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The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

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Oleksandra Yershova

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The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

The first Ukrainian test of «maxus» was accompanied by many questions, sometimes completely unexpected. I took it for a test literally the same week that the veins were installed, so it puzzled even the security guards at the car dealership. Not to mention police officers and neighbors at the charging station. Where does a Chinese minibus get so much pathos from? What kind of transportation is this? Who are we burying? How long is the extension cord? And although the numerous nameplates such as SAIC MOTORS, MAXUS and MIFA9 did not tell our know-it-alls anything, they all identified the Chinese origin on the fly.

An oxymoron squared

Well, this kind of MPV is really a purely Chinese exotic. Launched back in the late 80s in Japan, the fashion for premium one-door MPVs has flourished in South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thailand. But it reached its peak of popularity in China. For local businessmen, premium versions of vans have become an alternative to limousines — thanks to the incomparable space in the cabin and the ability to enter and exit without ducking down. The success of the Lexus LM, which is as luxurious inside as it is quirky outside, against the backdrop of equal sales of the Mercedes V-Class and VW Multivan. It showed that the EU market is quite ripe for this kind of «shuttle».».

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

Perhaps because the politically correct European Union is increasingly looking at executive sedans, while MPVs, by definition, do not cause social irritation. What do you notice «minibus», even if it is tightly tinted? Who knows that in terms of comfort, the MIFA9 is on par with the Mercedes S-Class? Although, of course, it sounds no less pretentious than the phrase «Chinese premium». But that’s for now.

«With the Mifa 9, we are bringing our expertise in electric mobility to the passenger car segment for the first time, — Maxus CEO Carsten Dornheim presented the new product at the Guangzhou Motor Show in November 2021. — The 7-seater van makes no compromises and, thanks to its powerful electric drive and high-quality equipment, is suitable for everyday life for a large family as well as for VIP trips».

What is SAIC and why Maxus?

Let’s be honest — for most of us, this is a typical Chinese product with a controversial appearance, dubious quality, and anonymous pedigree, despite the extensive «signage» SAIC Maxus MIFA 9. Even for experienced motorists, this set of words means nothing, although in fact it encodes more than enough information. Well, let’s get acquainted.

The abbreviation SAIC hides one of the leading car manufacturers in China, which accounts for a quarter (!) of all sales in the world’s largest market. Moreover, since it is a state-owned concern, it obediently implements the will of the ruling Communist Party, which requires the Chinese auto industry to work more on foreign markets. Therefore, SAIC is also the main automotive exporter of China. Every third «Chinese» car sold outside China comes from the SAIC constellation.

Since the concern has a dozen brands and sub-brands (the most famous are Baojun, IM, Maxus, MG, Rising Roewe) plus collaborations with manufacturers such as Volkswagen and GM, according to a long-standing Chinese tradition, a real badge marketing bacchanalia is taking place within the concern.

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

It is too early to talk about the prospects in the European markets. It is important that the MIFA 9 is already actively sold both in the EU and almost «native» UK markets. Not to mention Norway, which is obsessed with trains.

And what is exported under the MG brand is sold in the domestic market under five other brands that we don’t know at all. In turn, in Asia, even commercial vans are sold under the MG brand. In addition, for twenty years now, SAIC’s main profit has been generated by primitive Wuling micro- and compact vans, which are popular with farmers and traders in the province. In Ukraine, the MIFA 9 is sold under a brand that is not yet familiar, and there is an explanation for this.

For the English-speaking markets (Australia and New Zealand), the Chinese have retained the «British» LDV brand, and turned the Maxus name into a sub-brand for their commercial van and pickup truck line. Although, hand on heart, our hero has nothing to do with it — the creators position the «nine» as the brand’s first passenger model. Although, a three-row M-segment minivan could easily fit into the dimensions of the S-Class.

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

What is MIFA?

This is an abbreviation for Maxus Intelligent Flexible Architecture, the name of the latest modular platform that underpins the hero of our story and its gasoline version, the Maxus G90 MPV. By the way, sometimes the new architecture is deciphered differently — Maximum Intelligent Friendly Artistic.

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

For example, the shuttle’s exterior — an atracite-black body with an emphatically massive silhouette and a tightly tinted panoramic roof and glass — is inspired by the image of a «space capsule». And the rear optics (it is entirely LED), in their opinion, should remind us of the «galactic halberd», whatever that means. For their part, the packages shout out with colorful names: «Clouds in the Meadows», «Great Forest» and «Magnificent Mountain».

How long does SAIC Maxus MIFA 9 get around?

The MIFA9 is driven by a 245-horsepower electric motor (180 kW, 350 Nm) that turns the front wheels. And how it turns! According to the passport, the Ven accelerates «to hundreds» in 9 seconds. For some people, this is too much, but for such a giant, it’s a good indicator. Judging by the GPS navigator, I managed to sprint in 8.7. But only «on dry» — on wet asphalt at the start «on the floor» the tires slip. They clearly work off all 350 Nm of torque.

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

By the way, the battery capacity is — 90 kWh. For comparison, the Audi e-tron GT sports car has only 3 kWh more. The top speed, for good measure, is limited to 180 km/h because with such a weight and a sporty driving setting, the shuttle would have to travel «two hundred» kilometers.

Despite the apparent «aerodynamics of a brick», the air resistance coefficient (Cx) of the single-volume is quite decent — 0.29. And so, in economy mode, it’s easy to squeeze out a little more than the 440 km promised in the city according to the WLTP methodology. We managed almost 470 km, and that’s not all: there were still 15–20 kilometers to spare. Outside the city, the 90 kWh CATL lithium-ion battery promises a range of 595 km, and the average consumption is 17.9 kWh/100 km.

If you do not discharge the battery «to zero», but leave at least 5%, the AC charging speed at a temperature of +25 degrees outside will be 8.5 hours. That is, the battery will be fully charged overnight at home from the on-board 11-kilowatt device. But at fast-charging stations (CCS Combo 2), the high-voltage battery is required to charge from 30% to 80% in half an hour according to the passport.

Ship manners

There’s no point in speculating on any of the nuances of piloting. The seven-seater «vein» is not a slim roadster and the task of winning over the driver with its «transparent» steering wheel and rear-wheel drive manners was definitely not set. The MIFA 9 puts passenger comfort at the forefront, and the trains are smooth by default.

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

It’s hard to imagine that driving such a bulky MPV is any less pleasant than lying in the second-row seat. The suspension, which seems to be softened for the sake of comfort, and the vague steering do not leave the driver’s happiness a chance. Yes, the steering wheel is practically devoid of feedback, and the driver, like a captain, sets the direction of movement rather than pilots. But pedaling in the sport setting revitalizes the veins.

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

Despite noticeable body roll with and without drive, the MIFA9 is a pleasant surprise with its stability at high speed in tight curves thanks to its ultra-low center of gravity and despite its enormous sail. The brakes deserve special praise for their finely tuned balance between regenerative and frictional deceleration. Of course, it’s not yet a Mercedes EV EVQ300, but it’s a cut above the «Stellant» trio.

The shuttle is controlled more like a boat, just as antidynamically and with a «maneuvering margin». The main thing is to avoid speed bumps like the ones that abound in residential areas. Because scratching an obstacle with a chrome beak is a piece of cake for an ordinary fisherman. The fact is that this «cabinet» brakes as briskly as it accelerates. And it also pecks noticeably with its nose.

A host of electronic assistants are equipped to help the driver. The main feature of the semi-autonomous Maxus-Pilot assistance system is the function of automatic passage through bottlenecks. Guided by all-round cameras, it navigates difficult areas with the precision of an otolaryngologist. Not to mention the ability to park in tight spaces, change lanes, and adapt to the way you drive. All of this is easy to handle with such a machine — 90% of the assistants are controlled via a 12.3-inch touchscreen. This includes deactivating the parking brake and starting the electric motor. In other words, the car shuts down just like your tablet.

Deluxe cabin

If in terms of handling it is a completely predictable car, according to its size and weight, then in terms of comfort everything is much more interesting. Access to the passenger compartment is provided by huge sliding doors with door closers. The biometric system remembers the preferred seat, climate control, and even music settings for both the driver and passengers, and transfers them from seat to seat.

The proprietary infotainment system pleases with its sharpness, but is overloaded with submenus and sound signals. And, traditionally for the Chinese, it is not very friendly with Android Auto and especially with Apple CarPlay. But the layout of the lounge area is very carefully thought out. There are a couple of USB chargers and folding cupholders near each seat, plus a full-fledged 220 V outlet between the front seats.

You’ll agree that it’s the perfect solution for a long journey when several people can drive at once. Usually, second-row passengers are most comfortable in a car of this class. And on the «captain’s bridge» and «galley», they pick up crumbs of comfort from the master’s table. In our case, the driver is as free and spacious as in the cab of a long-haul truck.

Kissing spots also have their advantages. If you don’t have any luggage (charging cables and adapters can easily fit in the front trunk), the third row slides back as far as possible in one motion, and its backrests have several options for tilting.

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

A cabin of this shape is not an ideal room in terms of sound. Nevertheless, it is decently soundproofed and the JBL audio system sounds very lush.

The manufacturer assures that MIFA 9 is the first in its class to have all seats electrically adjustable. And the first in the industry in general to have a cabin layout that can be changed between several variations with a single button, in particular, the two rear rows are synchronously moved forward to free up maximum space for luggage. But this applies only to the top version with a pair of seats in the rear row (seating formula 2 + 2 + 2), while we have a configuration with a 3-seater sofa that can be manually moved, as mentioned above.

The coolest part is sitting in the second row. Passengers have screens built into the armrests, like an iPhone5, which regulate both the position of the seats and ventilation, heating, massage, etc. The Chinese claim that this is the largest longitudinal adjustment in the segment, but they do not provide specific data. But the backrests, like airplane backrests, recline «horizontally», and shaved support rollers move out from under the cushions.

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

A car aimed at businessmen cannot be mediocre in terms of multimedia. A 2-core system based on MediaTek 8666 and Qualcomm 8155 chips is responsible for high-speed communication. Unfortunately, we can only dream about the Chinese abundance of a dozen screens

About the package

As is customary in the premium segment, even the standard equipment is very generous. There’s keyless entry, LED optics, adaptive cruise control, high beam assist, two points «distribution» climate control, rear parking sensors, and electrically heated mirrors.

Again, the MIFA 9 is equipped with automatic emergency braking, cross-traffic warning, road sign recognition, and lane control. Which, in our road chaos, are now and then dissatisfied with something. It’s not always clear what exactly because the Ukrainian firmware is not expected until the fall. Most likely, it’s the marking materials. But the most unpleasant thing is that in such cases, the electronics did not allow the turn signal to turn on and blocked the steering wheel, preventing a smooth lane change. Fortunately, this somewhat intrusive feature can be disabled.

The equipment for our market is assembled from the average for Europe: Luxury (€7,000) and the top Premium (€14,000). The former has power-adjustable seats in the front and a sunroof above them, a panoramic roof over the master cabin, a 360-degree camera system, inductive charging for smartphones, plus power-adjustable exterior mirrors with a folding function. The Premium version borrows the options of massage, heated and ventilated front seats, a split-folding function for the second row seats and a heated steering wheel.

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

A pleasant surprise — 19-inch «alloys» with very decent «self-sealing» Conti tires, which is a rarity for Chinese cars. Usually, they are limited to Made in China tires, which can be blamed for 50% of the blame for mediocre handling characteristics.

But the other premium option of the MIFA 9 — leather seats — cannot but cause skepticism. Although, for example, in the Zeekr 009, it’s not just «leather around the circumference», but also Nappa. The only thing missing is a scattering of displays in the cabin. The fact is that China operates exclusively its own services, and the manufacturer has not yet reached an agreement with global platforms such as Spotify, YouTube, and Netflix…

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

The price of the issue

While in the home market, the price list for the «nine» starts at 269.9 thousand yuan ($42.4 thousand), in Ukraine, the official dealer estimates the electric car at 2.77 million hryvnias ($71.7 thousand). Several gray dealers offer SAIC Maxus MIFA 9 with a price tag of $44 — 56 thousand, depending on the configuration, but with delivery to Kyiv. However, this will be the most equipped version of the Luxury MPV. To which you can «buy» only a different body color (59.3 thousand hryvnias) because the basic white looks very modest. And it’s worth it. Our anthracite-black shuttle looked so authoritative that not only taxi drivers gave way to it.

The MIFA9 has a lot of competitors. Here are the trendsetters Mercedes V-Klasse and VW Miltivan, and the current leaders Toyota Alphard and Lexus LM. And, of course, a scattering of shuttles from premium brands of the largest Chinese concerns: Hongqi HQ9 (FAW), Zeekr 009 (Geely), Wey Alpine/High Mountain (Great Wall), Denza D9 EV (Daimler/BYD), Voyah Dreamer (Dongfeng). However, European and Japanese competitors are not offered in electric versions (Volvo EM90 does not count — it is only for China), and «Celestial» have not yet reached the middle of Dnipro.

It is precisely these Trojan horses that will penetrate the most desirable markets for Chinese brands, namely the EU and the US. After all, all electric trains are almost twin brothers when compared to cars with internal combustion engines. And because of the minimum of parts, they are relatively reliable. That is, the three biggest problems of cars from China are automatically excluded: imperfect design, extremely low quality and poor driving performance. At the same time, the main trump cards remain: modern appearance, rich equipment, many electronic assistants and an attractive price. Unfortunately, no test drive can reveal the level of reliability.

But the MIFA9 has official European certification and a 5-year warranty for the car itself (up to 100 thousand kilometers) plus an 8-year warranty (up to 200 thousand kilometers) — for the battery. Which, by the way, is produced at a joint venture with CATL.

The first test drive of the SAIC Maxus MIFA 9: a premium electric car for the price of a hybrid RAV4

Who will buy SAIC Maxus MIFA 9?

«We expect that the proportion of legal entities and individuals will be about 40:60, — shares her plans Evgenia Smirnova, director of the first Maxus dealership in Ukraine. — In the first case, these are families with at least three children who are used to traveling in comfort. In the second case, it’s hoteliers, car rental companies, and transportation companies that provide last mile delivery».

Director of AIGI PE, the official Maxus dealer in Ukraine.

PROS: comfortable luxury interior, massage, heating, space maximally equipped with modern safety and assistance systems, quiet and soft ride.

CONS: sometimes intrusive active safety functions, rolling on uneven roads, energy consumption in reality is higher than stated.

Technical data of SAIC Maxus MIFA 9

Body, type MPV
Dimensions (L/W/H), mm 5270/2000/1840
Wheelbase, mm 3200
Declared ground clearance, mm
Trunk volume, liters. 55/466/2179
Curb weight, kg 2385
Battery kWh 90
Power, hp/kW 245/183
Torque, Nm 350
Power reserve, km 595
Type of drive front
Transmission single-stage automatic
Dynamics 0-100, s 9
Maximum speed, km/h 180
Energy consumption, kWh/100 km 17,9
Cost, UAH 2 770 000
The cost of the test car, UAH 2 770 000
Competitors there are no electric MPVs among them


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