Roewe 350

Debut: 2010
Maker: SAIC
Predecessor: No

350 is the first car built by SAIC from scratch

Competition in the Chinese car market is increasingly intensified. Apart from countless of foreign brand designs, local manufacturers have also started building their own cars. Under the guidance of central government, they understand that the only way to survive and prosper in the future is to stand on their own feet. Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation, or SAIC, is one of them. Back in 2004, it acquired the intellectual properties of the late MG Rover to build its own version of Rover 75, or Roewe 750, in China. In the following years, local contents rose gradually. In 2008, its UK-based design and engineering center developed Roewe 550 based on the underpinnings of the old platform. By 2010, the same team created Roewe 350 – this time a clean-sheet design. No matter chassis, suspensions or powertrain, the 350 has nothing in common with the old Rover 75. SAIC finally built its own car from scratch.

From nose to tail the smaller car looks ordinary, wasting its British genes...

Predictably, the first 100-percent SAIC product is not exactly world class. Although the engineering and design team is British, it is not the best equipped or funded. Take the so-called NSE engine for example. This 1.5-liter unit might be equipped with variable valve timing, but it is neither high-revving nor tractable low down. Silent timing chain makes it quieter than the ancient Rover K-series of 550, but above 3000 rpm it still screams like an overloading workhorse. The slightly outdated 4-speed automatic transmission does not help. Expect 0-60 mph takes a painful 13 seconds. We hope the forthcoming 1.5-liter turbo would be better.

The British design team led by Tony Williams created a modern but characterless design. Its front end is not as elegant as 550, which was one of the honourable mentions of AutoZine's Design of the Year 2009. From nose to tail the smaller car looks ordinary, failing to distinguish from other Chinese rivals, hence wasting its British genes. The interior looks boring. Although the dash top is covered with soft-touch plastic, and the two-tone color scheme is pleasing, the whole visual quality is hampered by the use of cheap-looking faux alloy and wood inserts. Some switchgears seem cheap and fragile.

Google's Android OS is evident from the mobile phone-like icons...

SAIC emphasizes the 350 is the first car to employ Google's Android operating system for its infotainment system. This is evident from the mobile phone-like icons displayed in its 7-inch color screen, which is probably the last thing you want to appear in an RMB100,000 investment. Through the screen you can access to internet, telematics, GPS, DVD or even a rearview camara if you take these options. It sounds classy for a C-segment compact sedan.

The 350 is smaller than 550, of course, but its wheelbase, at 2650 mm, is only 55 mm shorter. Like Korean compact cars (e.g. Kia Forte and Hyundai Avante), Chinese compact cars tend to offer more metal and space for the money. As a result, the car has plenty of room for four six-footers to stretch their legs. Nevertheless, sitting comfort is limited by the flat and unsupportive seats, whose manual adjustment is also difficult to operate.

Quieter than the Rover K-series, but above 3000 rpm it still screams like an overloading workhorse

Underneath the cabin is a new platform riding on MacPherson struts and low-cost torsion-beam semi-independent suspension. There are disc brakes all round, ABS and EBD as standard. The ride and handling is not going to excite keen drivers, but the tuning is pretty well judged, offering a smooth ride and reasonable body control. Like 550, its steering is heavier than typical Japanese cars, giving more feel and confidence in corners. On the downside, the brake pedal is soft and unresponsive.

Is this going to be a winner in the China market ? Judging from the limited success of the current Roewe 550, I suppose not even local people are willing to pay premium price for mediocre performance and refinement. Ironically, the best selling car in China last year was BYD F3, a very cheap copycat of Toyota Corolla. As long as intellectual property rights are not respected by Chinese mainlanders (and laws), an original design like Roewe 350 is not easy to see the light of success. The only way SAIC can succeed is to keep working hard, upgrading its cars to the same level of foreign brand counterparts. That is also what the government wants to see.

 The above report was last updated on 3 May 2010. All Rights Reserved.
AutoZine Rating

Roewe 350


Table 1
General remarks
Length / width / height
Valve gears
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Roewe 350 1.5
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4521 / 1788 / 1492 mm
2650 mm
1498 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
109 hp
100 lbft
4-speed automatic
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
1280 kg
106 mph (c)
13 (est)

Performance tested by: -

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