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Driving impression: JMC Vigus

26 November 2014

From the very first time we set foot inside the Vigus, the interior seemed familiar to us. We spent a couple of days trying to remember where we had seen it before and we only happened to find the answer while browsing for news updates for our website.

The interior was familiar, because it’s very close to being an exact replica of the new Jeep Cherokee’s interior, with a bit of Opel Astra thrown in for good measure.

We don’t like this mimicking business, but at least JMC had the decency to copy from decent interiors.

It certainly looks cool, but unlike the Jeep and Opel, the plastic used in the Vigus is not of the highest quality. It has to be said, however, that there were no annoying rattles or gaping panel gaps to speak of. So, while the plastic may not be pleasing to touch, it is at least nailed in properly.

Noise and vibration levels were perfectly acceptable, with wind noise only really becoming an issue at speeds far above the national speed limit.

As for standard specification, the news is rather good. The Vigus is equipped with almost all of the luxuries you’d find in competitors like the Hilux, Ranger or Amarok.

It has leather seats, a multifunction steering wheel and a touch-screen infotainment system that can play music from all the obligatory sources. The unit also houses a DVD player, which we would have gladly sacrificed for some cruise control. To not have this feature on any car costing more than R150 000 is a big no-no in our book, but it has the be said that the Vigus is not the only Chinese bakkie with this glaring omission.

There are two ways we can look at the Vigus with regards to its engine and handling characteristics.

We can either choose to dismiss its mechanicals for being old and lacking compared to the modern mechanicals of a Ford Ranger or Volkswagen Amarok, or we can defend it by stating that the guts of the Vigus are fairly basic, which means there’s very little that can go wrong.

The latter argument would make complete sense if we were testing a hardcore overland vehicle like the Toyota Land Cruiser, where durability is the key purchasing consideration, but the Vigus is supposed to be a rival for the so-called leisure bakkies, so refinement and performance are, if anything, even more important.

We’ll start of by stating that the Vigus’ performance is nowhere near disappointing. Its old school, Ford-based 2,4-litre diesel develops 90kW and 290Nm of torque. Those are not shoddy numbers when you view them in isolation, separated from the figures of its direct competitors.

The engine is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, which felt slightly sticky, but not so much that it completely ruined the driving experience. It never felt underpowered, but it didn’t have that riding-a-wave-of-torque feel you get in most modern bakkies.

There’s a very good reason for that. As stated previously, the 290Nm or torque isn’t that bad when viewed in isolation, but since this is a road test, we have to compare the Vigus to at least one other competitor.

As we’re very familiar with the Foton Tunland, we’ll use it as the main rival. It uses a 2,8-litre Cummins turbodiesel with 120kW and 360Nm on tap. The 30kW/70Nm difference between the two is immediately apparent, even when you account for the fact that we added at least 200kg worth of modifications to our long-term Tunland.

As for the quality of the ride on tar, its good news all round. The Vigus rides beautifully on tarmac and body-roll is fairly limited. In this regard we’d be willing to state that it’s as good as its mainstream competitors.

Venturing off the beaten track was a more, shall we say, interesting experience, but we’ll leave it at that.

For a full road test, check out the February issue of the Magazine, which will be on the shelves by mid January.