We’re yet to see Chinese car makers get a grapple on Australia and pave some inroads but recent products show it's only a matter of time. One of the biggest threats in that movement is the rapidly evolving Chinese automaker SAIC, that has bought up prime real estate and is aiming for the stars.
The Shanghai Automotive Industrial Company is China’s biggest automotive brand making cars for the likes of Volkswagen while taking what it has learned and applying that knowledge to its own lineup – all in anticipation that its money-maker VW will go solo, which it will.
SAIC’s vehicles include the once-British brand MG that’s already here and its home market badges Roewe and Maxus – the latter of which is available in Australia under the LDV name. You might have already heard of it but probably on a commercial vehicle, like its T60 dual cab ute or V80 van.
But LDV’s also expanding into passenger vehicles, first with a handful of nondescript people movers based on the van and now with its contemporary looking D90 that’s not out of place parked next to South Korean and Japanese rivals, like the Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorrento and Mazda CX-9 - except perhaps for its badge, at least until we get familiar with it.
The D90 has been on sale here since last year and LDV says sales are good and should be strengthened when an all-new mid-size SUV joins the D90 next year. For now, we have its largest ‘soft-roader’, which unlike the aforementioned rivals is actually built on a ladder frame chassis borrowed from the T60 like the Everest is to the Ford Ranger. But LDV insist this seven-seater is soft, not rugged.
The Chinese market loves long wheelbase cars with plenty of space for rear-seat passengers, so this 2-3-2 configuration seven-seat SUV is a large car over five metres long and almost two metres wide, or about the same size as a CX-9.
While it’s big and comes with low-range four-wheel drive, its petrol motor (for now) and 210mm clearance will limit how far into the scrub you can go – it’s more an urban tractor than rural off-roader.
Of course, as currently expected from a Chinese made and owned vehicle, its other main pitch is value, and the D90 isn’t short of gear compared to rivals.
The D90 is offered in three trim levels – Mode, Deluxe and Luxe. Mode is only offered in rear-wheel drive while Deluxe offers both rear- and four-wheel drive and the Luxe is four-wheel drive only.
The Mode is priced from $36,990, the Deluxe from $39,990 and $42,990 with four-wheel drive, and the Luxe tops pricing at $46,990 plus on-road costs.
Rivals like the Mazda CX-9 are priced from $43,890 to $64,790 and the Hyundai Santa Fe from $43,000 to $60,500 plus on-road costs, so there are good savings to be had from the Chinese-built rival.
The Mode kicks off with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic stop/start, sidesteps, electric parking brake, automatic wipers, multizone climate control, 3 USB ports, a 220-volt power socket, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, blind spot detection, artificial leather interior and a 12.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and 6-speaker stereo.
The Deluxe adds 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, led headlights, puddle door lights, sunroof, ambient lighting inside, heated leather steering wheel, 8-speaker stereo, automatic foot operated electric tailgate, electric seats and real leather trim.
The top-grade Luxe gets an 8.0-inch digital driver’s display, traffic sign recognition, 12-speaker stereo, 360-degree camera, panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated seats and a panoramic sunroof.
The level of features compares well to key rivals and aren’t just tack-ons – the infotainment system is crisp, the fake timber panelling doesn’t look cheap, and the real leather interior is soft.
- Standard Equipment: Leather seat trim, front electric heated seats, multi-zone climate control, electric driver’s seat adjustment, digital instrument cluster display, auto lights and wipers, LED headlights, cruise control, keyless entry and start, 18-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 12.0-inch colour display, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, USB input, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, CD player
- Cargo Volume: 412 litres to rear seats
All model grades receive some form of leather trim, so the seats are easy to clean but the base model Mode with its faux cow skin could get clammy in summer – the Luxe gets real hide with ventilation.
There’s plenty of room all around the cabin and the 2950mm wheelbase provides a terrific rear pew for kids or adults. The seats have firm but supportive cushions and the leather trim we sampled is soft. The driver’s electric seat adjustment can slide into a high but ergonomic position and the steering wheel has both tilt and rear adjustment but the base model is tilt only.
It’s sits high but entry to the front seats is eased with grab handles. The rear doors are long and provide a wide aperture that’s great for throwing (assisting) kids into the back, but the second-row only flips up and doesn’t fold completely out of the way for easy third row access.
The infotainment system is crisp and clear and 12.0-inches wide so it’s easy to read. The base infotainment software isn’t flash to use but the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make that somewhat redundant.
There are two USB ports in the centre area and a rear-mounted port for back-seat passengers. There’s also a 220-volt general household plug outlet for further gadgets.
The D90 is 5005mm long with a 2950mm wheelbase which compares with the Santa Fe at 4770mm long with a 2765mm wheelbase, CX-9 at 5075mm long with a 2930mm wheelbase, and the Everest which is 4892mm long with a 2850mm wheelbase.
It’s a big cabin and there’s no want for extra space, and even the boot with all rows up affords a reasonable 412 litres of space which expands to 2.3 cubic metres when all rows are down. There’s a good amount of storage and cup holders too.
At the back, the tailgate features automatic handsfree opening and closing with the swipe of a foot.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol, 165kW, 365Nm
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, rear- or four-wheel drive
- Suspension: Multi-link rear, McPherson strut front
- Steering: Electromechanical power steering
The entire range is powered exclusively by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 165kW and 360Nm. The figures are down on most rivals but the D90 – despite weighing over two tonnes – gets along nicely.
It is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and either rear- or four-wheel drive systems. The four-wheel drive system has low range transfer case and a rear electronic locking differential with extra driving modes for mud, sand, snow and rock.
A new generation turbo diesel is coming but there’s no certainty on timing yet. The rear-wheel drive models consume 10.2l/100km combined, and the four-wheel drive drinks 10.9l/100km – we didn’t have time to do a real-world test.
Acceleration isn’t rapid, but it never struggles to gain pace and for overtaking there’s some grunt at cruising speed to get around slow traffic. Our test loop was on a private track, so we could push it further and it was willing to pull well passed normal speed limits.
At lower speeds the driveline was reasonably smooth but with an occasional hesitation to pick a gear - though our time was limited to get to know the nuts and bolts of its behaviour.
For a ladder frame chassis, the ride should have been more agricultural than it was, and LDV has delivered mostly on its promise of a soft edge to this traditionally rugged underpinning. Around corners the weight transfer was well controlled and though it’s too high and heavy for anything beyond cruising it was firmly planted during medium speed directional changes. The 18-inch alloys aren’t too large as to feel brittle either, but the ride did sometimes transmit more information than needed over poor sections of tarmac.
Towing capacity for the petrol model is two tonnes braked.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
LDV is an unknown quantity in Australia and we’d need a crystal ball to predict how well it will hold up in the future, but doors open and close with a solid, precise thunk and the seat movement was silent and quick. Parts in the interior felt firmly in place without ripping at them but some small plastics felt a little cheap. Touch points were good though and the leather bound steering wheel felt nice in the hands.
Importantly, the D90 scored a five-star ANCAP after the two-tonne vehicle was smashed into a wall by the assessment authority, and comes with safety items such as six airbags, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, fatigue reminder and attention assist, automatic emergency braking, front collision warning, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors and a 360-degree view camera (Luxe model).
Like an Olympic athlete grabbing the baton at a fun run for kids, LDV is flattered by delivering one of the first solid pieces of Chinese automotive artillery we’ve seen in a long line of missed-the-marks. It’s not yet at the level of its evolved rivals because of its simpler architecture but then again, it’s not bad, and the price is good.