THEY say you’re either a cat person or a dog person – but, when it comes to cars, the cat people are definitely winning.
While the Rover brand is long defunct, along with the likes of the Hillman Husky, Bedford Beagle and Aston Martin Bulldog, you can still put a Jaguar, Ford Puma or Dodge Challenger Hellcat on your driveway.
Now, there’s yet another feline-friendly car model on the market - the GWM ORA Funky Cat. That’s GWM as in the Chinese manufacturer Great Wall Motors and their electric-only sub-brand, ORA, which stands for ‘Open Reliable and Alternative’.
As for the Funky Cat itself, it’s a cute electric hatchback which takes some of its retro-futuristic styling cues from the likes of the re-booted VW Beetle, BMW-era Mini and 21st century Fiat 500 while still managing to look distinctively different in its own right.
Yes, the Funky Cat turns heads – though, having recently spent a pleasant weekend tooling around in one, I’m still a tad unclear whether people are impressed by its styling or just baffled by having never seen one before. Possibly a bit of both.
The car in question was on loan from Charles Hurst, the first dealership in the north to adopt ORA and indeed its Funky Cat, which is being launched here in well-specced First Edition form.
Prices start at £31,995, with four paint colours to choose from: Nebula Green, Starry Black, Aurora Green & White and Mars Red & Starry Black, each colour being locked to its own specific pre-set interior colour scheme – and that’s as far as the ‘options’ list goes.
All colours come equipped with the same 48kWh battery and a single 169hp electric motor delivering 184 lb ft of torque via the front wheels and offering a range of 193 miles WLTP, plus quilted ‘leatherette’ upholstery and a decent selection of onboard tech, driver aids and exterior styling, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot and lane-departure monitoring, 360-degree reversing/parking cameras, wireless phone charging, voice recognition, automatic LED headlights, automatic wipers and 18” alloy wheels.
The ‘standard’ Funky Cat colour is the pleasingly pistachio-hued Nebula Green, which comes with an all-black leatherette interior. The Starry Black car costs an extra £595 and also comes with a black interior for all you Spinal Tap fans, while the other colours cost £32,790 for the privilege of metallic paint and that retro two-tone interior which helps the Funky Cat live up to the promise of its name.
My car was finished in Aurora Green, a pleasantly chameleon-esque hue which seemed to change colour from bluey-green to greeny-blue depending on lighting conditions.
The Funky Cat is made for the city, with its one pedal driving mode and adaptive cruise control lessening the strain of slow-moving traffic and the onboard panoramic cameras making parking and negotiating tight spaces a doddle.
The brakes are a wee bit ‘bitey’, occasionally making it hard to stop 100 per cent smoothly at low speeds, but possibly this would improve as the car ‘learns’ your driving style (more about that in a moment) or perhaps with a slight recalibration of the regen/friction braking system.
There’s no denying that the indicators are a nightmare, though: you have to manually ‘cancel’ the turn-signal after any manoeuvre utilising less than a quarter turn of the wheel – all lane changes, basically - by giving the indicator stalk a quick flick in the opposite direction
Unfortunately, the stalk is maddeningly imprecise, with the result that you end up indicating in one direction and then the other over and over again while turning the air blue and confusing other drivers.
I was half-expecting the Funky Cat to tell me off for swearing, as it does like to keep an eye on its driver via a camera mounted on the inner A-pillar: expect a verbal reprimand if you’re looking at your passenger more than the road ahead, and a reminder if you attempt to leave the car while your phone is still on the charger tray or if a small human remains strapped into a car seat (you can turn this system off, if need be).
The car also uses facial recognition to remember the preferred settings for each driver – seat position, driving mode, etc.
You do eventually get used to the indicator niggle, sort of, but ORA really does need to have a look at remedying the issue. It could also do with relocating the cruise controls to somewhere you can actually see while driving: as it stands, you operate them by feel while probing at a stalk obscured behind the steering wheel.
The cabin’s fit and finish is excellent, with a nice soft-touch dashtop and matching doortops (in the front at least) and stylish Mini-esque row of physical toggle switches for the heated front and rear screens and climate control, though functionality for the latter is limited to on/off – all tinkering with fan speeds, temperature setting and airflow requires judicious prodding at the 10.25-inch touchscreen.
The electrically adjustable seats are comfy, though not heated (nor is the steering wheel - first world problems, eh?), while the onboard sat-nav is easy to use with excellent voice command recognition – something not so effective when it comes to tuning the radio, sadly – and clear route mapping on the main touchscreen.
There’s also a 10.25-inch digital driver display, but it’s limited to displaying vehicle/trip info only, and there’s no wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto support – though apparently that is coming via an over-the-air update later this year.
With a claimed 193 miles of range on tap, your Funky Cat is capable of roaming well away from its home patch. The car can be charged via AC from 15 per cent to 80 per cent in around five to six hours, or between three to four hours when using a three-phase on-street charger. A 64kWh DC rapid charging point will top-up from 15 to 80 per cent in around 43 minutes, if you can find one.
With no wall box at home and having managed to banjax one of our kitchen sockets the last time an electric car was plugged into it, I stuck with on-street chargers right through the weekend with our Funky Cat after registering online with ESB.ie/ecars (do not be tempted to download the ESB mobile app as it only covers GB).
A decent half-day of city driving depleted the fully-charged Funky Cat to 60 per cent: using a 22kWh public charger topped it up to 80 per cent in just 35 minutes at a cost of £3.10 – just long enough to do a spot of shopping at the nearby Lidl and ensure that range anxiety wouldn’t be an issue on the following day’s excursion from Belfast up the Ards peninsula to Strangford and back.
On that jaunt, the car performed well on A and B roads – some reviewers have complained about road/wind noise, but that wasn’t an issue with our test model – with plenty of near-instant ‘poke’ on-tap for overtaking when encountering tractors, cyclists etc. ORA claim a 0-62mph time of 8.2 seconds, but it feels much quicker than that.
The suspension soaks up bumps without being annoyingly floaty, and while the steering feels a tad ‘numb’ even on its minimally-assisted ‘Sports’ setting to really attack bends, the Funky Cat never once felt like it was about to lose grip or change direction on me suddenly. With a bit more time in the driver’s seat, I’d probably learn to trust it a bit more.
There’s decent head and leg room in the back for two fully-grown adults to travel in relative comfort – though the seat bases are quite low to the floor, resulting in a lack of under-thigh support, and rear passengers will have to fight over the single USB port (there are two more up front: all are old-skool full-sized sockets).
Boot size is limited to just 228 litres with the seatbacks up: fold them down almost flat and you get 858 litres when you need to shift something bigger, though the raised lower lip of the load area will likely make transporting bulkier items a tad awkward.
Overall, I enjoyed my weekend with the ORA Funky Cat. It’s a cute little car with a lot of personality and onboard luxury, that’s cheaper and easier on the eye than an equivalently specced VW ID3. However, it’s not as nice to drive as the MG4, which is cheaper and just as well appointed with a longer range and bigger boot to, er, boot, or the Mini Electric, with its iconic looks, go-kart handling and only slightly larger price tag.
Given the aforementioned annoyances in terms of the driving experience and with some much cheaper EV hatchback options on the horizon next year from the likes of Renault and Volkswagen, I’m not quite sure I’m ready to adopt one just yet.
However, those who do decide to bring a Funky Cat home will be well looked after: every car is covered by a five-year unlimited mileage warranty, with cover on the battery for eight-years/100,000 miles.
That’s got to make it worth having a quick pet of one, at the very least.
For more information about the ORA Funky Cat or to book a test drive with Charles Hurst visit charleshurstgroup.co.uk/gwmora
ORA Funky Cat – at a glance:
- Price: From £31,995
- Battery Capacity: 48 kWh
- Battery type: Lithium Ion
- Electric range: 193 miles (WLTP)
- Peak Power: 169 hp
- Peak Torque: 184 lb ft
- 0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
- Max speed: 99 mph
- Boot capacity: 228 litres (seats up), 858 litres (seats down)
- Euro NCAP Rating: Five stars