China Test Drives 2019: The Bestune T77 and its hologram AI
Bestune T77 in Tongliao, Inner Mongolia.
We interviewed the Bestune team at the Shanghai Auto Show last April to try and uncover the secrets behind the success of FAW’s new brand, and the logical next step was to test drive its unique model for now, the T77 SUV, which one could say is a Chinese version of the DS 7 Crossback, inaugurating a new, much more current design language for FAW, the oldest automotive manufacturer in China… We managed to do so in Tongliao in Inner Mongolia. The version I am driving is priced at 134.000 yuan which is 17.260€ or US$19.475, a relatively high sum for a Chinese SUV. So does it justify its pricing? Let’s find out.
Bestune T77 AI dash hologram
And I have to say my first impression is I am totally bluffed by the car. An Artificial Intelligence female manga animated hologram with long green hair, baptised Xiao Shi, sits on top of the dash and behaves according to what’s happening in the car (see first video and image above): dancing if the music you’re playing is catchy, playing the piano if it’s slow, responding in a conversational manner if you voice-command the AI, etc. This is the first time I see this in a vehicle, and I was certainly not expecting it to come from a Chinese car priced like a mid-range Dacia Duster, let alone one made by a manufacturer (FAW) characterised by its tackiness.
Bestune T77 AI Mandarin to English translations.
Not only that, but the AI can also translate which means the Bestune salesperson and I were conversing, him in Mandarin, me in English, through the car which was acting as a personal translator (see video and image above). The voice is struggling a little to make the transition to English but the grammar and speaking is faultless. I told you, bluffed. Now, is this and the hologram all a gimmick? Of course. Would it be annoying in the long run? Probably. But fun it is, and fun is how a lot of carmakers have forgotten to make their cars.
Bestune T77 digital interior
The rest of the cockpit is similar high-tech with a huge touch screen inspired by the new Mercedes A-Clss and spanning all the way from the driver’s tachos to the front of the passenger, displaying the rear and above view cameras when parking. Heck, even the rear view mirror is digital (see image 4 above). Extremely impressive indeed. One weak spot: the door clomp does feel light and cheap.
Bestune T77 interior.
The gearshift is very modern and borderline intimidating, parking brake is of course digital and most of the controls on the central console are piano digit-like, inspired by the Peugeot 3008. Smooth materials and surfaces are of a much higher quality than I expected, although Bestune hasn’t opted for interesting patterns the way the Dongfeng Aeolus AX7 and Geely Binyue have. The seats are plush and electrically adjustable, and the design of the dash is simple yet classy, with the air vents encroaching on the door in a nice way (see image 3 above).
The Bestune T77 from all angles.
If most of the Chinese cars I have driven this year did disappoint dynamically, the T77 is different even though there is still a lag when you press the accelerator – a pet hate of mine and a characteristic of many Chinese cars. For once, the salesperson takes me to a very rough unsealed part of town so he can drive (too) fast on the variety of bumps and show off the car’s high ground clearance that avoids any scraping to my surprise. The dampeners are hard at work and the car handling is impressive indeed. Like in all Chinese SUVs, you stand very tall in the driving seat, towering above the surroundings. I got to test the high speed rut driving myself on the 2nd go and could witness the absence of cabin shake and bounce. Braking is good and abrupt left and right turns are swallowed without excessive wobble. The cherry on top: the car self-parks!
Shining new Bestune dealership in Tongliao and mandatory WeChat post-test drive post.
The Bestune Tongliao dealership was just a few days old when I visited, with their WeChat page still advertising the grand opening the week before. Accordingly, all staff was overly excited to have a Westerner check out the car and promptly posted a video of my driving on WeChat (see above). In summary, if its AI hologram and advanced features do make the Bestune T77 a gimmick on wheels – a good soft-roader at that – the Chinese are here to remind us that cars should be fun to drive, not only dynamically, but also in the everyday use of their features. Who would have thought we’d get such a lesson in entertainment by China.