The first Chinese car to go on sale in Europe has hit the road
Oh dear! We were expecting so much from China’s European debut – but the Brilliance BS6 is a massive letdown. It falls behind rivals in every area, with poor quality, average dynamics and nondescript styling. The lack of safety kit and terrible crash test rating are real causes for concern. The idea of having a large executive car for the price of a hatchback is appealing but, apart from space, the BS6 offers little else.
The car's called the Brilliance BS6, and 3,000 of the new executive saloons will be specially imported over the next year, with the first arriving in showrooms in January.
Pitched against rivals such as the Hyundai Sonata and fellow Chinese firm SAIC’s forthcoming re-engineered Rover 75, the Roewe 750, the BS6 has a great deal riding on it.
Not only does the model have to prove to UK buyers that Chinese cars are worth considering, but also that the Brilliance brand can rub shoulders with some of the best in the business.
After all, this isn’t the last car the company wants to see on British roads. It is set to be followed by a Brilliance coupé, supermini and SUV. Similar in size to the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class but carrying a £15,000 price tag, the BS6 is certainly a promising package. Yet does the Brilliance live up to its grand name?
Initial impressions aren’t promising. Except for the garish chrome brightwork on the grille and rear number plate surround, there’s nothing at all distinctive about the shape.
In fact, it’s as if the styling team has mixed two other cars together. The front bears more than a passing resemblance to Daewoo’s long-since-departed Leganza, while the rear has shades of the current Hyundai Sonata.
Add a bland four-door profile and, although Brilliance would like to think the BS6 will appeal to budding executives, this is not a car for people who want to stand out. It doesn’t get much better on the inside. Although there is decent legroom in the rear for tall passengers, and a highly usable boot, little else impresses. Hard, shiny plastic and some cheap-feeling leather upholstery dominate the cabin, which is not particularly well put together, either.
The dashboard features mismatched fake wood trim, beige leather and a shiny silver stereo. In all, it’s as though you’ve taken a step back in time when you sit behind the wheel, ending up somewhere in the late Eighties.
Equipment levels leave a lot to be desired, too. Although air-conditioning and a CD player are standard, even the range-topping Deluxe trim comes with only two airbags, and it doesn’t get any form of stability or traction control. What’s more, any passengers sitting in the centre rear seat will have to make do with a simple lapbelt.
So, does the driving experience bring better news? Clearly, Brilliance engineers have set up the car with comfort in mind. Despite the brand’s close links with BMW and Toyota in China, not much mechanical knowledge appears to have been shared.
In town, the car’s front-wheel-drive chassis and softly sprung suspension do a good job of absorbing bumps. Start to push harder in tight corners, though, and the ride quickly becomes spongy, with lots of body roll.
The shortage of driver aids means the BS6 suffers from poor traction. The steering doesn’t help matters, either, as it’s very light with little feedback. However, the engine fares better. Sourced from Mitsubishi – yet another company with which Brilliance works in China – the 130bhp 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol powerplant delivers smooth, if not exactly spirited, performance. It’s linked to a rather vague five-speed manual box, and propels the car from 0-60mph in around 12 seconds.
This is the only engine option for now, although an entry-level 2.0-litre unit is on the way. However, bosses currently have no plans to introduce a turbodiesel – and that’s a gaping omission in the European market, where sales of oil-burning variants outnumber their petrol equivalents.
The Brilliance is currently available only in left-hand-drive guise – and on this evidence, that shouldn’t prove too much of a disappointment.