As a proud Changli owner, the cheapest electric car in the world, I have to admit that one of the things I never considered about my $1,200 car is that it may look dated. Looking like a giant Cozy Coupe, sure, but never really obsolete. Looks like I was wrong, as our friends over at Changli have been busy, and the latest version of their cheapest EV is quite significantly improved over the model I got just last year.
A couple of Jalopnik readers, inspired by that special Changli something, bought their own new Changlis, and received the updated models. Jared got one in the familiar Changli Red, and Tim got a blue one. Both sent pics, though Tim sent a lot more, so we’ll be mostly seeing this new blue Changli.
While I think the chassis is basically the same, the body is a total redesign, and there have been some significant improvements in the drivetrain and other areas as well. You’d think a change this significant would come at a higher price, but Tim told me that it still starts at about $900, and was $1,885 shipped from China — only $101 more than what I paid for mine.
All in, Tim paid $3,045 to get his here — a bit cheaper than me, because he was able to pick it up direct from the port and avoid some of the trucking fees I had.
Let’s dig into the 2021 Changli Freeman (I think the model name is still Freeman? I’m not certain) and see what’s changed:
While the proportions have the same sort of fetal-SUV look, every body panel appears to have been re-designed, with the result being a far more modern and conventional sort of look.
The clunky add-on front and rear bumpers seem to have been eliminated (maybe good for aesthetics, but that does leave the body more vulnerable), and the roof rack looks a lot sturdier.
The crazy stamped-in side graphic shapes have been eliminated, along with the wonderfully bonkers decals, and the door shutline is now straight instead of arched, the pillars are now blacked out, along with the wheel arches, and overall the whole thing seems to have been re-worked with the goal of making something more “mature,” which I suppose they’ve accomplished.
The one big problem I have with the new bodyshell is that the redesign has eliminated the rear door, which means that the only access to the luggage area is from the inside, via the side doors:
I think this is a pretty significant drawback, as I’ve found that rear door to be extremely useful when it comes to using the Changli. It makes loading bulky, heavy items, like a discarded CRT TV by the side of the road, far easier:
I’m also glad to see the Changli hallmark of leaving a dusty footprint on the cargo area mat is being maintained, too, since mine had one as well.
All of the lighting design has changed, too, with a pair of roof-mounted auxiliary lamps instead of the former light bar, a new set of low-mounted driving lamps and new taillights. The DRL color has changed from blue to purple as well, which is likely better lest anyone think you’re impersonating the least-threatening cop car possible.
There are major changes inside as well, with a completely re-designed dashboard and actual roll-down windows instead of the small, inset sliding windows on the previous version. Doorcards and other interior trim are all-new, and the parking brake has been relocated to be a locking lever on the pedal, likely because the floor-mounted e-brake had to go to make room for an all-new lever:
That gold-colored handle on the right is the control for the new “three-speed hill mode” system. Perhaps inspired by my own kid being able to run up a hill faster than the Changli, they’ve developed a sort of transmission for the car that gives three ranges that will, ideally, provide lower gearing for better hill climbing.
The shifter pulls a cable that connects to the differential, which must now have some sort of small transmission in it. I asked Tim if it gets up hills faster now, and he told me that it’s
“...almost neck-breaking, and climbs with ease. No longer so slow.”
So, that’s good news! He also said the lever can’t be changed on the fly, as it makes “really bad noises” so I guess you’d pick your setting when stopped, before attempting the hill.
Also big news: there are now disc brakes because I guess with the advantage of that new gearing, you may need more stopping power.
Sweet gold calipers, too. And, wait, holy shit — they’re hydraulic now?
Yeah, look, there’s the brake fluid reservoir in the front compartment. Holy crap. My brakes are just actuated by a dumb steel rod, and these are freaking hydraulic? How? Damn.
I think my favorite upgrade is also the most ridiculous: The Changli now comes with a little key fob that looks like a remote-locking fob, but it doesn’t actually do that. What it does do is make the car say several Chinese phrases from speakers on the car:
If anyone knows Chinese (is that Mandarin?) and can tell us what the lady is saying, I’d really love to know.
Tim also mentioned that the buttons on the steering wheel just seem to repeat the make-the-lady-yell functions of the fob, and are not for cruise control or anything like that.
I gotta admit, I’m really impressed with how much the already absurdly cheap Changli has been improved; I think the loss of the rear door is a pretty major blow, but, on the other hand, there’s a hell of a lot added to the new model, including such important things as that hill-mode gearset and the hydraulic disc brakes and the roll-down windows, so I guess something had to give.
When travel gets safe again, I hope to go down and give Tim’s Changli a real head-to-head road test with the original. I’m very excited.
Updated 3/3/22 with new details.