the engine should shut off automatically as you come to a stop. During our drive, though, the engine shut off just a few times, most notably when slowing down to go over speed bumps. There's nothing on the instrument panel to indicate the EMS’s level of charge, either.
So, is it worth the price?
One advantage of Chinese carmakers is their capability to pack in more features at lower prices. Compared to its Honda and Toyota rivals, the Azkarra certainly offers a lot at a more affordable SRP. While the other two SUV variants in the nearby price bracket are arguably better to drive, the Azkarra Luxury makes for a more comfortable experience if you happen to get stuck in traffic along the way. The question of if it’s worth the price or not depends on two factors: what kind of premium you place on interior luxuries, and Geely’s after-sales reputation, which as of this writing is still in the let’s-wait-and-see stage.