Roewe. Not the most familiar car brand to even the nerdiest of petrolheads. Even the name’s origins are a bit checkered thanks to SAIC Motor’s failure to acquire the Rover brand name when MG Rover went bust in 2005. Still, that didn’t stop the automaker from initially making localized versions of existing Rover models like the 75 sedan. But just teaching an old British dog new tricks will never guarantee the brand’s survival in the very crowded Chinese market. As we make the trek to the SAIC Roewe Innovation Center in downtown Shanghai, we can see why Roewe now enjoys a very healthy slice of the Chinese automotive pie. We are here upon the invitation of MG Philippines.
Greeting visitors upon entry to the futuristic-looking building is the very sleek Roewe Vision-R concept. This low-slung four-door coupe is the product of the Roewe engineers being allowed to let their hair down and just make something that will blow everyone’s mind. And blow everyone’s mind, it did: It won the coveted “Design of Chinese Concept Car” award at the 2015 Guangzhou Auto Show. According to SAIC, the Vision-R has an all-electric drivetrain and also cameras in lieu of side and rearview mirrors.
Beside the Vision-R is Roewe’s Marvel X full-motion simulator. It’s basically a gimmicky way for the company to showcase the technology found in its newest crossover, which competes in a segment that is very popular in China. It has a tight-fitting bucket seat that is making us regret the hearty lunch we had earlier. We’re given a Samsung Gear VR headset to wear in conjunction with a steering wheel that we’ll use during a game.
The video starts in the headset, and we can’t understand anything as it’s all in Mandarin. What we can make out are some of the electronic aids supposedly fitted to the car such as stability control and some form of semi-autonomous driving capability. Later in the video, we are tasked to hold a wheel and give chase to an evil robot driving a Marvel X—while dodging obstacles along the road. This is meant to showcase the car’s predictable handling characteristics.
There are several Marvel X SUVs on the floor. The Roewe Marvel X is the company’s fresh offering on the hotly contested crossover market. This car is brimming with technology, starting with the electric powertrain. SAIC employees claim that the power unit was codeveloped by Porsche. Inside, the seats are covered in what feels like real leather. And instead of a messy array of switches and buttons, the center console is now one big display screen that houses all the in-car functions—much like in the Tesla Model X (which may have inspired the Marvel X name).
If you had asked our advice 10 years ago, we would have told you to avoid spending any of your hard-earned money on the Chinese cars sold at the time. However, now that SAIC Motor and Roewe have shown us what they can do if they really try, we just might consider forking out cash for a brand-new Marvel X.