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Spyshots of the Leopaard CS10 were sent to us last month; now, we’re having a first proper look at the real thing, as well as a short test drive. The company bringing in the Chinese C-segment SUV, Joylong Auto Sdn Bhd – the official assembler and distributor of Joylong commercial vehicles – is conducting durability testing on the car before introducing it here sometime within the first quarter of next year.

Don’t be put off by this car’s left-hand drive configuration – it’s a test mule taken straight off the assembly line in China. The car destined for the Malaysian market will be right-hand drive, locally-assembled (CKD) in Gurun, Kedah. In fact, the company plans to make Malaysia the RHD production hub for the car, exporting the CS10 to other right-hook markets – it’s even footing the bill for the conversion.

Launched at the Shanghai Motor Show last year, the Changfeng sub-brand’s SUV possesses handsome, if unadventurous and derivative styling, with headlights that look to have been nicked from the Volkswagen Touareg and a rear end from a Porsche Macan. Still, in the metal, it at least has a presence of its own, and doesn’t look like a straight copy-paste exercise as with many Chinese cars (I’m looking at you, Landwind X7).

Measuring 4,663 mm long, 1,875 mm wide and 1,700 mm tall, with a wheelbase of 2,700 mm, the CS10 is smack in the middle of the C-segment SUV class dominated by the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5 and Nissan X-Trail, although it is quite a bit wider than those cars.

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Inside, there’s a dashboard and switchgear that’s reminiscent of a facelifted W204 Mercedes C-Class, a four-spoke multifunction steering wheel with a Range Rover-esque “Leopaard” badge, an Android-based navigation system with eight-inch touchscreen, six speakers and five seats.

Surprisingly for this Chinese entry, there are soft-touch plastics on the dashboard and door tops, replete with faux stitching – and despite the fact that this car has encountered over 10,000 km of hard testing, the cabin shows little signs of wear or rattles. The driving position takes a little getting used to, however – despite the steering wheel being adjustable for reach and rake, it still sits a touch too low.

Under the bonnet sits a turbocharged Mitsubishi-derived 2.0 litre 4G63T four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 174 hp at 5,250 rpm and 250 Nm of torque between 2,400 and 4,800 rpm – Changfeng is so proud of the Japanese connection that the engine cover says “Mitsubishi Power” and even sports the three-diamond logo. Power is sent to the front wheels via a six-speed dual wet clutch transmission.

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Setting off, the mule exhibited noticeable sluggishness at low revs – a problem the company attributed to a malfunctioning stability control system, which was being stress-tested at the time, and which won’t be replicated in customer vehicles. Once above 2,000 rpm or so, power came in freely and smoothly – and with that much power and torque, the engine made light work of pulling the CS10’s 1,661 kg kerb weight.

Our route to the photo spot featured little in the way of corners, so we did not get a chance to test out the car’s dynamic capabilities to the full. What we did notice was that the car had decent directional stability at speed and a steering with a nice weight to it – although the latter was devoid of feel.

These do not seem like much, but you’d be amazed how many other Chinese cars get the basics wrong. One small niggle – the suspension felt fairly compliant, but felt brittle and lacked the final polish in damping of its more accomplished rivals. Still, not a bad effort.

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So, how soon can we expect this? Well, the company intends to begin work on right-hand drive conversion and production as soon as it has accumulated 30,000 km of testing and ironed out any problems that have arisen from it. That process is said to take around nine months – that would put the completion in March, but the company hopes that it could complete the process faster and launch the car at the beginning of 2017.

As for pricing, the company is gunning for the CS10 to retail at under RM120k, or even RM110k. That’s still quite a bit for a Chinese car, but the company promises that it will be offered pretty much as specced here.

This car, by the way, is the highest-spec variant offered in China, coming with LED daytime running lights, LED tail lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, power-adjustable leather seats, six airbags and stability control. The company could omit certain items like the sunroof to get pricing to the desired level.

So, what do you think of the Chinese big cat?