Lifan 520i

27 Feb, 2008 2:23am Mark Andrews

Latest Chinese challenger hides an 17-year old secret.


On paper the Lifan offers a great deal. With a price of around £8,500, plenty of space and good equipment, it will appeal to those on a budget. Add in the excellent powerplant and cosseting ride and the car is one of China’s better offerings. But the 520i is essentially a 17-year-old design, and its crash protection must be called into question as a result.

There's no doubt that China is serious about developing its car industry. Despite the shocking performance of the Brilliance BS6 in crash tests, and controversy over some of the country’s copycat designs, manufacturers are determined to steal sales abroad.

The latest offering is the first four-wheeler from motorcycle maker Lifan. Called the 520i, it aims to deliver family hatch space at a supermini price.

Behind the modern-looking wraparound headlamps and bold chrome grille lurks the chassis of a Citroen ZX – a car that dates back to 1991! As a result, the model has an old-fashioned stance with a narrow track, low waist- line and small wheels. Bosses say the structure has been strengthened to improve accident performance, while driver and passenger airbags are fitted.

The cabin is totally reworked and nothing is carried over from the ZX. But despite the fresh new look, it is full of hard shiny plastic and poorly screwed together. There is a decent amount of space though, with easily enough room for five adults.

The most up-to-date feature is the 115bhp 1.6-litre engine. Taken from the last-generation MINI, the smooth-revving unit provides the Lifan with punchy performance. But the sporty sounding engine is at odds with the soft and supple ride. Add in the over-light steering and it is clear the 520i is more at home cruising the motorway than blasting down back roads.

But the trump card is the five-year, 60,000-mile warranty, which combines with the £8,500 price to make the car a bit of a bargain. If safety is up to scratch, the 520i could be a surprise hit with families on a tight budget.

Key specs

* Price: £8,500 (est)
* Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl
* Power/torque: 115bhp/149Nm
* Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
* 0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
* Top speed: 115mph
* Equipment: Electric windows and mirrors, ABS, CD player, two airbags, remote central locking, alloys, sat-nav, parking sensors