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Say Hello to My Little Friend

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Meet the Geely LC, a.k.a. The “Panda.” A car that puts everyone in a good mood

City driving, with its heat, traffic, recidivist motorists, and daredevil pedestrians is akin to the Fifth Circle of Hell.

To paraphrase Dante, into this black sulkiness, which can find no joy in God or man or the universe, comes an angel of a car, a red car, a car with a smile forever plastered on its face.

I smiled when I first saw it. Passersby, more often than not, did a double-take when first beholding the car. Most of them smiled too. It’s as if everyone hears Louis Armstrong crooning What a Wonderful World in the background whenever the Geely LC drives by.

Whatever snafu was created by Fiat releasing the first Panda car in 1980, Geely addressed by marketing this cutie as the “Geely Panda” in China and the “Geely LC” everywhere else. This city car is roundish (even the dashboard is round), more so than the Fiat Panda. And the A/C is, hands down, the coldest A/C I’ve ever experienced.

I drove this cutie around The Fort and got stuck in Buendia on the hottest day (The weather bureau said February 23, Thursday, posted the hottest temperature this year at the time; a sizzling 34.4°C at 2 p.m.) but I nearly froze my knuckles and toes off!

Interior
The Geely Panda’s cabin will surprise you. It may look small on the outside, but it delivers a compact-SUV feel on the inside. The front seats stretch all the way back and give you more distance from the dash than even a regular sized sedan.

The interior color scheme is classy. I can’t tell you how many luxury sedans ruin their poshness by having tacky cabin colors. The Panda’s beige and black is appealing to both men and women. (Auto China GM Jenkins Chua discloses that more guys than gals have bought the car from them.)

I found it amusing that the center console on the dash bore a Ferrari pattern. Another thing that made me smile. This may be China’s kitschiest car yet!

If the front of the car looks like a smiling panda, the dash console looks like a smiling robot. I loved everything about the interior, except for the seats and the door handle.

The seats do not allow you to slouch! Of course, that can be a good thing if you have back pain (which I have now as I write this). But it takes a bit of getting used to if you love soft, comfy seats that have a little give when you plop your tired a-, I mean bottom into them.

The chrome door handle was too thin for comfort. But with power windows/door locks/rear view and an angle-adjustable steering wheel (plus front/rear fog lights and keyless entry; the base model I drove—the GB—had no ABS EBD but all the rest do) at this price? I doubt anyone else (other than a nitpicking car reviewer) will complain.

The audio system is decent but you will miss the USB port in the GB, which only has an aux. Buy the premium model and you get USB support for your iPod.

Handling
For a minicar, the LC doesn’t do too badly speed-wise given the stick shift. My only complaint is that the clutch pedal was a little too deep for my taste in the unit I drove. It could be that the clutch motion was unforgiving to those who step on the pedal wrongly (as I do: more ‘away’ than ‘downward’).

The first few times I drove the LC, I let go of the clutch too fast that the engine kept shutting off. I tried revving more, but the miser in me cringed each time. So I had to find another solution.

Now, I don’t mind driving a stick and even prefer it sometimes, especially since an A/T puts me to sleep when I have to drive home past midnight. I also fancy myself a pretty skillful clutch driver when I’m forced to in traffic or wish to teach cutting motorists a lesson in using their turn signals. So I was a bit disappointed when I kept failing to calculate the right pedal pressure.

It took several tries for me to get the seat distance right and to position my feet for optimal clutch driving in traffic, but I eventually did it. I wear a size-11 ladies’ (size-9 men’s; yeah, yeah, horrible) and I found that making duck feet helped the situation (pointing my feet outward). Not very attractive.

Since I had the Panda for less than four days, I wasn’t able to experiment with enough steering wheel and seat distance combinations to discover if the uncomfortable handling was fixable without making duck feet. So try different combos when you test drive before purchase.

The Panda measures 3598 x 1630 x 1465 (mm). Compare that to the Hyundai i10’s 3565 x 1595 x 1550 (mm), so the Panda will feel longer, wider, but squatter.

But the wheelbase is only 2340mm, so it’s easier around corners than the i10. (The i10 measures 2380mm front wheel to rear and you will feel the extra 40mm via a smoother ride.) The Panda was so easy to maneuver that I kept overcompensating when back-in parking and it took me three tries to get it perfectly parallel.

I drove the Panda around the bowels of the North Edsa MRT station and it was a joy to maneuver around the tight corners and across rails. (Don’t test drive your cars there! I was only there for a meeting at the offices above.)

Engine
Another thing that will make you smile is the Panda’s fuel efficiency. At 6.85L/100km courtesy of a 4-cylinder, 16-valve, 1.3L engine at this price? Not bad.

While driving the Panda from the China Business office in Greenhills to the Mind Museum opening at The Fort and back, I had fun watching how the gas gauge hardly registered a change— even as the sun beat down on me and my little red friend as we were stuck in Edsa-Buendia traffic.

Is the Geely LC too good to be true? It didn’t sputter, chatter, or shake when I took it through all the gears on all sorts of city terrain (as the photos show you), but will it stay that way for long? And what about parts?

Ronald Sarcos, Auto China sales manager, assuaged my doubts. He promises that parts will not be a problem. And, besides, they offer a five- year guarantee!

SRPs for the Panda: Geely LC 1.3L M/T GB (Base) is Php398,000; Geely LC 1.3L M/T GL (Premium) is Php448,000

Print ed: 04/12

 

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