Brilliance BS4 Splendor

9 Jan, 2008 10:31am Mark Andrews

Brilliance is back... but has one of China’s biggest car makers got any better?

Verdict

1
After our initial meeting with Brilliance, we weren’t looking forward to repeating the experience. But the BS4 Splendor is better than the BS6 – although not by enough. There are signs that the firm is making efforts to improve safety, but in every single area the BS4 falls behind its European counter­parts. About the only redeeming feature is its price. Even then, there’s a major stumbling block for UK buyers – bosses have yet to confirm when it will start making right-hand-drive models.

Let’s hope so. Auto Express drove the firm’s first European model, the BS6 executive saloon, once before – and it struggled to impress.

So can this newcomer redress the balance? Called the BS4 Splendor, it’s a mid-sized saloon that sits below the BS6 and above the forthcoming BS2 compact hatch. It’s scheduled to go on sale later this year, and will be joined by a coupé, supermini and SUV. But it’s the four-door that has a key role to play as Brilliance aims to crack Europe.

With an estimated starting price tag of around £12,000, the BS4 Splendor costs about as much as a Ford Focus, but offers the space of a previous-generation Mondeo inside. It’s well specified, too, with air-con, electric windows, mirrors, sunroof and a decent CD stereo as standard.

But you don’t have to dig very deep before it comes clear that the BS4 is a disappointment. It’s been styled by famous Italian design house Pininfarina, yet when you lay eyes on the BS4 for the first time, you’re hard-pressed to see much Italian flair. At the front, the nose is dominated by an awkward grille, which is flanked by some rather generic headlights and a strange raked bonnet. The squared-off boot is neater, but overall the BS4 looks like a 10-year-old Daewoo Leganza.

Step inside, and the story isn’t a great deal better. Although Brilliance has clearly learned some lessons from joint venture partner BMW when it comes to making doors close with a solid thud, the material quality and design lag a long way behind the best from Europe.

The cream-coloured leather upholstery of our test car looked and felt cheap, while all the buttons and stalks are made of harsh plastics. The boot, while quite large, has a small opening and the rear seats don’t fold down either. On the plus side, there is reasonable room and comfort for three adults in the back.

But the centre rear passenger has to make do with a lapbelt – and there are other safety concerns, too. For instance, the BS4 is not currently available with stability control, nor are there any official crash test results as yet.

With four airbags as standard and a collapsible steering column, it promises to perform better than the woeful BS6, which scored only two Euro NCAP stars for occupant protection. However, the BS4 is still likely to trail some way behind its European rivals.

Under the bonnet, two engines are available: a Mitsubishi-sourced 1.8-litre petrol and a 1.8-litre turbo, which is Brilliance’s first homegrown offering. A diesel is on the way, too.

Our test car had the non-turbo 1.8-litre motor. It’s refined, but with only 134bhp and a lot of car to propel, the unit feels unresponsive and underpowered. Add in a sloppy five-speed manual gearbox, and there’s nothing about the powertrain that really impresses.

It doesn’t get any better in the corners, either. The steering is vague, there’s lots of body roll, and although the ride is reasonably comfortable, the BS4 simply feels off the pace. Unfortunately, it seems that on the evidence of this drive, Brilliance is still a long way off!

Key specs

* Price: £12,000 (est.)
* Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl petrol
* Power: 134bhp
* Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
* 0-62mph: 15.0 seconds
* Top speed: 115mph
* Economy: 46mpg
* CO2: 180g/km (est.)
* Standard equipment: Four airbags, reach/rake adjustable steering, air-con, CD player, electric windows, mirrors and sunroof
* On sale: Summer

AEX 1,339
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