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I’m now officially keeping tabs on the Geely-branded vehicles I’m test driving. Why? For one, it reminds me of how one car brand can make a complete turnaround in terms of quality and design in so short a time, and that’s a rare thing these days. For another, the Geely brand is an ongoing lesson on how to break stereotypes, specifically the stereotype that a brand with Chinese origins can’t ever storm an automotive castle fortified with Japanese, American, European, and Korean defences.

Just like how I wrote in my Geely Coolray review last June 28, the brand’s Philippine comeback last year after a dismal first showing barely over a decade before in 2008 speaks volumes not just about the persistence of the brand, but also of its capability to learn quickly from its missteps.

After Geely retreated from the local scene, the brand had made remarkable leaps and bounds not just in its motherland, but in the world automotive stage, surrounding itself with some of the best minds in the business, acquiring Volvo Cars from Ford in 2010, the London Electric Vehicle Company in 2013, and a majority stake in British sports carmaker Lotus Cars in 2017.

The Geely that came back to our humble shores in 2019, through a distribution partnership and after-sales service agreement with Japanese conglomerate Sojitz Corporation, was now completely different. It was the Geely that ran a globalized network of four R&D centers in Gothenburg, Hangzhou, Ningbo, and Coventry, employing over 10,000 science and technology-focused personnel.

And what these thousands upon thousands of learned professionals created, well, I’ve now had the privilege of driving two of them so far. One was the Coolray, which I loved to bits, and now this, the Geely Azkarra Premium compact crossover.

The bigger hype may have been directed to the Azkarra’s other variant, the eco-friendly Azkarra Luxury mild hybrid, so the purely fossil-fuel powered Premium isn’t getting as much attention. My affections go to the Premium even before I rest my butt on its comfy seats, just so for the fact that its upholstery is made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) instead of the animal-based leather that the Luxury mild hybrid flaunts. Readers who’ve been following my stories here for nearly two decades know that I’m an unabashed vegan doing what she can to promote cruelty-free motoring.

Price-wise, the Azkarra Premium doesn’t cut as deep into the pockets as the Luxury mild hybrid (the former’s price tag is P1.438 million, while the mild hybrid will set you back P1.598 million). I did get in touch with an Azkarra Premium owner online, and said he preferred the Premium over the hybrid because he was afraid most mechanics wouldn’t dare touch a complicated hybrid system, plus he fretted over what he perceived was the high cost of the battery and electric motor when it came time to replace it after around 10 years.

A short chat with Sojitz G Auto Philippines’ General Manager Froilan Dytianquin about this owner’s worries clarified some things. “The Azkarra Luxury mild hybrid’s 48V EMS is an individual electric motor synergy that works to complement the engine. It can identify the operating conditions of the engine intelligently, start or shut down actively, and supply or recoup the energy output from the engine. Its main functions are to increase horsepower, improve fuel economy and the noise, vibration, and harshness. The 48V battery can go beyond 10 years, and it doesn’t cost as much as the full-hybrid batteries.”

Of course, this would be all water under the bridge now for the Azkarra Premium owner, and I’m guessing he’s happy with what he has; probably as happy as I am with mine during the week that the Premium was under my care and control.

Comparable to German luxury

The first big driving impression I have of the Azkarra Premium is its driving comfort. I picked up the test drive unit from Geely North Edsa during a “new normal” evening rush hour, and had to sit behind the wheel for five hours in stop-and-go traffic before finally arriving home in Las Pinas City. I do agree with another Azkarra Premium owner who remarked in an online forum that its ride quality is comparable to a German luxury crossover.

That five-hour drive gave me enough time to get a feel of the Azkarra Premium’s other amenities and ride characteristics. The Azkarra Premium is powered by a 1.5TD turbocharged 3-cylinder DOHC (turbo with intercooler) mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, capable of generating 177hp@5500rpm and torque of 255Nm @1500 to 4000 rpm. It was certainly adequate to keep me in line and at pace with the rest of the pack without resorting to sport mode.

The electronic anti-glare of the rearview mirror was easy on the eyes. This feature is triggered depending on the intensity of the light read by the sensor. The around-view monitor proved useful in traffic. The sunroof is expansive, reaching as far back to the rear passenger. I did notice, as well, that the big side view mirrors created a blind spot at the lower right quadrant of my driver window and at the lower left quadrant of the front passenger window.

Over the course of the next few days with the Azkarra Premium, I discovered some more of its nifty tricks. It “comes to life” when someone with the key approaches it, meaning the doors already unlock, the daytime running lights turn on, and the side view mirror unfolds. It reminds me of a happy Labrador sensing its human companion coming over for his nightly walk/run. I wished, though, that the horn wouldn’t honk when the car automatically locked. I live in a neighborhood where peace and quiet is also held at a premium, and I feel all judgmental eyes on me when the Azkarra “barks”.

All the bells and whistles one would expect in a crossover labeled “premium” are there within thumb’s reach at the steering wheel: Cruise control and audio and infotainment settings. Tire pressures and temperatures are displayed on the dashboard in real time.

Clear view all around

The feature I like most about the Azkarra Premium is its 360-degree bird’s eye view. It isn’t the first around view monitor (AVM) in a car, that’s for sure, but it’s certainly among the clearest I’ve seen. The AVM system consists of four wide-angle cameras that cover the field of view in the periphery of the car, allowing the driver to monitor in real time images from all four directions, helping the driver avoid collisions. Needless to say, the AVM is just an aid to driving. Don’t go covering up the windows and windshields and drive using only the AVM for sight.

Park along the dotted lines

I also found the colorful parking guide lines of the AVM system helpful, as it indicates front and rear parking guide lines to indicate the safest space where the car can be eased into.

The Azkarra Premium is also quite gadget-friendly, what with two USB interfaces below the console, both of which support mobile phone charging, while the USB interface on the driver’s side also supports data transmission.

The Premium also highlights a 7-inch LCD instrument panel, HD 12.3-inch infotainment panel (music, movies, safety settings and more at your fingertips).

Another feature that is quite relevant to the times is that the Azkarra Premium is installed with the CN95 cabin filter.

Finally, the fuel efficiency that I got—14.2 km per liter on the highway at an average speed of 62 kph—made me think that the Azkarra Premium can hold its own in the fuel miser department against its mild hybrid sibling.

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