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China Test Drives 2019: Wuling Hongguang

Wuling Hongguang in Dali, Yunnan.

It’s time for me to test drive the car that is responsible for bringing mass mobility to an entire nation: the Wuling Hongguang. Originally launched in 2010, no less than 4 million of them have been sold in China since, dominating the country’s sales charts each year from 2013 to 2017. A new, second generation was introduced in Q3 2018 and this is the perfect opportunity to figure out why this vehicle has been so incredibly successful in China. First and foremost an element to keep in mind at all times when reviewing the Hongguang is its price: the version I tested will set you back a mere 55.200 yuan, that’s 7.100€ or US$8.200.

BSCB taking the wheel of one of the best-selling vehicles in Chinese history.

You think that’s cheap? You’ve seen nothing yet: I’m driving the top of the range variant powered by a 109hp 1.5L engine, whereas the 82hp 1.2L entry model is priced at 42.800 yuan: 5.525€ or US$6.220. Even the dearest Hongguang variant amounts to pocket money in essence and at 7.100€ is almost 1.000€ more affordable than the cheapest Dacia you can buy in Europe. And that cheapest Dacia doesn’t come with (m)any creature comforts, whereas in contrast, the new Hongguang is truly rich in equipments given its price. USB port, electric windows and most surprisingly a large touch screen with directional rear view camera. I did have a rear view camera on the Dacia Logan I drive through 10 countries last year, but it was priced at 12.100€ or 70% dearer than today’s Hongguang.

Wuling Hongguang materials.

Another good surprise is the materials used in the cockpit. Of course you can’t escape hard plastics on the inside doors and the top of the dash. But  Wuling has made the effort of mixing them up with a light grey metallic-like cover with an interesting pattern (images 2 and 3 above) that, added to the new squarish design of the different parts of the dash in line with the new exterior, gives the ensemble a certain touch. I won’t say “of class”, but almost, still keeping in mind the tiny price point.

Basic controls on the Wuling Hongguang

The analog tachos and control wands are firmly set in the 1990s but I’ll allow it given the enhanced appearance of the rest of the dashboard.

Comfy seats, 7- and 4-seat configurations.

What Chinese want with the Hongguang is to carry people. It indeed owes a large part of its tremendous sales success to its use as a rural taxi all across the country. Again, given its price I was expecting cheap foamy uncomfortable seats but it couldn’t be further from the truth, with a surprisingly high quality cover and side hold for all seats, not just the front two (see 1st image above). Granted, the boot space is reduced to the minimum in the 7-seat configuration, but these are 7 real seats including 3 at the rear and not a vulgar bench. This remains an impressive feat for such a small (and cheap) vehicle, but also the main attraction point for the segment. So if there’s an item Wuling absolutely couldn’t afford to get wrong with the new Hongguang, it was interior space. And they nailed it.

Ugly from all angles…

Almost solely focusing on interior space and practicality means the Hongguang is no oil painting and instead looks like the Quasimodo version of a car. Its tiny wheels (to keep fuel consumption to a minimum), disproportionately large rear and truncated front makes it a challenge to find a “good” angle to photograph it. The Hongguang can’t afford auto gearboxes but in a way the manual allows me to optimally use the limited power of an otherwise very weak engine whereas an auto gearbox would probably be sluggish to the extreme and a nightmare to drive, so one pitfall avoided here. To carry 7 people for limited distances, the Hongguang definitely does the job, and even adds in some unexpected luxuries such as a rear view camera and a large touch screen. No wonder it sells so well.

Why is it successful? Unbeatable value for money to transport 7 passengers in comfort.

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Matt, help me to understand from your point of view.
    Why such low cost, practical, functional and spacious car (which is the ideal concept for developing market), never came with beautiful styling in exterior? Is it true that beautiful styling is expensive?

    1. Hi Haris, thanks for your question.
      To be honest I am yet to see a beautiful-looking low cost (even not low cost) MPV… I think it’s the format of the car that makes it hard to design “nicely”… Plus the typical target market doesn’t really care about the exterior design, it’s all about practicality. So from a manufacturer’s perspective spending big money on a designer (and yes it is true that beautiful styling is expensive) is just not worth the trouble.

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