First Drive: BAIC Beijing X55
Though rated as the sixth biggest vehicle manufacturer in China, the BAIC nameplate is still new in Mzansi following its initial local introduction in 2016 with the IDC Joint Venture company.
If you have been paying attention to the brand's products, you'll remember the D20, B40 and X25 models. Like most Chinese marques currently making waves across Mzansi, BAIC has become the latest company to join the trend, and it does so pretty well if its B40 and new Beijing X55 models are anything to go by.
Following a brief preview at Zwartkops Raceway about a month ago, it was now time to spend some time behind the wheel of the new Beijing X55 compact crossover SUV.
Here's the thing, the Beijing X55 remains one of the best-looking compact crossovers where the likes of the Haval Jolion, Chery Tiggo 4 Pro, Toyota Urban Cruiser and Kia Sonet, to name a few, dominate.
It's sold in three variants; Dynamic, Elite and Premium. Many will agree with me that Chinese manufacturers always have a distinctive way of pricing their products, and what came as a surprise was the pricing that ranges from R394,900 to R454,900 for the fully-loaded flagship.
On looks alone, the Beijing X55 boasts contemporary styling cues that many launch attendees, including yours truly, came to admire. Styling highlights include a seamless front end that features slim headlights, and hidden windscreen wipers, while at the rear, slim taillights and a sporty-inspired split rear wing take centre stage. On the side, there are hidden door handles, a feature which takes some getting used to.
Not The Look, The Spec
Each variant is styled almost identically, with the differences primarily boiling down to specification. All models get the same 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 130 kW of power and 305 Nm. A 7-speed DCT transmission delivers power to the front axle, ensuring a 7.8-second sprint to 100 km/h from a standstill.
All three models come equipped with high-quality interior materials with a touch of modern ambience and generously bolstered seats, yet I found the leather finish insubstantial in quality. The range has a 10.1" CarbitLink infotainment system and a customisable 12.25" instrument cluster.
Minimalism at a Price
It's worth mentioning that BAIC followed the same recipe that its rival, Haval, has used regarding the omission of buttons and switches. The infotainment system is the gateway to the vehicle's functions, from air-conditioning, radio, and driving modes to adjusting the volume. While I like how uncluttered the interior is, it needs more functionality. It lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration; instead, using an integrated system called CarbitLink which projects the smartphone's screen on the X55 via a USB cable connection.
For example, the driving modes, volume adjustment and aircon modes are hidden in the infotainment system. Annoying enough? No, the hazards button is positioned on the overhead console; it's unique, but it takes some getting used to.
As standard, the Dynamic comes with the screens mentioned above, Bluetooth, keyless entry/start, 18" wheels and four driving modes; Eco, Comfort, Sport and Smart. The mid-range Elite adds a panoramic sunroof, electric seats, electric tailgate plus 19" alloy wheels.
The top-of-the-range Premium gets an 8-speaker audio system, ambient lighting, heated and ventilated seats, memory function for the driver's seat, front parking sensors and a camera. Six airbags are offered across the range, ABS with brake assist, brake auto-hold, rear parking sensors, a reverse camera, and hill descent control.
For the most part, the Beijing X55 makes a strong case for itself in the segment with decent road manners and excellent handling prowess. The 1.5-litre turbocharged engine, however, feels a tad underpowered under intent acceleration, yet it goes about its cruising abilities with so much aplomb.
The 7-speed DCT transmission delivers decent gear shifts, but it could be smoother, especially compared to some of its rivals.
Lots to Like
BAIC has found a workable formula with the Beijing X55, and it's only when you look back at when the brand started that you'll realise it's worked extra hard to up its game. It's really quite easy to forgive the Beijing X55 for its flaws if you look at its decent driving manners, build quality, safety features, and what you get for the price.
That's just enough to lure would-be crossover SUV buyers, and it will be interesting to see how it copes relative to the competition on the sales charts.
- BAIC Beijing X55 Dynamic: R394,900
- BAIC Beijing X55 Elite: R424,900
- BAIC Beijing X55 Premium: R454,900
Each model comes with a 5-year/150,000 km warranty and an additional 2-year/50,000 km drivetrain warranty.