It’s cheap: just over $30,000. It’s easy on the gas: 4.2 litres per 100km. But it handles like a bumper car. Will Singapore buyers bite?
Bite this Chery? CHERY QQ 0.8L -- PHOTO: BLU INC

WHEN Hyundai made its debut here 25 years ago, it did so with a car called Pony. Hyundai was virtually an unknown car brand back then, which made the Pony a horse with no name.

Sorry for the reference to that baby boomer hit. I figured if you remember the Pony, you would remember America. The soft rock group, not the land of the free. Never mind.

Anyway, the Pony was nasty. The only car that equalled it was the Lada Samara, a thinly-disguised Russian loaf machine that arrived a decade later.

In a case of history repeating itself, we are now confronted with the first China-made car to land here, the Chery QQ. Scoff not, as carmakers everywhere are prone to corny names for their products – Concerto, Bluebird, Sylphy, Phaeton, Bora, Ghibli, to name a few.

Besides, its name is the least of the QQ’s problems. Essentially, the car has several years of catching up to do. Its body betrays shutlines wide enough to hold magazines; noise insulation is so bad that it may be quieter to drive with the windows down; and fit and finish must have been alien concepts to its plant workers.

The QQ operates like an amusement park bumper car. Its pedals are spongy, its brakes are squishy and its steering is disembodied.

Its gear changes are almost as vague as those you would experience in an old pick-up truck. And its doors shut with the hollowness of a biscuit tin.

Its sub-litre engine has weak low-end torque, and its transmission ratios do not make for relaxed highway cruising. It also rides like a kangaroo. And the list goes on.

But to be fair (and generous), the car has to be viewed for what it is: the least expensive set of wheels you can buy. Then again, just a bit more will buy you a pretty decent Kia Picanto.

The QQ is not all bad, though. It has some of the niceties you would expect of modern cars. Alloy rims (13-inch), super efficient air-con, 60-40 split folding rear seats and one-touch powered windows all round. It even comes with a remote key, which some more expensive cars do not offer.

The remote key has a nifty feature: It winds up all open windows when you press the Lock button. And if you ignore the wind and engine noises, the 880kg car is quite capable of keeping up with traffic on the right lane.

Should you buy this car?

Well, consider this. It took the Japanese 40 years to become established automotive players. The Koreans took 20. If all goes well, it should take the Chinese 10 years to do the same.

If so, here’s your chance to partake of history in the making.

SPECS

CHERY QQ 0.8L (M)

Price: $32,900 with COE

Engine: 812cc 12-valve inline-3

Gearbox: Five-speed manual

Power: 52bhp at 6,000rpm

Torque: 70Nm at 3,500rpm

Top speed: 130kmh

0-100kmh: 15.5 seconds (est)

Fuel consumption: 4.2 litres/100km (city-highway)

Agent: Vertex Automobile