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The New Hongqi E-HS9 Electric SUV Heads Into BMW Territory

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Founded in 1958, Hongqi is often referred to as the Rolls-Royce of China. But while the L-series is still very exclusive and the L5 sedan is only available to those with the right connections, the company is now enjoying growing commercial success with its H-series.

Last year, the FAW-owned company sold nearly 200,000 cars, most of which are comparable to models from the big three German manufacturers and Jaguar. In 2018, FAW hired former Rolls-Royce man Giles Taylor to oversee Hongqi’s design direction. The Briton was responsible for the Cullinan, and the first design under his direction, the E-HS9 electric SUV, is strongly reminiscent of it. Sales have already begun in Norway, and other European countries are likely to follow.

There is nothing understated about this car, from its length of 5209 mm and its width of 2010 mm to its imposing radiator grille. The lines are mainly conventional, and nothing gives away that this is an EV. But when you press the opening button, you get a light show, and when it’s charging, the chrome strip on the C-pillar acts as an indicator with LED stripes.

The interior is visually impressive, but the material quality falls short of expectations. The leather of the quilted seats is partly synthetic, and the padding around the centre console storage compartments is too thin. However, the electrically adjustable seats are comfortable and have heating, cooling and massage functions. These, along with the air conditioning, are controlled via the touchscreen that extends from the centre console to the air vents.

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Screens dominate the dashboard. The driver gets a digital dial (buttons and scrollers on the steering wheel allow you to change the driving mode and the data shown on display). In the middle is a very text-heavy infotainment touchscreen (with three columns of Chinese text to navigate through, it was tough to use). And in our test car, the front passenger has his entertainment screen.

You have six seats in the highest trim level for Norway, but the Chinese flagship is a four-seater. The seats in the second row are similar to those in the front but have no massage function and are equipped with an armrest. The controls for the air conditioning and the connections for charging devices are located at the back of the centre console.

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Getting in and out of the rear is not easy, but once you are in, headroom is adequate and legroom (depending on the position of the second row) is acceptable. Boot space is good, even when the third row is in use, and there are buttons to electrically lower and raise the bench seat. While the headrests fold down automatically when folded down, they do not extend when folded up. However, the fold-up pockets in the doors and the ambient lighting show good attention to detail.

On the road, you notice the mass of the E-HS9 by the sheer size of the bonnet and the lack of four-wheel steering when manoeuvring into a tight parking space. You would expect such weight to help with energy recovery, but the regenerative braking is barely noticeable even at its highest setting, making single-pedal driving impossible.

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Acceleration is reasonable given the size of the vehicle, and the air suspension makes for a smooth ride. When you push down on the accelerator, however, the nose lifts.

Unlike most Chinese cars, the steering is not too smooth and offers a degree of precision.

Should I Buy One?

The E-HS9 is undoubtedly a looker: it has a strong presence. Plus, you get much car for your money (around £74,000). However, the devil is in the detail. While it’s luxurious and in many ways very comfortable, the material quality is not quite up to scratch, from the soft-touch plastics to the seats. Some equipment shortcomings are also surprising: A head-up display, for example, is only available on the top-of-the-range f model.

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As a luxury barge, the E-HS9 is just good enough, but as a driver’s car, it offers little that is exciting, despite its respectable acceleration.

Early indications suggest that cars built for Europe will iron out some of these problems, and indeed, Hongqi is on the right track with the E-HS9.

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