Chinese Brilliance Returns to Europe
By Blake Muntzinger
Brilliance was China’s second automotive ambassador who – along with BYD – showed its goods at Geneva: the BS4 and BS6 sedans and the BC3 coupe. The BS6 is currently on sale in China; it was in the European market until last year’s disastrous crash test results halted sales. Europeans will see the new BS4 sedan later this summer. A revised BS6, with approximately 60 post-crash test modifications, should be on production lines now. Brilliance’s BC3 coupe is still a prototype, but should follow its stablemates in another year.
The Giugiaro-designed BS6 was the first Chinese car I’ve ever stood in front of, let alone sat in. For being the brand’s flagship sedan, its unimpressive interior literally smelled cheap and looked just as bad. Materials in the BS6 were the worst of the three models; the unrefined coarse plastic center stack must have been lost on its way to a Daewoo Lanos. It was deplorably obvious that BS6’s center console was stamped and affixed to the car as-is with its sole hope-it-fits cup-holder. Rubbery map light buttons are inappropriate for a car in this class. The rear armrest was already getting lazy, having trouble staying in place after less than 100 km and its second press day. Who knows how it will look in six months or even after the show?
On the plus side (and there are a few), I – at 5’10” – had comfortable amounts of leg and head room in both the front and rear. Plentiful truck space could easily hold enough luggage for four people. Doors closed with a respectable thud, even though its handles felt like I was trying to open an already open door.
Comparing the BS4’s cabin to the BS6’s was like night and day. Pininfarina penned the BS4; head lamps take cues from BMW’s 5-Series, but the car’s overall form is generic. Quality between BS6 and BS4 was noticeably improved with softer parts and more European appearance. Its plain center stack needs improvement; buttons were too small for its size, imposing black plastic between the gaps. Still, if Brilliance had imported this to Europe – crash tests not withstanding – maybe reactions would have been more favorable.
Finally, the last car in this trio is the in-house created BC3, best built in terms of initial quality, but with decidedly love-it or hate-it looks. Its profile depicts a sporty car, but it does not quite look the part. The head lamps do not have the sleek attitude to match the profile. Its fascia is clean but not uniform with a sports car image; large head lamps are too large to complement the profile with its chrome trim looking like a wider, unenclosed Mazda logo gone wrong. A bizarre sliver of taillight wrapping around the corner was all that deterred from an otherwise clean look.
The BC3 stood out inside, though. Its interior looked the most complete, most coherent of the three. Switchgear was easy to touch, but dashboard plastics were still hard. Seats were comfortable, would not be supportive for a sports car, but tipping the scales at 3,201 lbs, it is not as sporty as Brilliance wants people to think. The overall package felt like a five-year-old Korean car; not as bad as I has assumed. Rear-seating was tight, much like other cars in its class. BC3’s trunk was surprisingly large, looking as if it could haul two or three medium sided suitcases. Seeing how much could fit in the BC3 with flat rear seats would be impressive.
No Brilliance will set the world on fire, or, even create a spark in the performance department. Mitsubishi supplies Brilliance with two four-cylinder engines used in the BS6: a 2.0 liter with 122 hp and a 2.4 liter creating 130 hp. Weighing in at 4,045 lbs and and boasting (?) respective 0-60 times of 13.8 sec and 12.5 sec with the different engines, BS6 has a rough time getting out of its own way. To give some perspective, a 2008 Chevrolet Malibu LS comes in at 3,415 lbs.
Performance numbers improve modestly throughout the range. The BS4 offers four four-cylinder motors, two built with Mitsubishi’s cooperation, two are Brilliance-sourced. Neither the Mitsubishi-partnered 1.6 liter 100 hp and 1.8 liter 136 hp motors, nor Brilliance’s 1.8 liter 136 hp and 1.8 liter 170 hp engines have available 0-to-60 times listed. Listed specifications from the company, however, give the BC3, with Brilliance-built 170 hp engine, 9.7 seconds to reach 60 mph.
Earlier, I said BYD had an advantage over Brilliance in terms of visual presence – meaning materials in a F3 or F6 would more likely help customers overcome the hurdle of owning a Chinese car. At the root of this idea is how similar the switchgear and design looked to its competition. Brilliance uses designs and materials that are not instantly noticeable as being shared with another blue-chip brand; and Brilliance being a Chinese car, that unfamiliarity could sway potential buyers to continue shopping.
That potential drawback stated, from an engineering standpoint, it is Brilliance with the advantage. One thing can be said for their cars at Geneva: they do not follow the “one part refresh generic styling, three parts car we’re trying to compete against” as some others. Yes, it borrows cues from other brands, but that happens anywhere. Countless times, Hyundai, Nissan, Honda, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, and Ford have all designed cars influenced by popular trends. With its cars at Geneva, Brilliance appears to be taking the long, respectable road in car-building, even with its errors.
I hesitate to use the word “original” when talking about a Chinese car, especially after hearing from BYD repeatedly how BYD’s Corolla look-alike F3 was all BYD. Saying a car is built under license is one thing; it is quite another to take all the credit for a design, particularly when the offended companies, the press, and the public contest it. Unfortunately for Brilliance and other Chinese auto brands, first impressions tend to linger. Whether any design from a Chinese make is actually original, the damage in terms of perception has already been done. Now, they must overcome a stigma not only in terms of safely and quality, but also honesty, because presently all that lingers is doubt and – I daresay – distrust.
COPYRIGHT Autosavant.net – All Rights Reserved