It was bound to happen. A few prominent Chinese carmakers were eventually going to set themselves apart with premium-feeling product. Enter Wey.
Most notable is the fact that the Wey VV5 and VV7 crossovers discussed here come from a brand – Great Wall Motors (GWM) – that has eschewed a joint-venture with a famous western company, avoiding the shortcut taken by rivals such as SAIC (owner of MG, LDV) and Geely (Lynk & Co, Volvo).
The Wey luxury brand is important to GWM, which sells more than a million Haval SUVs and Great Wall pick-ups in China each year, and which is investing substantial sums in domestic and international R&D, production and sales.
Not only does it aim to steal sales from the Germans and ‘Tier 1’ Japanese such as Lexus, it’s named in honour of the company’s founder Wei Jianjun (yes, the spelling is different), who started the company from scratch and apparently still lives in a small apartment despite a billion-dollar bank account.
Eponymous auto brands are traditionally not done in China, according to our hosts, who recently took us to a new Wey dealership on the outskirts of Beijing, following our visit to the vast Auto China motor show earlier in the same week.
The dealer site is new and formidable. It’s obvious why GWM wanted to show the media. Huge, spotless and tasteful. Service customers can sit in a shiatsu massage chair and have lunch while they wait. Wey has clearly looked to Lexus when it comes to customer care, and wealthy Chinese buyers are becoming ever more demanding.
GWM’s hope is that they will become curious about Chinese luxury and give it a go ahead of the ubiquitous Audi, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, either out of national pride or a desire to have something few others do. And of course, there’s the profit margin…
If design counts for much – and yes, in this market and segment it does – then the Wey brand will become a hit. The now-departed styling boss Pierre Leclercq (formerly BMW, now at Kia) and his team have crafted two aggressive, curvaceous crossovers with genuine road presence on streets teeming with BMWs and Audis.
We’re not going to pretend we had a lot of time in the Wey product, but our contingent convinced the company to lend us a few off the dealer lot to drive through a manic Beijing cityscape, where road 'rules' manifest as 'guidelines'. Our VV5 was new, while the larger VV7 was a demo with about 15,000km on it.
The interior designs don’t win points for originality – the Audi influence is evident in the circular air vents, infotainment rotary dial, floating screen and optional fully digital instruments – but the look, feel and build quality are all Germanic, meaning good. The VV5 and VV7 have very similar layouts.
We had a look at the Wey production line in Baoding. The cars are made on the same line as various Haval products, but the calibre of the machines/robots, and the level of staff training (claimed) matches international standards. I've been to BMW, Volvo and Honda plants in Europe and Japan and can say there appears to be parity.
We also approve of the cluster of buttons running along the transmission tunnel, controlling everything from the seat and wheel heating, the ESC and downhill assist, the throttle sport mode, the idle-stop off switch and the active safety features. Shortcuts when integrated tastefully still have a place.
Every touchpoint is soft, the ambient lights are tasteful, and the ergonomics are a huge improvement on some of the earlier Haval products we’ve driven, though as a taller driver I'd prefer a little more frontal leg room. We guarantee if you stripped the badge away, people would presume this pair are from Europe.
The rear seat is king in China, which is why there’s a heap of leg room, particularly in the VV7 thanks to its long 2950mm wheelbase, though head room is compromised. Even the quality and trim of the seats are high-end. The air purifier is de rigueur, rife as Baoding is with air pollution.
Reflecting the improving standards in upper-class China, there are also safety features like a 360-degree camera, autonomous braking, lane assist and forward collision warning.
Engine-wise, the VV5 sports an in-house 2.0-litre turbo-petrol with 145kW of peak power and 355Nm of maximum torque (from 2000–3200rpm), sufficient to get you from standstill to 100km/h in 8.9 seconds despite the hefty 1709kg kerb weight.
The VV7’s 2.0-litre turbo addresses the extra mass with an uprated 172kW and 360Nm.
Both are front-wheel drive, and use an in-house seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, developed by a team whose manager was a chief transmission engineer at Volkswagen and Daimler, lured to China by green-field opportunities and, we presume, money.
The engines are very respectable, with decent vibration suppression and a crisp note. The ’box hunts and misses far less than the Getrag unit in the Haval H2, which the company did not retune very well. The progress is obvious…
We’d mention here that Wey is also about to launch the P8 plug-in hybrid (PHEV) that promises a pure electric range of 50km before the petrol engine/generator kicks in. Remember, emissions restrictions in Chinese megacities are very stringent, and licences for non-electrified cars are harder to attain.
Dynamically, this pair aren’t too bad. Haval’s dynamic evolution has been marked, with steady improvement in recent times as it accrues more IP and experience. The light steering and respectably compliant suspension – a touch brittle over bridge joins on the VV7’s 19-inch wheels – impressed us, albeit our drive was exceptionally brief.
As is our ‘review’. We couldn’t pass up the chance to see what this region’s nouveau luxury looks like. Clearly the likes of Lexus and Genesis will be battling companies such as Wey and Lynk & Co within a decade, and not just in China.
The kicker when it comes to exports is ‘when?’. For now, the company is content to make LHD vehicles for its home market while it irons out the kinks and builds up a reputation, though the company’s CEO told us exports were on the cards. And soon…
Wey’s obvious differentiators are its fantastically luxurious dealerships in key areas and the slick design of its models. But the cabin presentation and features are both already at a world standard, though some more distinctive design inside wouldn’t hurt, and the drivetrain and chassis engineering are already showing promise.
If the VV5 were to arrive in Australia priced around the $35K mark at entry level with a $5000 premium on the VV7, it’d actually be quite an interesting proposition. It’s not happening yet, but we’d consider that something of a ringing endorsement. Is Wey one to watch? That should be clear.
Apologies for the shabby photos, largely taken on the author's iPhone. Click the Photos tab for more.