Chinese auto manufacturers have been around for a while but haven’t as yet made a big impression on the South Africa market. Concerns about Chinese built cars range from safety ratings to build quality even though they are priced to tempt. One of the latest additions to our roads from Eastern car makers is the JMC Vigus. In case you are wondering what it is – simply put, the Vigus is a Chinese built bakkie designed to tackle all African terrains. Recently, I had the pleasure of having a Vigus on test and here are my 9-top impressions about my week in it
1. What’s In a Name? My initial thought was “It’s called a what?” followed by a quick call to the marketing team at JMC to whom I posed the same question albeit in a more delicate, respectful and professional sounding tone. Seemingly the name Vigus emanates from the word “vigor” which of course means power, energy and vitality. As JMC had invested tremendous funds, manpower and other resources into the development of the Vigus, their choice of name for the end product needed to depict what they felt would best describe their handiwork. Apart from becoming a talking point almost everywhere I parked it, the Vigus did live up to its name in as far as offering a spirited driving experience.
2. Exterior: Quietly Fetching or Plain ol’ boring? As far as exterior design goes, one could describe the Vigus as quietly unassuming and unpretentious or simply lackluster and uninspired. It took a couple of days to settle on which because I expected the Vigus to be as vibrant looking as its name. Over time though I came to appreciate it being understated; after all the emphasis was obviously placed on capability and not exquisite design given that it is intended to be a work-horse in the most grueling African conditions. That said, each time I looked at it ‘head-on’ so to speak I was reminded of the front end of the Mazda BT50. I don’t think I have ever seen a Mazda BT50 look-alike before but clearly there is a first time for everything.
3. Interior: Not too Shabby: The cabin of the Vigus is clean, simple and well-laid out. Of course it has a liberal use of hard plastics as Chinese cars do and of course it’s not the highest quality plastic either – something I have come to expect from Chinese made cars and the Vigus was no exception. I was delighted that there were no gaps in the panels and that everything seemed neatly aligned. Whilst on the subject of handiwork and perhaps thanks to the attention to detail within the interior, the noise and vibration levels within the Vigus were no higher than what one might get in other bakkies which helped put it on par with its competitors.
4. Standard Specs within the Vigus are pretty impressive. In fact I would go so far as to say the Vigus is well equipped, with the major exception that it does not come with cruise control. How that slipped through the list of basic must-haves is a mystery to me and one which I cannot easily forgive.
Whilst I appreciate a touch screen as much as any modern motorist I was not overly impressed with the angle of its placement. Not only is it not slanted to face the driver I had a rather annoying time trying to actually use it for 2-reasons. One being the aforementioned placement angle and the other being that clearly the Chinese did not take into account that some people – i.e. women – have nail tips and I simply couldn’t tap the screen with any measure of ease. Before you jump to conclusions it had nothing to do with the length of my nails either and to prove it I shortened them. The only difference that made was shorter stubby nail extensions and even higher levels of frustration as I continuously failed to effectively work the screen.
When driving in heels, one tends to check things such as the angle of the pedals as well as positioning and quality of the mats so as to ascertain safety levels, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why the rubber mats on my test car were flimsy, extremely slippery (think ‘stepped on a banana peel kind of slippery) and not secured to the floor. One would think it is simple enough to use velcro but clearly not. Anyone buying the Vigus would have to fork out a few extra Rands for floor mats which I think is a bit of a cheap shot from JMC to be honest. Fortunately the pedals were angled at a position which allowed for comfortable safe driving in my relatively low heels so I opted to drive mat-less rather than without shoes.
Also, I was not terribly happy to discover that the glass in the rear window separating the cabin from the load bay was in fact just a glass panel. I see no reason whatsoever why something as simple as a sliding glass window was not fitted instead. Apart from these anomalies I found the interior of the Vigus quite satisfactory. Oh and did I mention the stomach-turning glue smell? Whereas most cars have a delightfully comforting rich leather smell Chinese cars come standard with the smell of glue and the Vigus was not exempted from that!
5. High Rider: Like most 4x4s the Vigus offers a high seating position although I battled to get completely comfortable at the wheel. Perhaps there needs to be a wider option for seat adjustments (currently it offers 4 settings) although that said I was not seated dangerously or unsafely either. The rapport between an optimal angle at which to position the backrest and proximity to the steering wheel just didn’t hit the right note for me. Speaking of which, the steering column whilst being height adjustable is not adjustable for reach which would have made quite a difference to my seating style. Instead I no doubt ended up sitting rather awkwardly close to the wheel and most likely looked like a little girl peering over the counter at a sweet shop. So not good for my street cred.
6. Space & Creature Comforts: The Vigus is available as a double cab and is surprisingly spacious. I would go so far as to say it may be the most spacious bakkie I have ever driven and is ideal for ferrying 5-adults. Rear leg room is quite generous but I would have liked a few more compartments within the cabin. The model I had on test – the range topping SLX version was pretty darn impressive and came equipped with air conditioning, electric windows, leather seat, multi-functional steering wheel, CD/MP3/USB audio system, remote central locking, dual front airbags and ABS brakes.
7. Peppy Performance: One thing I have come to expect within JMC bakkies and SUVs, is that they don’t disappoint in the engine department. My test Vigus SLX was powered by a 2.4-litre turbo-diesel engine, producing 88kW and 290Nm. I wouldn’t say the Vigus is an exhilerating drive nor would I accuse it of being a slouch either. It has a slight bit of lag before the turbo fully kicks which is to be expected but once it kicks in the Vigus comes to alive quite adequately. The engine is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox which wasn’t as smooth as I would have liked and required some getting used to in order to enjoy the driving experience. Driving the Vigus on tar was pleasurable enough, with nearly no body-roll to complain about however driving it on the gravel road offered a bit more excitement in the form of a fair bit of oversteer. Having experienced it the first time I tried to whip through a bend the Vigus responded with a cheeky ‘head-turn’ action promptly resulting in me reducing my speed. Thereafter the Vigus and I settled on about 70km/hr on most straights and a fair bit lower on the curves.
8. Safety Features: Possibly the best tests for safety ratings would be those given by testing bodies such as the Euro NCAP, but it appears that JMC may have skipped this part as I couldn’t find any safety ratings for the Vigus. That said the bakkie is equipped with active safety features such as airbags (driver and front passenger), rear parking sensors and ABS with integrated electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD). It also has central locking and auto door lock capabilities.
9. Pricing: As mentioned in my intro to this review, Chinese built vehicle are priced enticingly. For anyone on the market for a bakkie which won’t break the bank the double cab Vigus, at R355 990 offers undeniable value for money and is difficult to ignore. Available throughout JMC’s 23 dealerships, the Vigus comes standard with after sales backup in the form of a three-year/100 000km warranty and five-year/60 000km service plan.
On the whole, the Vigus makes for an excellent budget bakkie and all that remains is to see if the South African market will take to the Vigus and if buyers are willing to overlook existing preconceptions about Chinese products.