The Geely Okavango wants your respect

Another affordable, tech-loaded seven-seater has entered the fray
by Leandre Grecia | Nov 19, 2020

“Gone are the days when buyers run at the sight of a China car.”

Once upon a time Geely was like any other Chinese manufacturer in the Philippine market, but for all the wrong reasons. Its vehicles embodied the stigma that surrounded China cars at the time: They looked, smelled, and felt cheap. It was far from anything worth celebrating.

But today, things have changed. A lot. Chinese cars haven’t completely broken the stigma yet, but they’re getting there. Geely, for one, has completely reinvented itself in its second stint in our market under its new distributor, Sojitz G Auto Philippines (SGAP).

The carmaker started things off in 2019 with the launch of the Coolray, an impressive crossover that, on paper, trumps a lot of other nameplates in its segment. Geely then followed it up this year by bringing in the Azkarra, a vehicle that also had all the bells and whistles that made it a legitimate competitor.

Now, Geely continues to ride the momentum by launching its third vehicle: the Okavango. This seven-seater SUV is built on the same bang for the buck formula as its stablemates, and it looks ready to make some noise in our market.

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This thing is massive. PHOTO: Charles Banaag

“Wait. Oka-what now?” It’s Okavango. Read it as O-ka-vang-go. Don’t worry, I had the same initial reaction. After all, ‘Okavango’ is as quirky a moniker as ‘Coolray,’ only a bit more of a mouthful. Thankfully this vehicle is more simple and straightforward than its name suggests.

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It’s undeniably a Geely. It bears that signature ‘Expanding Cosmos’ grille that makes up that sporty front fascia. But look at it from the side and you’ll see how different it is from the Geelys that came before it—it’s big. Like midsize SUV kind of big. In fact, the Okavango—called the Hao Yue in the Chinese market—is actually the largest vehicle in the carmaker’s global lineup.

It measures 4,835mm long, 1,900mm wide, and 1,785mm tall with a 2,815mm wheelbase and 194mm of ground clearance, making it just as large as the Toyota Fortuner and the Mitsubishi Montero Sport. However, in my opinion, the Okavango isn’t styled as aggressively as its competitors.

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It’s got this sporty front end but that’s about all you can gawk at with this exterior. Save for the stylish alloy wheels, the sides are nothing to rave about. Meanwhile, the rear end leaves a lot to be desired. Honestly, it looks pretty bare to me, and it’s even shaped awkwardly at that. I’ve stared at this end long enough to learn that I may never grow fond of it.

Then again, styling isn’t the vehicle’s main selling point. It’s the classy, spacious, and tech-laden interior that’s the bigger highlight here. You see, the Okavango has arguably one of the most premium cabins at its price point, and it’s clearly built to impress.

That’s a premium cabin right there. PHOTO: Charles Banaag

Begin your tour of the cockpit by looking at the dash—this part is stitched with an abundance of leather, and it adds to that high-end appeal. Move your eyes to the center and you’ll see the large dash-mounted 10.25-inch infotainment system. It integrates a number of functions including the A/C control, but unfortunately it supports neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto. What a bummer.

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Look further downward past the A/C vents and you’ll finally see the fancy control buttons underneath. At this point, the Okavango almost feels like a luxurious European car—a Volvo, if you would. And as you make your way to the center console, you’ll understand better why I say so.

There’s a ritzy gear shifter and a drive selector here, with no mechanical handbrake in sight. Below it is pass-through storage compartment. Nice. A split-open center compartment has also been set in place of what would have been a humdrum piece of the car. Nicer. This compartment, by the way, also has a small cooling vent inside which you can use to keep your drink cool. Even nicer.

What’s not so splendid here, though, is the absolute lack of cupholders. There may be a small box you can cool your drink in, but you only really have one slot that can hold it. That means your passenger can forget about bringing coffee. Unless he wants to keep his hands warm, that is.

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Cupholders aside, there are still a lot more noteworthy bits in this cabin. There are plush and comfortable leather seats (at least for the top-of-the-line variant) around, and there’s even a dedicated rear A/C control system to boot. Power-adjustable front seats and automatic up/down windows are also available.

Other niceties include a smart keyless entry system with push-to-start ignition, a power tailgate, heated and auto-fold side mirrors, a 360-degree panoramic camera with rear parking sensors, and a tire pressure monitoring system. 

The hybrid setup can get the job done. PHOTO: Charles Banaag

But perhaps the niftiest addition that the Okavango gets is the 48V Electric Motor Synergy System (EMS) that complements the 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbopetrol. This is the same hybrid setup equipped in the Azkarra that generates a total system output of 190hp and 300Nm of torque.

I admit that the hybrid powertrain isn’t the most seamless, but it gets the job done. It doesn’t always switch to battery power at every full stop, nor did I feel that the engine changed from using gasoline to electricity whenever I hit high speeds, but the entire powerplant delivers oomph when you need it—especially with the help of the smooth-shifting seven-speed wet DCT.

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In addition to the capable engine, the Okavango also offers an exceptionally pleasant ride. It’s not the most nimble of SUVs and it doesn’t feel that planted on turns either, but it breezes through road imperfections with ease. Sure, you’ll feel the grunt and vibration of the three-cylinder mill when you’re behind the wheel, but for the most part it’s a pretty comfortable cabin even when you’re traversing harsh terrain like EDSA.

Now, even though the Okavango drives well and offers a comfy ride, it’s not without its flaws. There are two major ones I’d like to point out—there’s no proper gauge to monitor the current battery charge, and the built-in fuel consumption meter on the multi-information display is just downright confusing. These are the reasons why I wasn’t able to get accurate fuel economy figures during the short time I spent with the Okavango—a full review in the future can surely settle that.

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I was told, however, that during SGAP’s test runs with the Okavango, the SUV was able to do somewhere around 15km/L in the city and about 20km/L on the highway. If those numbers end up holding true in real-world applications, then Geely might have a winner here.

Absolutely promising. PHOTO: Charles Banaag

It’s still difficult to say whether this vehicle will sell as well as its predecessors. But I can safely say the Okavango is proof that gone are the days when buyers run at the sight of a China car.

It’s exciting, it’s promising, and most important, it offers a lot of value for money with its P1,328,000 price tag (the lower variant is priced at P1,208,000). To put it simply, the Geely Okavango is a prime example of what many vehicles hailing from the People’s Republic have become these days—a decent car that deserves your respect. Truly, it’s a far cry from the cheap Chinese cars of old.

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PHOTO: Charles Banaag
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