Chinese auto giant Chery has celebrated its local return with the introduction of the smallest model in its new range, the delectably styled Tiggo 4 Pro. We took it on an extended trip to Ficksburg, the unofficial cherry capital of the world, in the Eastern Free State for our own Chery festival …
South Africa is the first country in the world to have received the right-hand drive derivative of the new Tiggo 4 Pro compact SUV from Chinese auto giant Chery – surprisingly, with indicator controls on the right-hand side of the steering wheel …
Launched last month, the Tiggo 4 Pro is available with a choice of two petrol engines, three transmissions, and three specification levels – Urban, Comfort, and Elite – with a Special Edition topping the range. The models are now available from nearly 30 dealers countrywide and come with an industry-first 10-year/one million km engine warranty as standard.
Whilst the Urban and Comfort models are powered by a normally aspirated, in-house developed 1.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine (83 kW and 138 Nm of torque), the Elite and Elite SE models are motivated by a feisty 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine.
The large hexagonal grille of our funky, blue-grey coated Elite SE model (a range of six body colours are available) immediately stood out with its unique diamond pattern, narrowing towards the Chery logo at the top to create a three-dimensional effect. Each individual diamond is fitted with chrome brightwork, giving the Tiggo 4 Pro a distinct upmarket look.
It has automatic LED headlamps and LED daytime running lights flanking the grille, with additional side air intakes and a faux skid plate rounding off the strong front design. The sculpted flanks and rear, with LED lights in housings giving it a three-dimensional effect, is also striking and sporty.
We also admired the 17-inch machined alloy wheels with a dark chrome finish and highly visible red strips on the front, the sides, and the rear, with the neat design rounded off by integrated roof rails and a high-level LED brake light bar, an antenna fin, and a spoiler at the back.
By now we were on the R59 leading out of Johannesburg towards Vereeniging, revelling in the fluent power delivery from the turbo engine. Producing 108 kW and 210 Nm of torque, it is one of the most powerful in its class and coupled with a smooth CVT (although it sometimes felt lethargic when not yet warmed up) it felt sprightly and lively on the highway.
From Sasolburg we took the backroads through towns like Heilbron, Petrus Steyn, and Reitz towards Bethlehem and Clarens. It was saddening to see how badly the Free State roads have deteriorated. However, with well-sorted suspension settings, the small Tiggo SUV handled the corrugated surfaces with ease, and even established, highly regarded manufacturers can learn from its exemplary ride quality.
The cherry capital
After a short coffee stop in Clarens, we set off again. While we may have thought the other roads were bad, nothing could prepare us for the pothole-strewn state of the R711 leading towards Fouriesburg and the R26 to Ficksburg. It is atrocious, and we can count ourselves lucky not having any punctures while dodging the small craters in the road.
At least the Eastern Free State vistas – particularly after recent good rains – made up for the road conditions, and soon we were in Ficksburg, the so-called cherry capital of the world and famous for its Cherry Festival taking place in November every year. Having been held annually for over 50 years, the festival attracted almost 30 000 visitors each year and played an integral role in local tourism.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-pandemic the festival – arguably the oldest crop festival in South Africa – was cancelled in 2020, and this year as well. Even so, the locals created their own festivals, with Ionia Cherry Farm, landmarked by a solitary rock-needle known as the Pulpit amongst the rugged sandstone cliffs of the Highlands, leading the way.
At the Ionia Farm Stall we were met by Frieda Kruger, who manages the family cherry farm, and while photographer Jay Groat was positioning the Chery with cherries, she and her assistant, Liesl, gave us a tour of the orchards. Situated high up at about 1 600 m above sea level, Ionia is blessed with the precise combination of soil and climate required to produce perfect cherries.
“Currently, there are more than 15 000 cherry trees planted on the farm, with 13 varieties of red cherries and four varieties of yellow cherries cultivated,” she said, “and the crop this year is magnificent (even though some was lost due to hail), and later than usual. We are still harvesting some of the best cherries, so they may still be available during the holiday season,” Frieda said.
We were also showed around the facility where the cherries are sorted and graded, and at the farmstall, we sampled some Belgian-style cherry waffles and the cherry liqueurs and a wide variety of cherry products made here. Not only cherries are produced on the farm; the soil is good for growing asparagus as well …
After our visit to Ionia, we traversed some quite rough dirt roads to get to our overnight destination, Nebo Mountain Lodge, nestled securely within the folds of the mighty Maloti Mountains. While only front-wheel-drive but 180 mm of ground clearance, the Tiggo easily and comfortably dealt with the undulations.
Also, the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible infotainment system, accessible through a touch-responsive 10.25-inch central display, made it easy to find directions to the hidden-away lodge – making it a great getaway spot from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Our hosts, Rick and Riette, fed us some of the biggest steaks (there are Simbra stud cattle on the working farm) I have ever seen for supper, and after a restful night and hearty breakfast the next morning, we tackled the long road to Cape Town via Ladybrand, Wepener, Zastron, Aliwal-North, Burgersdorp, Steynsburg, and Middelburg before joining the N1 close to Richmond.
Cherry on top
The small Chery SUV again impressed with its easy gait on tar and its supportive seats, high-quality interior detailing including red detailing and contrasting stitching and multi-colour LED lighting inside the cabin. The seven-inch digital instrument cluster also offers more customisation options and in general the digital system is less finicky than in other Chinese products.
With huge rain- and windstorms on route, the engine was working hard, and even with the CVT in Eco driving mode (Sport is the other option) and using the paddles behind the steering wheel to manually keep the stepped transmission in ninth gear, consumption was high at over 8 ℓ/100 km.
Still, with its extensive (and non-intrusive) passive and dynamic safety systems, the Tiggo coped well in the bad conditions, and the good-quality six-speaker audio system made it even more pleasant. However, the cherry on top must be the built-in intelligent voice control – opening and closing the windows and sunroof, and changing the temperature and sound settings on command …
Safely back in the Mother City, I could not but be hugely impressed with the new Tiggo 4 Pro. It is a remarkable little SUV at a very good price, as at R359 900 it undercuts the Haval Jolion Super Luxury by R40k, including a comprehensive warranty package. It was a delectable first bite at what Chery still has to offer …
Text: Ferdi de Vos | Images: Jay Groat