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BAIC BEIJING X55

With domestic sales of 1.7 million units last year, BAIC only trails SAIC, FAW, Dongfeng, Changan, and GAC in the Chinese market, and is way ahead of GWM/Haval and Chery. The Fortune Global 500 company was also the first Chinese automaker to enter the South African market in the mid-1990s (albeit briefly) and the first to establish an assembly plant here.

Even with its impressive credentials, BAIC has not made significant inroads into the South African market over the last nine years. Local assembly of the old-tech X25 and D20 has been slow, and sales virtually non-existent, lagging far behind the figures of Haval and Chery. 

Now, it seems the automotive giant has done an about-turn with a strategy shift of seismic proportions, most likely triggered by the stratospheric sales growth shown by its Chinese counterparts. This mind shift has led to the latest, highly advanced models being made available in overseas markets and has paved the way for the upmarket Beijing brand. 

SALES CAPITAL

Named for the Chinese capital, the Beijing trademark has been part of BAIC since inception and has now been revived as the company’s halo brand (like Lexus for Toyota and Haval for GWM), replacing Senova. Now, the first Beijing model made available locally, the X55, has officially been introduced here.

Compared to the current BAIC offerings, this compact SUV, based on the in-house BMFA platform, developed to underpin future hybrid and electric models (plans are afoot to produce the X55 locally in both petrol and electric guise), is a revelation. It makes one wonder why it took the Chinese giant so long to release a contemporary model here. 

The importance of the X55 to BAIC South Africa was underlined at a gala launch event in Johannesburg by Mr Hugo Hu, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at BAIC South Africa, stating that BAIC is now “bringing the best of breed in innovation” to South African consumers.

ATTRACTIVE, FUTURISTIC STYLING

The X55 boasts a borderless, low wind resistance grille, a large sloping windscreen with hidden wipers, flowing curves down the flanks with hidden door handles, a slim LED light bar, a split spoiler, and split tailgate at the rear. 

Unfortunately, the door handle design is not very user-friendly, and a two-hand operation is required to open them when not popped up. Inside, the avant-garde and sophisticated feel continues with minimalist design, soft-touch materials all over the cabin, a large central touchscreen infotainment system, faux leather seats (inspired by the seats in the Lamborghini Urus, according to BAIC), and a large sunroof for the top models.

Developed in association with Huawei, the 10.1” CarbitLink infotainment system is refreshing, but takes some getting used to and can be frustrating as one has to dive into many sub-menus to manage vehicle settings. Some dedicated buttons would have been welcome to make it easier to operate.

Auto climate control is also missing, and there is no lumbar support control, not even for the red leather seats in the Premium model. The steering wheel and gear knob are coated with antibacterial material, and the 10.25” digital instrumentation has various layout settings. There is also a plethora of USBs but no USB-Cs, and being Huawei compatible, no Android or IOS mirroring yet.

With six airbags in all three trim lines (Dynamic, Elite and Premium), keyless start, driver fatigue warning, crash auto unlock doors, tyre pressure monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, hill hold and hill descent control, and Bosch-developed ESP, ABS with EBD and EBA, the X55 received a five-star C-NCAP safety rating.

SUPERSMOOTH TRANSMISSION

The 1.5-litre Magic Core four-cylinder turbo engine used in all three derivatives was co-developed with Meta in Germany and delivers 130 kW and 305 Nm of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels via a supersmooth seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (with Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Smart driving modes), but the smallish engine, while lively, does exhibit some turbo-lag on take-off.  

BAIC claims the X55 can accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in a brisk 7.8 seconds, and the X55’s fuel consumption is stated as 7.2 litres/100 km. That said, our recorded figures were in the 8 to 9 litre/100 km bracket during a short test drive in and around Gauteng.

Nevertheless, with a well-tuned suspension consisting of independent MacPherson struts in the front and a rear multilink setup with hydraulic dampers, the X55’s ride and handling was exemplary, also on rougher, potholed roads. The steering feel was slightly artificial and light, but the attractive SUV felt poised in the corners.

HUGE VALUE FOR MONEY

Regarding styling, power delivery, advanced technology, and connectivity, the new X55 is like chalk and cheese compared to some BAIC products. When it comes to pricing, it is in a class of its own – representing unbeatable value for money in the local compact SUV market – and rivalling the Hyundai Tucson (from R539,900), Kia Sportage (from R539,995), Toyota RAV4 (from R648,200) and Volkswagen Tiguan (from R580,300) in terms of size, kit and performance. The X55 undercuts most opponents by more than R150,000.

It is also more affordable than the Chery Tiggo 7 Pro Executive (R472,900) and Haval H6 Luxury (R518,950), and all X55 models come with a five-year/150,000 km warranty with an extra two-years/50,000 km on the drivetrain. A five-year/60,000 km service plan is offered for an additional R16,800 on cars purchased in 2022.

LAST WORD

With the Beijing X55, BAIC has, at last, joined the local mainstream market, and this avant-garde and modern, luxurious, futuristic and technologically advanced Chinese model is set to shake the already ultra-competitive local compact SUV market to its core.

Report by FERDI DE VOS |  Images © BAIC SOUTH AFRICA

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