CHANA BENNI 1.3L A/T Test Drive
By Drey Roque
Chinese products are not only common they are actually everywhere. From cellular phone, tires, to DVD players and even cars… After all, China has produced a lot of affordable products, although sometimes with iffy quality.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise when China-based Chana Motors decided to follow Chery’s lead and enter the local automotive market. And they did so by launching at the Manila International Auto Show. After the event, the Chana brand was talked and argued by many people, intrigued by the low prices but concerned about the un-established quality of China-made cars.
Despite (but then again, maybe inspired by) all the endless debates with fellow tsikoteers, I heard myself asking, “I want to test drive a Benni sir!” This is in order to finish some questions that kept ringing in my head. For starters, the Benni is a small car made by Chana to compete against Chery’s QQ and the well-established sub-compact cars such as the Hyundai Getz, Kia Picanto, Suzuki Alto and the rumored upcoming Hyundai i10. The Benni is powered by a 1.3L engine that produces a reasonable 84 horsepower at 6500 rpm with a torque of 110 at 3500 rpm. The engine meets Euro III compliant standards which is good for those tree huggers who want an earth-friendly vehicle that is affordable and able to seat five people all-in-one go.
When I first saw this car, I immediately like it for being an original Chinese vehicle with an Italian ’sguardo e tatto’ style and feel on the outside. As a matter of fact, I like it because it reminds me of the Mercedes Benz A-Class. Although the A-Class comes from a luxury brand, the interior felt and looked cheap looking.
With the Benni, it feels like a massed produced car for the masses who seek economy class mobility. The car is surrounded by plastics that appear slapped on. Sure it’s got fabric but most of the other parts are made of plastics — cheap looking plastics at that. It also has small dials and buttons that are both hard and confusing to see and use.
In this car, you’ll feel hotter in the literal meaning of the word. I was expecting it to be like snowland inside due to the fact that this is a small vehicle that is easy to cool. But alas, even with the fan settings to the max and the thermostat set to the coldest, the A/C wasn’t much help.
It’s quite prolific in producing various sounds too. The moment you start the car, you can instantly hear the engine from the inside. The moment you close the door, you’ll hear no thud sound but instead a ‘clack-ety’ sound.
Still, I behaved like a good boy while driving the Benni. I felt terrible nodding at the staff making them think the Benni is a great car. Sadly it is not. Sure it feels quite solid inside, and has real suspension that performs like one. It has comfortable seats with enough room for those who have heads, shoulders and legs. It feels stable; it has no rattles and no loose bolts. And it is also well-equipped for safety, having dual airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic braking distribution and err… seat belts! But these things don’t really move me because I never felt the Benni to be a fun and a nimble car.
The car needs quite some attention too. The electric power steering for example is a great feature but it acts strangely different from other cars equipped with the same technology. Turn the steering wheel to either side and you’ll notice it has a second delay before you’d be given a turn thereby driving on straights can be quite a challenge. Approach the corners and it rolls like a tall car like the Benni itself is. Another issue would be the automatic transmission that shifts too lazily and the brakes that feel like a little weak for my taste. Thankfully this car is neither fast nor quick. Heck, who cares and wants it to be fast? The car isn’t built for speed and handling. It was made to mobilize small families, save fuel, decrease the rapid rate of global warming and swallow quite a lot of stuff in the back.
But again this car isn’t Casper. The Benni is more like Stinky, Fatso and Stretch combined into one. Unfortunately it comes with too many doubts carried by our own experience with Chinese quality. Truth is, Chinese cars aren’t like Chinese DVD players whose inferior quality are easy to accept if they break down easily. We travel with our loved ones in them, trusting our lives on them.
I would want myself to believe that what I drove is a lemon, that way, I know the real Benni is somewhere out there that is a good comfortable commuter, with a freezing air-conditioning system, and with the steering that behaves like it is directly connected to the tires. But if this is what it really drives, then I’ll wait for the next, hopefully improved version. Nevertheless, the brand has still a long way to go to prove its reliability.
A 5 year/100,000 kilometer would be a great start.