As someone who's had the privilege of driving numerous cars in my short time in the industry, it's rare to come across one that turns heads as much as the BAIC Beijing X55. Everywhere I go, people stare at it with equal parts curiosity and admiration. It makes me wonder: are they amazed by the car itself or by the unique style and unfamiliar badges that might leave some onlookers scratching their heads?
The Beijing X55 is a bit of a mixed bag. It excels in certain areas and falls short in others, leaving me torn about whether I genuinely like it.
There's no denying that the exterior is the car's most significant selling point. Its sleek, futuristic design makes it impossible to blend in with traffic. That's definitely a good thing. From its dynamic front end with aggressively-styled LED headlights, to the unique style of the rear with its rear spoiler that splits down the middle and adds a layered, complex look.
The side profile is equally intriguing, with door handles that fold flush with the door when locked and pop out when unlocked. While this feature might not be entirely new (Tesla and other high-end brands have used it in the past), it's still impressive to see in person.
All in all, the Beijing X55 is an eye-catching car that people love to look at. It's easy to see why – with its sleek and futuristic design, it looks like it should fetch a considerably heftier price tag.
BAIC aimed to create a sporty interior with a simplistic atmosphere for the X55, and they certainly delivered. The sporty red seats immediately grab your attention upon entering the vehicle. While there is a lack of buttons, an aspect I wasn't too fond of, the simple centre console and sleek 10.25" infotainment screen form a pleasant atmosphere.
That said, it was a surprise that the X55 doesn't come with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto – only Bluetooth. I also found that the processing speed of the screen was relatively slow, but BAIC has assured me that there's a system update available for new models that should address this issue.
The X55 comes with a range of comforts, including seat cooling and heating, ambient interior lights, and a simple digital information cluster that is easy on the eyes. There's more than enough space on the rear bench to seat taller people without cramping their legroom. Additionally, there's plenty of storage in the front for phones and other bits and bobs, thanks to the open centre console beneath the gear lever. There's even a deep compartment under the armrest.
While the build quality of the X55 fell a few metres short of excellent, with a loose gear lever and a few creaks and rattles here and there, the car's interior is still sleek, sporty, and comfortable. It could, though, do with less textured plastic.
It's also a pleasant experience being behind the wheel of this compact SUV. The ride is comfortable, and the car handles corners with dynamic ease. The motor is punchy and accelerates well off the line. That being said, I have noticed a recurring theme with Chinese cars – slight turbo lag, followed by a brief spike in torque, and then a decent amount of power as the revs climb. This can make take-off a little unpredictable, as there's a fine line between a smooth pull away and an outright launch. However, it's something you quickly get used to.
Under the bonnet, the X55 boasts a 1.5-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that pumps a respectable 130 kW and 305 Nm of torque. With this power, the X55 can reach 100 km/h in just 7.8 seconds, making it the fastest in its segment. However, while BAIC claims that the X55 gets a fuel consumption figure of 7.18l/100 km, I found it challenging to even try and attain anything below 7.4l/100 km. It registered between 9 and 10l/100 km during day-to-day driving, even without aggressive driving. Why? Chinese manufacturers often source older engines from other manufacturers to keep the sticker price of their offerings down, explaining the turbo lag and thirsty quality of our tester.
The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is impressive overall, but I found that at slow speeds, such as when backing into a driveway or crawling through traffic, the car would cut power if the brakes were gently applied around 3-4 km/h. This could be frustrating at times.
It's up for debate whether another feature of the X55 is gimmicky or genuinely helpful is up for debate, but it tends to tell you off during your daily commute. For example, if you go over 120 km/h, you'll get a rather blunt message telling you to watch your speed. While this can be adjusted in the settings to accommodate faster driving, it did catch me off guard at first. Additionally, I found it odd that the cruise control only works up to 130 km/h.
Starting at R394,900 and topping out at R454,900 for the premium model, the BAIC Beijing X55 offers an impressive price point. It's not without rival, though, since it faces stiff competition from established nameplates such as Toyota's Corolla Cross, the Suzuki Vitara and Mazda CX-3. At the same time, fellow Chinese brands Chery and Haval also look to offer buyers added value for money with the Tiggo 4 Pro and Jolion. Will the X55's futuristic look be enough to win buyers over? Only time will tell.
It rolls out as standard with a 5-year/100,000 km warranty, so, you can have some peace of mind. However, the optional 5-year/60,000 km service plan seems short, especially considering it's optional.
BAIC is another Chinese brand emerging in the automotive industry, and with cars like the Beijing X55, it's easy to see why they're gaining popularity. The X55 is a stunning car that demands attention with its unique and sporty design. It's also comfortable and punchy, all at an impressive price point.
However, my only genuine concern is its longevity. Sure, there are some areas where the X55 shows its lower price tag, such as build quality and fuel consumption, but these are hardly deal breakers. They've made a gorgeous and affordable mid-size SUV, but for me to be entirely sold on it, I'll need to keep a close eye on these cars over the coming years to see just how robust they truly are.