If there’s any apparent trait among Filipinos, it’s that we learn from experiences and we’re pretty stubborn about the things we’ve learned. Well, at least in cars. That’s why with Chinese cars trying to break into the Philippine automotive market these days, it’s understandable that Filipinos are repulsive about the thought. After all, we pretty much had a bad experience with old Chinese brands (hello, Chery) and unfortunately, that lingered.
But with new Chinese car brands like JAC, BAIC, GAC, and BYD getting better by the hour, I think it’s time that we open our minds about these cars, especially if it's value for money that you’re looking for. That holds true for the 2018 JAC S3 subcompact crossover, and I’ve driven one for an in-depth review to find out what it could offer to the Filipino car buyers.
I know what you’re thinking. The JAC S3 looks eerily familiar and I’d agree with you on that. It’s like a lovechild of the Ford EcoSport and Hyundai Tucson, but there’s more to the S3’s exterior design than its inherited traits from its supposed parents.
For instance, even without LED headlamps, the JAC S3 can illuminate the road well. It’s also showered with chrome, not that I’m a fan of that, but if that’s your cup of tea then you’re pretty much covered. What’s compelling about the S3’s design is its sharp daytime running lights and its uniquely-styled rims. Those would be this car’s saving grace to deviate your eyes away from the odd sloping rear claddings that are combined with chrome strips (reminds me of the Toyota Innova Touring Sport).
Wait, is this car sporty or classy? You decide.
It’s a mixed bag inside the JAC S3’s cabin. Soft high-quality leather on the dashboard, door cushions, and seats are apparent, complete with red contrasting stitches to radiate a sporty look. However, hard plastics still populate some parts like the cubby holes and cupholders near the gear-shifter. Nevertheless, the open feeling while in the driver’s seat is great and it’s pretty easy to find a comfortable driving positioneven without telescopic steering wheel adjustment.
For the rear passengers, there’s an air-conditioning vent and a USB charging port behind the center console, as well as door pockets and a foldable center armrest with cupholders. Legroom and headroom are just enough for three average-sized Filipino; anyone taller than 5’7” would need to compromise. Trunk space is surprisingly generous and can be maximized by folding the seats flat to the floor and removing the trunk lid, which by the way can be taken out in a snap.
As for ride comfort, well, let’s just say it isn’t exactly a pleasant experience when going through rough roads, or even normal city humps, which somehow cancels out the go-anywhere demeanor brought about by the heavy under-claddings. The engine vibrates intently, as well, which makes you think that you’re driving a diesel car, but you’re not.
This is where the S3 gets ahead of its competitors. At its price point, everything’s quite convenient for the driver, which includes the automatic headlights, auto up and down power windows, speed-sensing door locks, and cornering lights. Save maybe the auto-dimming rearview mirror, keyless entry, and rain-sensing wipers, but that’s fine because you can’t really have them all.
The floatinginfotainment systemhas a crisp display and employs bright colors, while its iPod connectivity is pleasant for those who want their music sourced from their iPhones. The speakers have a decent frequency range and handsfree phone calls are clear. I wish I could say the same for the multi-information display between the gauge clusters and the single line display of the climate control system. They look lifeless and could really use an update. Good thing the S3’s air-conditioning is one of its stronger traits, able to cool the car down easily even when left in a sunny parking lot for hours. The rear parking camera has a clear display even at night and the proximity sensors, albeit a bit sensitive, help to keep the car safe from scratches.
Considering the cars within the subcompact crossover segment, the JAC S3 is above average in terms of safety features. It comes standard with dual front airbags, ISOFIX child seat anchors, and ABS with EBD. It also has stability control and hydraulic assist, as well as tire pressure monitors that can be accessed via the infotainment system.
Driving and Handling
I would be lying if I said that the S3’s 1.6-liter engine and transmission combo was great. It wasn’t necessarily bad as it’s quite responsive at low RPMs and from a standstill. There’s also a healthy 116 hp and 155 Nm of torque on paper, but the problem lies in its continuously variable transmission (CVT). It has the old type of CVT wherein power delivery wasn’t always instantaneous and somehow annoying especially when slowing down. Plus, when you’re already at high speeds like 60 to 80 km/h, the torque seems to have reached a plateau; any desire to push the car further would mean flooring the accelerator. And I mean really gun it as hard as you can.
When it comes to handling, the JAC S3’s steering felt light; too light, actually, to the point that it’s a bit numb. It tightened at speeds, though, so highway drives were composed and stable. You would also need to be careful at corners as there’s a huge amount of understeer and body roll was felt all over the cabin. On the upside, driving visibility is abundant, thanks largely to the A-pillar corner windows and the door-mounted side mirrors.
The S3’s traditional CVT isn’t always a bad thing, as it read back pretty impressive fuel efficiency numbers. Highway stints with the cruise control nailed at 90 km/h registered 18.9 km/L, while provincial drives at an average speed of 60 km/h clocked in 13.8 km/L. Heavy traffic within the city was at a median for crossovers at 7.8 km/L.
Take note that these figures were taken with only two people on board.
The JAC S3 is definitely not a perfect car, but it has something up its sleeve that might make you look past through its imperfections. The CVT variant has a price tag of P940,000, which is way less than its more popular competitors in the market. If you prefer the stick shift version, it’s P50,000 less with the same features you’ve read here.
With that price, you get a decent-looking car that’s showered with tech features. It’s a great choice for car buyers who are looking for an affordable alternative in the sea of options. As it is, it isn’t the best Chinese car you could buy today, but it’s one of those that could represent the true meaning of value for money.